Digital Business Transformation: A book review by Bob Morris

Digital Business Transformation: How Established Companies Sustain Competitive Advantage From Now to Next
Nigel Vaz
Wiley (January 2021)

How companies thrive by defending, differentiating, or disrupting themselves and their markets

Drawing upon wide and deep experience with all manner of organizational transformations, Nigel Vaz shares in this volume the most valuable lessons he has learned about how almost any business can establish a set of organizational capabilities and ways of working that drive the business outcomes that will make it relevant and competitive in a digital world.

As he explains, “My purpose in writing this book is to help others get past what can be the hardest part of any personal or enterprise transformation: the choices we make every day to move toward what will drive our future success. Often, this will mean letting go of things that made us successful in the past, to make room for new skills, relationships, ways of working, and opportunities.” (Page xx)

Presumably Vaz agrees with Marshall Goldsmith who suggests that “what got you here won’t get you there” and with me that what got you here won’t even allow you to remain here, however and wherever “here” and “there” are defined.

I agree with Vaz that various forces of connected change are causing leaders to rethink everything about what their organizations do and how they do it. (The WHY tends to remain essentially the same.) These forces include customer behaviors and preferences and behaviors, technological change, business models, and societal change. And let’s not forget about tsunamis, hurricanes, and pandemic viruses.

At one of Berkshire Hathaway’s annual meetings years ago, Warren Buffett explained how he identifies the longevity of a business’ competitive advantage. He always tries to find “a business with a wide and long-lasting moat around it, protecting a terrific economic castle with an honest lord in charge of the castle…it can be because it’s the low-cost producer in some area, it can be because it has a natural franchise because of surface capabilities, it could be because of its position in the consumer’s mind, it can be because of a technological advantage, or any kind of reason at all, that it has this moat around it.”

In Digital Business Transformation, Vaz points out that the economic moat focuses on one or a combination of moat types: low-cost production or distribution; scale; high switching costs for customers or suppliers; and intangibles, such as brand, intellectual property rights, or government regulation and licenses. Times change and so must business strategies and tactics.

While providing an abundance of information, insights, and counsel that help to prepare his reader to sustain effective digital transformation (it’s an ongoing process, NOT a specific destination), Vaz shares his thoughts about key issues that include these:

o How and why “business as usual” died
o The four-forces of interdependent change
o Defining characteristics of a digital business
o BHAGs (Big Hairy Audacious Goals) of digital business transformation
o The relentless and perilous struggle to add value
o “Spaghetti Tech”: The Layers of Enterprise IT
o Defining characteristics of a “Gryphon” organization
o Components of successful digital business transformation
o How and why digital transformations are driven by uncertainty
o What every digital business transformation is really all about

Leaders in established businesses must focus on building their organization’s own strong digital capability through digital business transformation. More specifically, Vaz is eager to help those leaders create or strengthen a workplace culture that can change at pace with the changes around it. Also, to help them construct or strengthen the capability to identify and realize value through digital for their customers as well as for the business.

Here are Nigel Vaz’s concluding thoughts:

“When we create a digital product or service that makes people’s lives easier, when we make an experience even more frictionless, when we use digital to enable people to do something they couldn’t do before or do it more quickly, when we give them the sense of having acquired an everyday superpower is what I mean by improving people’s lives. This is what ‘value’ looks like. That, ultimately is what Digital Business Transformation is all about.” (Page 176)

For many C-level executives especially, this may well be the most valuable business book they ever read.

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