Transitioning from digital transformation to digital acceleration: What history teaches us.

Transitioning from digital transformation to digital acceleration: What history teaches us.

For years, digital transformation has been a hot topic, with countless articles highlighting the long-term strategic need for every company to transform digitally. The pandemic has had such a dramatic effect that virtually all companies and all internal processes have at least started this transformation. Or, as Satya Nadella said in April 2020: “We’ve seen two years’ worth of digital transformation in two months.” And that was at the start of this now 18 months (and counting) pandemic. 

As the end of 2021 approaches and we look towards the remainder of the decade, a more appropriate question that companies should ask themselves is not about the need or timing for their digital transformation but more about their digital acceleration.

Digital acceleration: A paradigm shift that enables organizations to realize the full potential and ROI of their digital transformation. 

Now that processes are natively digital, how do you leverage your digital transformation to increase its returns in terms of customer benefits, cost reduction, quality improvement, and employee satisfaction? To reap those benefits, we advocate companies switch their mindset to a digital acceleration one.

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What history teaches us about how long it takes to fully embrace new technology paradigms: Steam-powered equipment and car dashboards

Before digging into the implications of switching from digital transformation to digital acceleration, let’s look back at two previous mutations that dramatically impacted the (then) “business as usual.”

Manufacturing: The switch from steam to electricity-powered equipment

Arguably, the industrial revolution started when steam machines were developed and deployed at scale and across industries. But this was only the first step in productivity gains that the industrial revolution brought.

When electrification became mainstream in the late 1800s (and early 1900s for the electric grid), electric engine-powered equipment appeared in manufacturing plants around the world. However, they were initially only used to replace the steam machines one-to-one: same output, same location in the plant, same goals.

A current IT technology analogy would be the lift and shift movement that started in the early 2010s when on-premises applications were moved to virtual machines on clouds such as Microsoft Azure, Amazon Web Services, or Google Cloud Platform.

Steam engines in factorySource: Wikimedia

Machines powered via a steam engine were installed, aligned, and spread across multiple floors because they were all connected to the same steam engine through drive belts running at the same speed, regardless of the machine.

When manufactured started to use electric machines, it barely improved factories’ overall productivity because they were only swapped in for the steam-powered ones.

It took decades before industrial process engineers realized machines didn’t need to be all close to one another, next to the steam engine-powered belts, in this new electricity-powered equipment paradigm.

This new approach led to incredible productivity improvements where machines could be organized to follow logical manufacturing flows. It increased manufacturing speed and production efficiency and enabled even larger-scale manufacturing. It also paved the way for the moving assembly process pioneered by Henry Ford that revolutionized automobile manufacturing and made cars available to the mass market.

The dawn of the EVs

Similarly, when the first hybrid cars came around in the early 2000s, batteries recharged through braking and the gas-powered engine. In those cars, the electric motor would be used at low speed before the gas engine would kick in or complement the gas engine for better acceleration. The Toyota Prius used the first approach, the Honda Civic Hybrid the second one.

Then pure (or hybrid pluggable) EVs came out, with the most famous being the Tesla Roadster and Model S.

Now, let’s zoom in on one specific element in those cars: the dashboard

All the cars mentioned above, including the Roadster and Model S, shared a similar dashboard design: they replicated the dashboard model of gas-powered (or ICE, for Internal Combustion Engine) cars. Those dashboards had an extensive set of buttons, knobs, lights, gauges, meters, etc. This itself dictated how the heating and air conditioning could be dispensed for the front passengers.

In 2018, Tesla introduced the Model 3. This car, from a dashboard perspective, was a leapfrog in design. For the first time, the dashboard truly took advantage of the fact that the vehicle was an EV.

First, everything disappeared from the dashboard and migrated to a central touchscreen. Because of that, the traditional air vent system was not needed anymore. Tesla used the fact that the whole dashboard was now clutter-free to innovate when dispensing air to the front rows.

The picture of the Model 3 and Y user interface below depicts how it works. Tesla leverages the full dash length to generate the front airflow. It then controls the airflow direction by merging it with a second vertical airflow. This leads to more comfort for the driver and the passenger. It also provides more controllable and flexible airflows than the traditional vents with clunky mechanical rotation capabilities and directional tabs.

Dashboard of EV

In this example, once again, it took almost 20 years between when a new technology (Hybrid/EV) started to be deployed commercially at scale and when manufacturers capitalized on its full potential.

What those two stories have in common is that it took (too) many years before industries embraced the new paradigm made possible by those innovations. To benefit from the potential of cloud, data, and AI-powered processes, companies need to move to a digital acceleration paradigm now and not in 5, 10, or 20 years.

How does a business shift its mindset from digital transformation to digital acceleration? We cover this in part two.