The Witch Doctors of Digital Transformation

Author : Suhas is co-founder, Partner at 3nayan, a niche consulting firm which uses Process Engineering, Robotic Process Automation and Digital Transformation for Strategy Re-Energization, Growth Enablement and Organizational Effectiveness of organizations.


Maybe this article points the muzzle towards my foot somewhat, and towards some of my professional ilk. Will let you be the judge of that. But, the point really is that 84% of Digital Transformation (DX) programs fail.

As we speak with various client business folk, CDOs, CIOs, potential clients and others, it is becoming clear that people who really understand DX are few and far between. People who have planned or done some … even fewer. There are plenty who have done bits of automation, done a cloud migration here, designed an application architecture there, are following someone else’s plan or have executed a piece of the puzzle. People who understand this type of transformation from a business view (enabled by technology), or from an enterprise architecture (business and technology) impact point of view do seem like a rare breed.

There are product companies (and pretend cloud providers) who are happy to divert a client organization’s path by just scaring them and providing them a rather expedient solution. Organizations who get enthused because a competitor has a glitzy solution (however irrelevant to the former’s context). IT services companies which get gullible traditional organizations excited with a one-page customer journey slide. In addition, there are consulting companies and even research companies which have jumped on to the bus and end up dropping their price by 50% during a proposal process for DX implementation. People who can spell “d-i-g-i-t-a-l”, of course I am exaggerating to make the point, are getting CDO jobs. Sad part is that organizations often do not know what a CDO should be like.

The situation reminds me of this book from the late 90s, The Witchdoctors written by two (the) Economist staff writers (Mickelthwait, and Wooldridge). The book traces the journey of management gurus, management theories and consulting companies and talks about how they have spun the business world in the past; not always with integrity.

The current situation, doesn’t seem much different to us. Very often, while trying to sell or convince a client about a certain concept or a solution, we are posed with “Who else in the industry has done this?”. The Fear oMissing Out is what sells most for Digital, DX, Automation, RPA etc. rather than the actual need of the business to find new ways of reaching out to the customer.

In essence, till the time that DX (and related areas) proliferate enough, stabilize and become the normal, the above type of behavior will continue. Meanwhile, the organizations which get their act together are the ones who will succeed in this type of transformation. Getting their act together implies the following:

  1.  Up-skilling themselves, and a number of their core team members who will work the transformation.
  2. Paying peanuts will get you a monkey. So, spending as an investment to get a real CDO.
  3. Leadership needs to stand up, be counted and be responsible for removing hindrances (yes, even the human ones).
  4. Trusting their people and help build a culture of innovation. Supporting constructive criticism is a good place to start.
  5. Understanding that Digital Transformation is really about business, and a mindset of Customer Centricity and not about technology.

But right now, the gold rush is on. There are people panning, people selling the shovels, and there are folk getting waylaid. The question, to some extent is, how many large failures will it take for organizations to make coherent plans and comprehend Digital Transformation somewhat differently.

Currently, Forbes says, (I repeat) only about 16% such transformation efforts succeed. Just sayin’!


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