Reflection on digital maturity & transformation

For the third year in a row, I have lead our study on digital maturity & transformation. This study is based on our digital maturity model and this year we received even more responses: In total, 662 people participated in our online-survey. I am really happy with the finished results and that the report is finally released. Now is the time for me to reflect on the results and on the project.

Companies with high digital maturity approach change in a completely different way

In my dissertation I research how organization navigate through the fuzzy front-end of digital transformations, meaning how they approach the first random, chaotic, and mysterious phases of a change process. In a recent research project – that is not published yet – I identified five approaches (“top-down”, “bottom-up”, “IT-focused”, “channel-focused”, and “innovation-focused”) and included these in the online-survey. I assumed that probably there would be an interesting difference in the approaches. What I did-not expect was, that companies with a high digital maturity not only take a different approach, but they take the exact opposite approach. Companies with a high maturity mostly choose a top-down or innovation-focused approach, that means they initiate their change process with a clear strategy and they are very open towards experimenting with digital technologies and new business models. Companies with a low digital maturity in contrast take an IT-focused approach, that indicates that they see digital transformation primarily as IT task, or a bottom-up approach, where single initiatives pop up in various business units and are only later consolidated in an overarching strategy.

Note that the results do not indicate causality, so focusing on innovation in the beginning does not automatically lead to a higher maturity score. But my interpretation is that the activities conducted in during the fuzzy front-end represent the mindset and culture of the organization, which does have a huge impact on transformation success.

Does it make sense to measure a complex construct like digital maturity?

We did develop the digital maturity model in 2014 when there were not too many other digital maturity assessments around, and a lot of them were rather feature checklists or did only focus on one part of digital maturity, like e.g. omnichannel. Our nine dimensions are grounded in academic literature and have been evaluated by an expert focus group. So I feel confident that we developed a valid instrument. However, the maturity score that we calculate in the end is only a number – it is more important what companies make out of the assessment. From the feedback I got from various managers that worked with the assessment, I think that the true value of the assessment is the process of filling out the questionnaire and discussing different answers within the organization. The score in the end is a secondary information. Moreover, how a company actually performs in the digital age, is dependent on so many factors, that our assessment cannot make any prediction about future performance. It is important to understand the purpose of the survey: it helps to reflect, facilitates discussion, shows differences in opinion, serves as a boundary object, and gives some indication how a company compares to others in the same industry. For us as researchers, the comparison of results across different industries, different company sizes, or maturity scores, reveal very interesting insights as well.

Companies are just getting started

Maybe it is because I am currently finishing my dissertation on the subject, or because in the past three years I have seen dozens of maturity assessments and studies on digital transformation being published, but lately I have been getting a tiny bit bored about the general discussion on digital maturity. When we launched the survey last October, I thought it would be pretty difficult to motivate companies to participate. The reality is, not only did we exceed last year’s number of participants, I also receive multiple e-mails and calls every week with questions regarding the assessment, the usage, the development of dimensions, possible advancements, etc. It seems that even though the topic of digital transformation has been on the strategic agenda of managers for some years, only now they are really getting started on the change, and the interest in our assessment has clearly grown. So, I will make up my mind now, how to build on these results and develop this topic further.

Let’s talk!

You have questions or would like to have a chat about the results of the study or digital transformation in general? E-mail me!

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