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The Problem with Digital Transformation: Goals Vs. Execution

Feb 15, 2018

In this series of blog posts, we’ll explore the common ingredients we’ve discovered in working with hundreds of enterprises on their digital transformation journeys. In this first post, we’ll discuss the challenges of executing—even when a team has a great vision for transformation. We’ll also introduce you to Apigee Compass, a new tool to assess a company’s digital capabilities.

If there are a few immutable truths in business, this is one of them: Aspiration is easy, but execution is hard. Few concepts illustrate this as well as digital transformation.

On the one hand, the imperative is clear. “Most CIOs will be operating in a state of constant transformation,” research firm Forrester states in “Predictions 2018: CIOs Make The Chief Digital Officer Obsolete.” “Siloed thinking and digital bolt-on strategies will finally give way to a more holistic approach driven by a clear mandate from the board—and stakeholders beyond.”  

On the other hand, executing on this imperative—let alone doing so quickly and efficiently—is incredibly complicated. The hurdles are both cultural and technological.

“Although there has been a slight net increase in the scaling of digital initiatives, there is still a major wall of resistance facing CIOs attempting a scale play,” market analyst firm Gartner notes in a recent report, “Mastering the New Business Executive Job of the CIO,” noting that culture change may be the biggest hurdle.

Trying to overcome these hurdles, both cultural and technological, can take a toll. “Executive leaders are frustrated with the slow pace of digital transformation, as they watch competitors capture new opportunities,” the firm notes in another recent article, “Embrace the Urgency of Digital Transformation.”

In our work with large enterprises, we’ve seen this tension between goals and hurdles play out again and again. The leaders of most businesses understand we’ve entered a phase in which, as The New York Times put it last year, “every company is a tech company.” But they aren’t as sure what this means for them or how their organization must adapt to remain competitive.

Apigee Compass

In response to these disconnects between enterprises’ goals and their ability to execute, we launched Apigee Compass, an online tool to help businesses chart a path through their digital transformations. Apigee advocates an “outside-in” viewpoint that uses customer experiences and expectations to shape strategies, and we’ve invested in a wide range of research projects to understand how companies (successful and not) navigate digital transformation, including our annual “State of APIs” reports and a collaboration with Boston University scholars to study the ROI of API-first digital transformations.

Apigee Compass curates and delivers the information we've gathered and the lessons we've learned from working with Walgreens, Pitney Bowes, Magazine Luiza, Experian, and hundreds of other companies. The interactive, self-service tool can be used by anyone to assess their organization's digital maturity and chart a path to digital success.

Apigee Compass uses a ten-question survey to assess a company’s digital capabilities. This assessment translates into a digital score that places organizations along a “lagging” to “leading” spectrum—think of it as a credit score for digital capabilities—and includes recommendations curated to the business’s current position.   

The anonymized and aggregated survey results, based on hundreds of enterprise respondents, reaffirm what we’ve seen in the field and what organizations such as Gartner and Forrester are finding in their research. Most users have the right digital transformation goals—the right vision. They’re more likely than not to say their organizations are working on platform and ecosystem strategies, for example. But even if the vision is true, the organizational alignment and execution typically are not.   

Misunderstanding APIs

For example, the data indicates companies are more likely to dismiss APIs as simply integration technology than to recognize them as a base ingredient in modern digital business. This is a potentially grave misunderstanding. We typically see companies that dismiss APIs land in the “lagging” end of the spectrum while those that design and manage APIs as products for developers tend to be more competitive. Gartner has come to similar observations; “APIs are the basis of every digital strategy,” according to the firm’s recent article, “Put APIs at the Center of Your Digital Business Platform.”

Many Apigee Compass survey respondents also report lacking the self-service resources, funding and governance models, and executive support to empower their developers—and as long as that’s true, even if these respondents have the right vision, their digital transformation goals are confined to aspiration, not action.  

We created a new ebook, The Digital Transformation Journey: Chart Your Path with Apigee Compass,” not only as a supplement to Apigee Compass, so that users can get the most from their curated recommendations, but also a description of the common ingredients we’ve discerned working with hundreds of enterprises on their digital transformation journeys.

Coming up next, we’ll dive into two critical digital transformation principles.

The Digital Journey


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