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Digital Transformations and the Opportunity for Communications Professionals

January 28, 2022
By Natasha Kennedy

When I first heard the phrase “digital transformation” (years ago) I thought, “Hmm. It sounds like the term has been coined to represent some sort of organizational and technological change corresponding to the digital world we increasingly live in today offering some efficiency or innovation benefits.” According to Wikipedia, I am mostly correct.

My alma mater, the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, offers a digital transformation program to lead transformation efforts with the call to action: “The long-term benefits of digital transformation are pushing companies to seek visionary chief digital officers to overhaul legacy systems and anticipate technological shifts”. While I could argue companies have been and should be doing this every year – I find this to be an especially exciting time for the world of communications. While we have been introduced to new applications of technology like natural language processing to identify relationships between topics, people, organizations and more, we have just begun to change our business models to introduce digital innovations and efficiencies that change our businesses and our impact on the world of communications for the better.

Very, very early in my career (yikes – about 25 years ago), I learned that to transform an organization and furthermore, use technology as a strategic enabler, you need the following to increase the probability of your success:

  1. A business objective or vision of what you want it to do – you must rally everyone around a meaningful, specific vision and determine what is critical to its success.
  2. To get you there, you must define:
    • Process – How it exists today, and how it will change. I had a boss who once preached process drives technology, not the other way around. He was 100% correct. Rideshare technology changed the way you behave but before rideshare applications you were hailing cabs, walking, taking public transportation, etc.  It disrupted a process. 
    • Technology – What is required to enable this change. It wouldn’t be a digital transformation without tech of some kind.
    • People – If any, to operate it. What skills do they need to “power” the change?
    • Data – To support the process, people and technology, and measure and improve upon its effectiveness.

These fundamental principles still apply for any transformation today; it’s a necessary framework for any kind of transformational change. First, uncontrollable variables almost always present themselves (like a new deadline, conflicting priorities, issue with technology or limited resources). Preparation up front will help you achieve your digital transformation goals.

Defining the business objective is no small feat in a digital transformation as it involves changing the business model or how you operate your organization. This type of change requires change management of everyone effected by the change. In my experience, most digital transformations lead to operational efficiencies and innovation or growth impact. The field of communications is now on a steep trajectory to introduce operational change leading to new opportunities, impacting skills now necessary to adapt to the opportunities these changes present. We will see further developments in how we target relevant media, identify thought leadership positionings for clients and reach audiences with our messages, ultimately achieving our “holy grail” of impact we can attribute to our efforts.

And finally, just when you think you have disrupted yourself digitally, there could be more for you to do. In “The Changing World Order: Why Nations Succeed and Fail”, Ray Dalio centers his writing on global economic and political systems and periods of time, yet I find his principles also apply to technology. Paraphrasing him, “it is a mistake to believe that any digital system is always best as there will be times when that system is not the best for the circumstances at hand. If an organization doesn’t adapt to the new system, the system will be rejected.” 

He also writes,The test of any system is delivering what most people want.” Or I can also argue – what most people didn’t know they wanted. And this is the excitement of what a digital transformation can provide.