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Why Websites Are Never Finished AKA Ongoing Digital Transformation: Part 2

This is part two of a blog post about Solspace’s realizations about its role in our clients’ digital transformations.

Ongoing Digital Transformation

The term Digital Transformation is a marketing term. It's deployed most often by enterprise-sized companies trying to capture the business of other enterprise-sized companies. Mom and pop businesses don't often think in terms of Digital Transformation. They are transforming their businesses digitally, they just don't have fancy consulting firm language for it.

When Digital Transformation is used in big business, as a marketing tool, it's usually used to describe major C-suite initiatives. It describes huge conversions of large swaths of a company's business practices or systems. It's described as if Digital Transformation was comprised of a series of three to four major billion-dollar projects. The fiction is that when these big DX initiatives are completed, DX is done. The business is now in the digital age.

In our experience, Digital Transformation is not one or two big projects spearheaded by the Chief Information Officer. Instead, Digital Transformation is DNA editing. Digital Transformation and the larger digital revolution that it's embedded in is permanently changing the culture of businesses. Whether the company is a large multi-national or a local small business, DX is creeping into the fabric of the culture.

The conversations with our clients are rarely about planning big years-long transformation initiatives. They are much more often conversations about making something a little smoother with this part of the business next week. And maybe next month improve how information flows through this other part of the business. Sometimes DX is urgent, like the rapid and pragmatic e-commerce implementations that many small businesses implemented during the Coronavirus Pandemic.

In few cases is there a grand master plan for Digital Transformation. Instead, there are small little ideas every day for how to apply digital capabilities to existing business problems. Digital Transformation is not a one-time thing. In our experience, Digital Transformation is ongoing.

Part Digital, Part Brick

Transformations usually have gross intermediary stages. Think of insects metamorphosing with all their mucosa and secretions. Think of two large bodies of water converging in froth and tumult. As we watch businesses undergo revolutionary digital transformations, we see some messy connections between brick and mortar. This mess of transitionary connections is why we're all so busy with our web technologies.

You can look at a business and imagine its digital future; money flowing entirely digitally; products and services heavily weighted to the digital space; people interacting with one another almost entirely through digital means. But this same business is not in that future yet.

We have a client whose business is to allow customers to come into brick and mortar locations to paint and fire pottery. This small business was founded before the existence of the internet. Its DNA is all brick. The pandemic hit and in order to survive, this business needed to go digital as much as possible. They already had a website, thankfully. So they built out a program where customers could shop for and buy pottery online, receive painting kits at home, do the work at home, and then send the pottery back to be fired. Shopping was digital. Payment was digital. Customer service was digital. But fulfillment was brick.

Another client was talking with me about making their accounting system more digitally streamlined. They too were a reasonably small business, although they had some 20 employees. They provided multiple services and had multiple invoicing systems. Their invoicing systems were all digital and they were all well suited to their domain. But the main accounting software, Quickbooks, was not getting good data from the disparate systems. I was asked if a single system could be built to do all of the work. Having been here before, I recommended a temporary transition solution to bridge the gap between their digital and the brick worlds. The simple hiring of a data entry person could manually get the information where it needed to be from the various systems. Such a person would be so much cheaper than a full software build. And at some future time, when all the disparate systems got better at talking to one another, they could then go about replacing some bricks with some digits.

As we help our clients transform digitally, we spend a lot of time helping them bridge the two worlds of digital and brick. This is ongoing work. There's a lot of churn. You build a good solution that works well for a couple of years. Then you throw it out when systems are more mature and capable of more digital lifting. In all cases, we see solid returns on investment. Even though transition solutions live a while and then get rebuilt, the outputs of efficiency and profit almost always outstrip the inputs of software development and consulting. The through-line here is that we develop long-term relationships with our clients. We understand their businesses well and we're better positioned to help them move along in the digital revolution.

Going All Digital?

Where things get really exciting is where products and services are entirely digital. We're seeing the digital revolution produce such things now. If you're old enough, you think they are bizarre fictions or phantoms, not really existing in the world. Consider cryptocurrency. It's all digital. You can't hold it. You can't put it in a safe deposit box. But it's surely real. Or consider NFT's, non-fungible tokens. Please read the article and don't ask me to explain why a computer graphic can be sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Services are the first movers in the digital space. Solspace has no inventory of any kind. We have no offices. We do receive mail, but barely any these days. Everything we are is digital. We build digital stuff. We fix digital stuff. We consult on how to build and fix digital stuff. It's hard to convince an old cowhand that you do real work when digital is your job. But it's surely real. The late-night emergencies to get an SSL certificate back up and running or fix a crashed server is as real as they come.

Going Digital is not a finite thing. We're not in the middle of a digital transformation that will end. As I ponder NFT's I believe more and more that we're headed into the infinite. It's astonishing but no less real. When our clients ask us to help them develop their digital products and services is when things are truly exciting.