Digital Acceleration – For When Digital Transformation Is Too Slow

G. Barton
G. Barton

Summary Bullets:          

  • Digital acceleration implements short-term tactical changes over longer-term strategic projects.
  • Digital acceleration is a response to changing customer demands, not just COVID-19.

Digital transformation has been an industry catchphrase for some time now.  Its definition is both vague and changeable, but it speaks to using technology to improve internal processes within an enterprise to deliver cost savings and/or improved performance.  It encompasses a wide range of technologies including cloud, SD-WAN, collaboration, IoT, 5G, blockchain, AI, and SaaS. 

However, there is a new buzz phrase on the block: digital acceleration.  So, is there a difference between digital transformation and digital acceleration?  The ‘helpful’ answer to that is ‘yes and no.’  The intentions of both digital transformation and digital acceleration are the same, as are the technologies involved.  The big difference is in methodology.

Digital transformation has usually been a slow process.  It usually involves a consultative-driven approach designed to review large sections of a business and then to recommend and implement a series of changes over an extended a period of time, quite often two or three years.  Digital acceleration is, as the name suggests, designed to deliver change more quickly.  To achieve this, it takes a more iterative, small-scale approach.  Instead of reviewing large-scale systems, it seeks to take components within systems and replace them with more digital (i.e., more technologically advanced) alternatives.

Digital acceleration as a concept has been around for at least two years, but it has gained impetus from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.  COVID has forced enterprises to adapt at a phenomenal pace.  The consequences for failing to do so have often been existential.

Work from home (WFH) is a good and common example of digital acceleration.  The problem of WFH has been addressed in a piecemeal way rather a holistic way.  Widespread adoption of hosted collaboration services such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and Cisco WebEx dominated the early part of the pandemic in order to keep employees connected.  This has now moved towards improving home connectivity and to solutions designed to improve conditions for those working from home.

There have also been multiple vertical examples.  Healthcare has rapidly adopted telehealth solutions, as COVID-19 meant that in-person consultations were often not possible.  The initial solutions were relatively crude uses of platforms like Zoom.  The iterative digital acceleration process will see a series of more tailor-made, cloud-hosted platforms replace the initial solutions now that telemedicine has become a more firmly established practice.

In retail, businesses have quickly had to adjust to a world that is even more focused on online rather than brick-and-mortar shopping.  Long-term plans for greater tie-ins between the in-person and online experience are now being prioritized and implemented at an accelerated rate.  Solutions such as virtual fitting rooms that once seemed futuristic are now seen as relatively normal.

However, enterprises shouldn’t see digital acceleration purely as a reaction to the pandemic.  The methodology speaks to the need to respond quickly to customers who are increasingly used to an on-demand, personalized experience.  There is still a place for longer-term strategies, but businesses should also think tactically.

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