Can digital transformation help humanize businesses?

  • 88% of surveyed executives and strategists state their company has digital transformation efforts in effect, yet only 25% first mapped their customers' digital journeys.

  • Strategists often equate digital transformation with a shift in technology investment.

Digital transformation is one of the most important movements in the history of business. It is forcing companies to adapt to new markets and to re-examine business philosophies and practices. What is digital transformation? It’s an enterprise-wide, top-down investment in new technologies, business models, and supporting systems and processes to change the way companies sell, market, operate, and scale in an increasingly digital economy. As an aspiring digital anthropologist, I believe that there’s a human story driving digital transformation as well.

At Altimeter Group, I studied how leading businesses were undergoing digital transformation specific to marketing and customer engagement. The hypothesis going in was that decision-making was notably different than that of traditional customers. As such, the evolving behavior would force a shift of marketing, sales, product, and technology investments and resources to compete in new ways and places. Therefore, I focused my research through a customer-centric lens. I needed to see how behavior was changing as a result of technology’s impact on society and business.

We defined our work in digital transformation as understanding the realignment of, or new investment in, technology and business models to more effectively engage digital customers at every touchpoint in the customer experience life cycle.

In our second report in the series, we learned that investing in new digital technologies, such as social, mobile, big data, cloud, etc., doesn’t equate to “digital transformation.” Strategists often equate digital transformation with a shift in technology investment. Thus, they invest in technology to drive digital transformation without the necessary context to drive market-relevant insights.

Strategists still confuse technology with purpose and invest in all things digital to fuel transformation instead of garnering context and empathy to inform change…to give change meaning and motive. That’s why I believe digital transformation is a human story first and a technology story second. It’s also why we initially focused our research on the digital customer experience. Doing so forces a renewed focus on the entire customer experience, or at least it should.

We learned that 88% of executives and digital strategists stated that their company is undergoing a formal digital transformation effort. Yet only 25% had mapped out the digital customer journey. Of the 25%, many assumed what the new customer journey looked like based on popular technology without looking at or talking to connected customers.


Digital transformation impacts the bottom line. It leads to boosts in collaboration and productivity. Additionally, digital transformation helps companies assess and aspire to enhance the real customer experience.


To successfully transform, and to become human through a genuine focus on customer-centricity, takes empathy, vision, and leadership. With empathy, you can appreciate how digital customers are changing. With vision, you can see how markets are shifting. Through leadership, you will identify, organize, and drive new opportunities while becoming customer-centric along the way. Without these human traits, digital transformation can become yet another victim of technology-first efforts that miss the human mark.

Transformation comes down to one word: relevance. If consumer behavior is evolving as a result of technology, businesses either compete to get ahead of it, get stuck perpetually reacting to it, or they belittle or ignore it at their own peril.

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Brian Solis is the author of the book, What’s The Future of Business. He is also a principal analyst at Altimeter Group. All opinions are his own. AT&T has sponsored this blog post. Study results discussed are used by permission.


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