Most employees don’t get ‘digital transformation’

The concept of digital transformation might be falling flat with staff, according to a UK survey.
9 April 2019

Do your staff buy into the concept? Source: Shutterstock

Given how much the buzz-phrase is bandied about— TechHQ not excused— it’s unsurprising that the ‘digital transformation’ has, perhaps, lost some of its original intended clout.

In fact, beyond heady discussions in the confines of the conference room, among those on the business floor, the phrase has lost much of its meaning entirely.

In a previous interview, US MD of Deloitte and head of change strategy and analytics, Mike Bentley, said digital transformation was a reaction to a ‘flood’ of new data and the competitive advantages of automating processes.

In the face of “unprecedented technological change”, he said, businesses have no choice but to adapt if they want to see through ambitions for sector leadership.

This partly explains the impetus behind the jargon, but it remains a rather abstract concept and one that could manifest itself in many different forms.

That’s perhaps the reason that a survey of 500 UK businesses with 50 or more employees by YouGov and Cherwell Software found that a massive 57 percent of employees don’t know the meaning of ‘digital transformation’.  

Of course, any business-wide strategy will fall flat if the entire workforce isn’t behind it, and that lack of understanding could also explain why the UK was ranked 17th in Dell Technologies’ Transformation Index last year, behind emerging markets like India, Brazil, and Thailand.

“In the near future, every organization will need to be a digital organization, but our research indicates that the majority still have a long way to go,” Michael Dell, chairman, and CEO of Dell Technologies commented on that report. That was despite nearly four in five (78 percent) of business leaders stating that digital transformation should be more widespread throughout their business.

But an understanding of what constitutes a ‘digital organization’ seems to be much of the problem. The YouGov report further found that 20 percent of respondents couldn’t hazard a guess at its meaning, and 12 percent thought it meant moving to a “paperless office”.

“It’s obvious that not enough time is being devoted to communicating with employees to develop their understanding and involvement in the process of digital transformation,” said Oliver Krebs, vice president of EMEA sales for Cherwell.

“Unless business leaders bring their teams along with them on this journey, British organizations are likely to fail and our ability to compete in the global marketplace will be severely compromised,” he said.

A lack of first-movers?

However, the issue with developing a better understanding may need more than just a clear definition. The report suggests the issue could be compounded by a reluctance among businesses to adopt cutting-edge technology.

A paltry nine percent of businesses are viewed by their workforce as being ‘digital innovators’, whilst nearly two-thirds (64 percent) of employers only take on new technology after it has become widely available.

When it came to the adoption of technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) in the workplace, meanwhile, 34 percent of employees were confused, and 21 percent felt threatened— another eight percent felt (a tad inexplicably) ‘saddened’.

On the flipside, 50 were either intrigued, optimistic or excited by the possibilities of new technology. The onus, therefore, lies with leadership teams to effectively communicate and engage teams the power of adopting new technology.

“The research demonstrates that UK businesses still have a lot to learn in terms of planning and implementing digital transformation and their adoption of new technologies like artificial intelligence if they want to shed their image of digital innovation followers,” said Andre Cuenin, Chief Revenue Officer of Cherwell.

Cuenin stressed that the deep level of confusion and miscommunication amongst employees must be addressed by industry leaders, if companies are to press forward and remain competitive in their respective industries in an increasingly digital ecosystem.

“[…] digital transformation is frequently pigeon-holed as an IT issue, whereas in reality it should be seen as an initiative that involves everyone across the business, from the board, down to the most junior employee,” said Cuenin.