insights

What Going Digital Means

For managers leading digital initiatives, learning how to articulate what being digital means is the first step in succeeding at it.

Joel Koh

27 Mar 2019

Amidst a growing trend advocating business digitisation in recent years, everyone is talking about going digital. Companies already riding atop the digital wave are continuing to build out winning capabilities at an accelerating pace every day. However for the uninitiated, approaching the already established dialogue on digital could prove to be too late or overwhelming to be worthwhile. Yet as the growing digital trend shows no signs of stopping in today’s computer age, businesses from all walks of life are gradually returning to the drawing board with new digital agendas. With many more companies today diving head first into digital territories with announcements of new initiatives to go digital, one cannot help but wonder — what does going digital really mean?

Not just a buzzword

Organisations approaching the topic of going digital should look beyond the buzz to get a deeper understanding of what digital really means in order to apply it effectively. Within the technology industry, there is a tendency to equivocate frequently discussed topics as buzzwords that come and go with time. In recent years, the industry has been buzzing about the idea of digitisation as headlines concerning the topic began making rounds at conferences. Phrases such as digital transformation and technological reinvention are a few examples of terminology that underpins its seemingly superfluous existence. But the notion of going digital has proven to be more than a passing fad. With its ever-growing appeal in boardroom agendas, the imperative to become digital has transcended the industry to achieve mainstream status.

No smoke without fire

Beyond the hype surrounding its popularity, the motivation behind going digital is well-grounded. A recent report by the International Data Group (IDG) in 2018 found that 89% of organisations surveyed have adopted or already have plans to adopt digital strategies. The high level of digital adoption rates highlights the rising significance of digital technology and its implications for businesses today. Driven by the need for change in an ever so competitive business world, going digital bears major implications for businesses of all kinds.

Open to interpretation

Despite its widespread influence, the meaning behind digital still remains an ambiguous concept for many. In its definitive form, the term digital simply describes electronic technology that records binary information. However in reality, the meaning of digital manifests across a multitude of interpretations in various fields.

For many people in the technology and business sectors, the word digital still conjures up an abstract mixture of thoughts. In the technology market, digital services are often misunderstood as being limited to the marketing practice in the form of digital marketing. While in the business world, digital continues to be packaged to mean different things for different people. For some executives, it’s about the complex technical systems that are used at work. While for others, digital could simply be about enhancing the customer experience.

None of the above interpretations are necessarily wrong. But as a result of its abstract origins and varied interpretations, it is important to note that going digital can sometimes mean entirely different things for different organisations.

Having a shared goal

Without a common understanding of what digital means, companies implementing digital strategies may find their efforts misdirected as initiatives and employees lack alignment. It is difficult to paint a shared vision of a digital workplace across the organisation when people have different interpretations of what digital means. Being able to define what digital is and what it is not will help companies approach and apply change in the right direction. For managers leading digital initiatives, learning how to articulate what being digital means is the first step in communicating a shared vision of a digitised organisation.

All in the mind

While going digital invokes a myriad of definitions, it is fundamentally a shift in mindset in the way business is carried out in an organisation. This mindset shift describes the change process in which a company’s approach to work, culture, and its offerings are reinvented with the help of technology in order to create new or greater value for customers and itself.

Promoting a digital mindset means embracing cultural change within the organisation. When businesses embark on plans to go digital, the initial questions that are asked are seldom about technical feasibilities nor technological needs. More often than not, the key concerns revolve around implementing and managing cultural changes that cultivate a digital mindset amongst people and processes.

The creation of a value-driven culture challenges employees to redefine the way work is done across all levels of the organisation. In redefining value, managers need to focus on shaping culture rather than chasing rigid outcomes. By focusing on the process of creating a digitally-enabled culture rather than brooding over the kind of systems being implemented, executives can better foster the birth of foundational digital capabilities that drive long-term value. This cyclical process of cultural change and value creation inherently represents the meaning of going digital.

Final word

To achieve success, it is important to be able to define digital and the way it is going to be applied throughout the organisation. Leaders needs to have a clear definition of what digital means in order to communicate digital strategies across the organisation. Owning a better understanding of what digital truly means can help executives gain a complete insight on how to apply it effectively.

Recognising that going digital refers to a process rather than an outcome is a crucial step in defining what it means. Businesses should view digital as a way of doing things rather than a thing in itself. At its core, going digital is more than just moving offline services online. What really matters is the process of change that it promotes within the organisation. Companies that go digital are essentially undergoing a process of redefining value for its stakeholders.

Going digital itself is a means to an end, where the end goal is to derive the most value from the process of change. Companies that acknowledge digital as a process are better equipped to make decisions that will lead to success, whereas companies that perceive digital as an outcome are set up to fail. The hardest part of going digital comes from dealing with the mindset shift from old habits of doing work. Going digital is not easy, but with the right definition and mindset, all the investment will pay off.


Joel Koh

Joel Koh is the director of One X Tech's Technology Management & Digital Solutions practice. He leads the firm's Asia Pacific office efforts in continually evolving and growing new capabilities to serve clients in technology-led transformations.

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