Digital transformation under pressure

© Efe Kurnaz

Never before has there been so much talk or writing about digital transformation in 2020. Much because of “that thing we all know what it is” 🦠 society in general and many companies in particular were forced (that’s the word) to stop whistling to the side or kicking the topic of digital transformation or transition into corner. Although the cause was at the level of apocalyptic movies, the truth is that we all live in a situation where digital has become almost a path with no alternative.

Let’s be clear, the scenario we live in is an extreme situation and we all want it not to happen again. To associate digital transformation to the pandemic, at least as strongly as it has been happening, we want to believe that it will not be the only way to talk about the subject, because it shouldn’t.

Transformation or digital transition?

The term “digital transformation”, not infrequently we can also find transfigured in the expression “digital transition”. To begin with, it is perhaps important to clarify that using one term or another is not the same thing and can say a lot about the perspective from which the topic is looked at.

Digital transition, presupposes, in the simplest of interpretations, making a path. We start from the current scenario and it is necessary to transfer this situation to a new context, in this case “more digital”. It is a focused term, there it is, on the way to go and not necessarily on the change that is needed to go from one point to another.

On the other hand, digital transformation contains much more challenging readings. It is not enough to take just one path, it is necessary to profoundly transform the starting point to reach a new reality. Transforming is also a proactive act, a challenge based on the demand for the present and that seeks, in many ways, to try to anticipate the future. Not coincidentally, the word “transformation” also includes the word “action”.

When do we talk about digital transformation “in the rough”?

Being neither close nor remotely a new term in the economy’s lexicon, the truth is that digital transformation, especially in Portugal, is still a very long way off. Through many studies and reports from academics, we see that, although much has been done in recent years, service digitization rates, purchasing habits, process improvement through technology, bureaucratic simplification levels, among others, still show signs that should make us think.

Although the pandemic has greatly accelerated several processes of digital transformation, the truth is that in many cases this also happened “brutly”. By “raw” processes, I mean, processes that could have been anticipated and thought out with due care, but which suddenly became essential, making teams that should have done it and didn’t, not could do structured work.

We talk about digital transformation “in the rough”…

1. When we moved from a generalized context of skepticism towards telework and a degree of distrust of workers in this context, we moved to a situation of change in processes and team dynamics, in a hurry and pressure from workers not to return to the offices permanently, which proved to be be unnecessary.

2. When almost overnight, online stores start appearing in biblical quantities, for everything and anything else, but without any strategy behind them, sustainable business models and logistical organization that allow to offer consumers a relevant value proposition.

3. When many companies realize, through sudden changes in the market or competition, that their management is essentially leveraged by the “achometer” without any type of data science and data intelligence that allows them to analyze trends through data and derive insights from there valuable.

4. When school and adult continuing education is deprived of its almost secular learning model and it is realized that the focus of pedagogical processes has always been associated with a certain restricted way of learning, more than knowledge, skills and attitudes that one intends to educate.

5. When the public administration , due to political pressure or the latent dissatisfaction of Citizens, is forced to completely change the model of public services it provides and tries to make this leverage in the opaque processes and bureaucratic language that has always been used in the relationship of the State with Citizens.

These are just a few examples, perhaps some of the most evident these days, of what we might call “raw” digital transformation. Situations where the context of the pandemic forced accelerated and messy change in many cases with disastrous results, as the lack of planning will probably generate greater problems in the future than the initial ones.

Where does the digital transformation begin?

The formula for a digital transformation without being “raw” is very unclear and even replicable in all contexts. The necessary digital transformation depends a lot on the context of each organization and its ambition for the future. Still, the entire transformation, especially the digital transformation, starts from a very simple premise: nonconformity!

Nonconformity with the reality of the present trying to understand what could happen in the future. A demanding and permanent assessment of the current situation, involving employees, consumers and Citizens, sincerely listening to their concerns and needs (even if this is difficult for us to hear). Ensure that decisions, especially the most strategic ones, are made based on concrete insights and evidence rather than personal opinions.

We all want to believe that this was the last pandemic we saw in our lives. We hope so. But when it comes to digital transformation, we shouldn’t make the same mistakes. As a society, we shouldn’t sit comfortably in the comfort of everyday life and stick to our comfort zones. Envisioning the future has very little to do with crystal balls and much more to do with looking for it.

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Ruben Ferreira Duarte

Ruben Ferreira Duarte


Hi. My name is Ruben Ferreira Duarte and I am a portuguese UX/UI Designer, currently living in Lisbon (Portugal).