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A field guide to digital transformation
Erl T., Stoffers R., Pearson, Hoboken, NJ, 2021. 288 pp. Type: Book (978-1-375718-44-8)
Date Reviewed: Oct 27 2022

Is your company having difficulties growing in business or adapting to changing market conditions? Is it losing touch with customer communities or getting cold responses from existing or past customers? Are the symptoms of inefficiencies in decision making or company operations becoming quite overt? If you answered yes to one or more questions, then the time has come for a digital transformation of your business.

To understand what digital transformation is all about, and to get started on this journey, Thomas Erl and Roger Staffers have come out with this easy-to-understand primer, covering the associated concepts, practices, and technologies as a well-structured awareness guide with attractive diagrams for quick comprehension.

The material is spread over 12 chapters in two parts: “Digital Transformation Fundamentals” and “Digital Transformation in Practice.” Part 1 (eight chapters) helps readers understand the concept of digital transformation, its business and technology drivers, benefits expected, risks envisaged, and challenges perceived. The authors then further expose readers to digital transformation solutions using contemporary automation and data science technologies, and then conclude with an illustrative practical case study of the digital transformation process in Part 2.

Part 1’s first chapter begins with the basics of what digital transformation is in terms of overall purpose and scope for aligning an organization’s business, technology, data, and people. Chapter 2 presents the common business drivers leading to digital transformation. It is a very crucial chapter to understanding the business imperatives driving digital transformation. Chapter 3 explains the technology drivers that enable digital transformation in mainstream information technology (IT). This chapter explains how and to what extent the capabilities provided by automation and data science technologies help in the process. Chapter 4 gives the expected benefits and goals of digital transformation, ranging from a company’s technology-business alignment to achieving market growth in terms of its market share. Chapter 5 covers possible pitfalls and challenges, which can side-track or derail the digital transformation efforts from the intended business goals, pace, and direction. The challenges emerging from poor data quality and data bias, increased quantity of vulnerable digital data, resistance to digital culture, risks of over-automation, and difficulty in governance are very succinctly highlighted using self-explanatory diagrams in this chapter. Chapter 6 then highlights the need for realizing customer-centricity by advocating a mindset whereby the customers are viewed as genuine assets for long-term value. Chapters 7 and 8 provide data intelligence basics leading to intelligent manual and automated decision-making processes.

Moving on to Part 2, chapter 9 helps readers understand digital transformation technology solutions. Chapters 10 and 11 give a brief overview of the primary technologies: cloud computing, blockchain, Internet of Things (IoT), robotic process automation (RPA), big data analytics, machine learning, and artificial intelligence (AI). They include how these technologies are put into practice and common risks and challenges associated with each. Finally, chapter 12 builds upon and brings together all the preceding chapters by providing a step-to-step “customer journey,” using an illustrative business scenario, for putting the technology-enabled business transformation process into action.

The most distinctive and appealing part of the book is its presentation and layout. The 250-plus pages include excellent, reader-friendly diagrams; narration by “CC,” the reader’s “field guide” at the start of each chapter; and many “tips” (also given by “CC”). Well-structured content in simple language and with simple examples makes this book very easy to read by anyone who wants to understand the digital transformation process, its associated technologies, and the risks and challenges. In addition to a table of contents, the book starts with a preface and acknowledgements. It ends with a subject index.

The authors do not include a bibliography or references for further reading--presumably because the book is quite conceptual and a summary treatise on practice rather than on research. However, as some readers may want to do more research on a specific subtopic or associated technology, future editions could include references.

The authors have rightly put a disclaimer in their preface that this book does not cover some (though important, in my opinion) topics related to the implementation of the digital transformation process, for example, security aspects, digital transformation planning, the impact of digital transformation on an organization”s structure and culture, and implementing automation and data science technologies. So it is not an in-depth guide or manual for implementing digital transformation, but an excellent and comprehensive overview of the subject that gives the why, how, and what of digital transformation and for understanding the human, technical, and data aspects associated with the subject. It will interest anyone who wants to understand where contemporary business and technology is going, and should help readers understand the broad subject of digital transformation in order to prepare an action plan for implementation.

Reviewer:  C.S. Arora Review #: CR147508 (2301-0002)
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