What does business transformation mean?


Business transformation; a term that appeared little known a decade ago, is seemingly generating ever-increasing fervour today.

The term “business transformation” is certainly more ubiquitous in certain sectors than others. Unquestionably you can’t get through a day in the banking industry without the term being communicated to the masses. It is equally as pervasive across many other sectors. But what does business transformation really mean?

Transformation is a great word! In the context of business; it is a fundamental change to the way a business operates. It covers wide-ranging and expansive change to the organisation as a whole or strategic elements within the organisation. This change often encompasses complexity way beyond that experienced during typically traditional change. Ultimately it is an initiative that forms an intimate alignment between the people, process and technology aspects of an organisation with its overarching business strategy.

The scope and extent of the change during business transformation follows a more revolutionary (rather than evolutionary) attitude. Such a brash approach is a necessity for organisations to become more responsive to the challenges they face, therefore embracing agility and swiftness of implementation. This desire incites more radical and rapid change as opposed to the traditional, safer, slower, step change.

I’m not saying that business transformation can happen overnight. The extent of the organisational impact is often too vast to allow hasty change. You can’t expect one of those mammoth oil tankers to manoeuvre like a speed boat!

Seemingly the bulk of business transformation is performed over extended periods of time. Often twelve months or longer. The business transformation initiatives I have been led have typically had lifecycles of eighteen months or more, with benefits realization for many more years.

Nor is business transformation BAU (Business as Usual) or ongoing operations. Business transformation reflects specific needs of the organisation, delivering rapid change in response to shifts in strategic objectives. In the 1970’s and 1980’s blue chip organisations would need to reassess their corporate strategies maybe once or twice every decade; resultant organisational changes could be implemented over several years.

Certainly not the case today; market dynamics have changed dramatically. Regulatory challenges, uncertain economic environment, increased competition, and countless other issues have intensified pressures to adapt. Organisations are being forced to repeatedly re-evaluate every aspect of their business operations whilst performing subsequent transformations of their operational environment, realigning their businesses to meet new business goals and objectives.

Organisation need to adapt rapidly and frequently. Those that think they are safe from changing market dynamics are in for a shock. A shock that, if it doesn’t jolt them into immediate remedial action and on-going improvement, will result in death. Just look at what happened to Woolworths Group, the Century old retailer whose demise over the last year (in 2008/9) resulted in the closure of over 800 stores in the UK resulting in approaching 30,000 job losses.

Obviously such lengthy and intensive endeavours require a new breed of leader. Or at least leadership that focuses on driving execution through to successful conclusion! It was once described to me as a mixture of intent and serendipity!

One thing is certain, business transformation is here to stay. Whether it’s a proactive strategic initiative in order to lead a sector or remedial transformation to mitigate those thorny issues during business turnarounds.

I am curious to unearth other perspectives out in the real world; so please share.

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