What is the promise of digital transformation? “Digital Transformation” is a buzzword I’ve used often for most of my product marketing career. In fact, my earliest post on the topic on this platform was five years ago! Here’s what I wrote about digital transformation blockers back in 2017:

So, 5 years on, where are we in the process of digital transformation?

What did we promise people?

Here are some predictions from 2017 for what digital transformation would bring by 2020:

  • The Challenge is, how do you use the data in real-time to make a better product, a better service, a better outcome. Firms are really just beginning this, but it’s setting up the foundation for a kind of fourth industrial revolution” (Michael Dell).
  • Customer-driven technologies, the shift of on-premises to off-premise, the disruptive effects of mobile and cloud technologies “are all coming together and changing business models from perpetual to subscription and are creating violent shifts that everyone needs to navigate to get to the other side,” (Pat Gelsinger)
  • By 2021, 40% of IT staff will be versatilists holding multiple roles, most of which will be business-related rather than technology-related (Gartner).
  • By 2022, most people in mature economies will consume more false information than true information (Gartner).

Of course, these predictions were made 3 years before the pandemic started. Because everyone had to work from home, digital transformation was accelerated in many cases. Companies who would have probably held up the process for decades were forced to transform quickly because of the pandemic.

Now, let’s set a definition for digital transformation.

What is the definition of digital transformation?

Digital transformation used to be a nebulous term. But we’ve had a decade to understand this term. Now, the term’s meaning is much clearer. I like this definition from Marvin Dejean:

“….digital transformation holds the promise of making companies nimbler, faster, data and customer-driven and able to deliver services and products at scale in a dynamic and hybrid environment (virtual and physical).”

Metamorphosis and digital transformation

If we look to nature, the best example of real transformation is the butterfly. The butterfly has four stages of metamorphosis, or transformation:

  1. egg
  2. larva (caterpillar)
  3. pupa (chrysalis)
  4. and adult (butterfly)

Once a caterpillar hatches, it eats and grows quickly. It sheds its skin as it grows. But the most dramatic transformation is when the caterpillar becomes a chrysalis. This is a cellular transformation. The caterpillar’s limbs and organs completely transform to become a butterfly! Thank you to the butterflywebsite.com for my refresher course on this.

An organizations’ digital transformation will require a similar metamorphosis. It will require organizations to reorganize their operations teams into platform teams. Skilled people from all of the IT silos*  will need to take on similar yet different duties. Usually, the teams will be assigned to specific applications. A platform team will need to run the infrastructure (and associated services) best suited to each application. This means deciding if the infrastructure is physical, cloud, edge(or a combination of all of them). They may need to make the entire platform available in a self-service way to their end users. These end users may be customers, but may also be developers.

Digital transformation is the metamorphosis from the silo-centric team to a platform delivery team. This will be more than a technical migration; it will require a change in culture and communications.

IT silos may include [Win|nix] admins, virtualization admins, storage admins, network admins, backup admins, management admins, and security admins.

What stage of transformation are we in?

This is what Gartner’s Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies looked like in 2017 [direct link].

The crowding on the Innovation Trigger side of the hype cycle has led us to the next image. The CNCF Cloud Native Interactive Landscape (available here). This chart is incredibly hard to read and favors open source (especially CNCF members). It is incredible to see the huge number of platforms and tools available to help organizations transform.

Dell has produced a digital transformation index since 2016, giving us a flavor of the more traditional enterprise view. It is interesting to see how many organizations are in the digital evaluator category. This makes sense given all of the choices in the CNCF landscape.

So where are we? I know big organizations that are figuring out what it takes to run a platform team. I think the Dell charts are probably close. However, I do not think that customers will achieve digital transformation in a traditional data center.

Real talk

We’ve been talking about digital transformation for a long time. And although technology may seem a little crazy for operations people, it’s important not to blame the chaos on the pandemic. If you haven’t already, it’s time to jump into your chrysalis and transform your skills so that you’re able to lead platform teams as the era of digital transformation begins to wind down.

Where do you think we are?