The digital enterprise comes of age

It’s become a maxim of sorts, and also a source of great frustration, that digital technologies have not always replaced analog processes. Instead, sometimes they have simply created more functional layers.  The result is that many businesses are still wallowing in paper while also drowning in a tsunami of digital information.


Not surprisingly, managing digital infrastructure has become a huge business, with many organizations finding it difficult to address the digital reality efficiently and cost-effectively. The rise in computing power, storage, and search technology has certainly helped us keep pace, but to get the most out of the digital revolution there has to be a cultural shift, too. That cultural change requires an understanding of how to get the most business value out of all that data.

Recent research from Aberdeen Group suggests that there is at present a big divide in the marketplace between the many companies who are lagging in data governance practices and those few companies who are best-in-class. The leaders understand that, in effect, every company is a technology company and that digital strategies need managerial buy-in. For a larger firm that might be a Chief Digital Officer, but for a smaller organization it may simply include a committee with executive sponsorship.

Global consultancy Accenture has chipped in by outlining the four stages of the digital journey. First up are ad hoc solutions in an environment where management is skeptical of the power of the digital enterprise. Then come a few pioneering departments that embrace digital processes. After that an organization is ready for a cohesive digital platform – it is only at this stage that all of management has fully seen the light – followed by a properly integrated digital business model. To get the ball rolling Accenture says that companies need to get sponsorship by upper management, find someone to drive the process, and then reinforce the digital journey with documentation, proof of concept, and performance monitoring.

Inevitably, as companies of all sizes take a look at the challenges and opportunities of a digital strategy, they are surprised by the extent to which physical assets limit their agility. They also come to realize that they have had little understanding of the true value of their digital infrastructure, and of how it can help when it comes to adapting to ongoing change.

One necessity is getting people with the right skill sets and a desire to learn. Any team devoted to discovering the potential of their digital business has to be excited by the possibilities. From there opportunity can come in terms of pure technology plays – from cloud computing, to analytics and information services management – to a more proactive look at how to develop an applications- and services-based delivery model.

It may sound hard to believe, but without a digital strategy a company might stumble into some expensive and even disastrous decisions. Procurement is one area where change is afoot – not just the way things are being bought, but also what is being bought. I recently went on a tour of a hospital that no longer buys PCs or, for that matter, very much paper: it is digitizing all its hard-copy medical records and making all data available to mobile devices, specifically tablets. This change is part of an ongoing digital strategy, but also reflects what research firms IDC and Gartner are both seeing in terms of steep PC declines. If the hospital had kept to its old ways, and signed up for more business-as-usual, they may have found themselves unable to adapt to the changes demanded by our mobile, digitized world.

It won’t be long before the digital journey is the only route to organizational viability. The sooner the first steps are taken, the easier it will be to adapt to the changes on the horizon and to take advantage of the very real opportunities that lay in wait for the digital enterprise.