Demystifying Digital Transformation with Umeed Kothavala
In early 2020, organizations worldwide were forced to recognize the importance of digital transformation. Some were ahead in their adoption journey, and some not so much. Some were forced to adapt, some chose to leverage the opportunity, and some went into a frenzy of misdirected activity. But now, more than a year later, digital transformation isn’t just a buzz phrase but a way of baseline requirement for organizations to operate, survive and thrive. We invited our CEO, Umeed Kothavala, to share his views on digital transformation and what lies ahead for businesses and as they look at the years ahead. Here are excerpts from our conversation with him in late May 2021 – pulled from an open-ended conversation on digital transformation, what businesses should be planning for, and everything in between.
Before we talk about other companies, how about you tell us a bit about Extentia’s digital transformation journey?
I feel Extentia had some intrinsic advantages in embarking on this journey. Our business is mainly around providing high-end technology-based solutions, and we don’t have an invested history in non-compatible, or non-digital platforms and assets. That definitely helped us – we able to look forward, not back. We migrated to paperless, online processes years ago – and that’s laid a foundation for more rapid generational changes. For a small company like ours that doesn’t have the baggage of a legacy to take forward, committing to digital transformation came more easily. Migrating all our activities into a mindset that is cloud and user-centric was a comparatively easy shift to make. In fact, last year, we could accelerate our business further due to our early adoption of digital transformation.
How would you define digital transformation?
I believe digital transformation isn’t a linear process that has a defined start or endpoint. It is neither a one-time, nor one-focus process. Any useful and value-delivering transformation must continue to evolve and benefit the organization. So, each business function must be approached independently and collectively so that all functions in an organization are given a digital touch for it to be successful. Yet, at the umbrella level, they all should meet, communicate with each other, and not exist in silos. The business goal at the top should remain constant at all times.
What aspects do you think are central to digital transformation?
The first aspect is that companies must be invested in the future. For larger organizations, it isn’t that simple; it’s a massive change of mindset. It means that leaders need to realize that their existing investments in IT and business processes are going to be phased out – they may have already served their purpose. And now, over a 2-3 year window, which is the typical timeframe of a digital transformation project, many of those legacy systems and processes are going to be replaced. But they need to trust that it is a transformation that the entire business, organization, and industry will be going through. So pick on future technologies that will ripen in a few years and benefit the company in the long run.
Secondly, another critical aspect of digital transformation is the user itself. Extentia and many others understood that as the world transitioned to digital-first, the user and their experiences will become ever more critical. The main element we included in the process was to keep the users at the center. Naturally, there’s a need to combine contemporary and future technology while positioning the user in the middle.
Getting this combination of technology and user-first thinking right in serving business needs, is the foundation of any successful digital transformation.
How has the impact of COVID-19 amplified the need for digital transformation for businesses? Do you think it is an easy switch?
Let me address some non-obvious thoughts on this. In the first few months of the pandemic, everyone realized that it was imperative to turn digital or commit to digital even more. But a year later, many businesses and leaders are still only talking about it and haven’t taken steps in the right direction.
One of the primary reasons for that could be that companies find the implementation to be a complex process, unsure of where to start, and what leadership needs to make happen. Many teams struggle to pick a few areas from a convoluted web of processes that need immediate transformation. Another reason could be that it is still seen as a big-company activity. That’s something that I disagree with It’s easier for small and mid-sized companies, like ours, to embrace digital transformation, since they are likely to be more nimble and agile.
What do you suggest should a company keep in mind while creating an effective digital transformation strategy?
To answer this question, I need to answer why we embarked on this digital transformation journey. Through our experience and understanding of the landscape, we have noted three defining characteristics – digital transformation as an intervention, as a differentiator, and, as a disruptor.
For instance, as an intervention, the goal of digital transformation may be as simple as playing catch-up – getting to a stable baseline that keeps up with competitors, user needs, and the industry in general. If a company is undertaking digital transformation as a differentiator, it aims to get ahead of its competition, creating and delivering differentiated experiences for internal and external users and genuinely differentiated business value. And if an organization is committing to digital transformation as a disruption, then needs to have mature digital processes and platforms to start with. To truly deliver disruption – that needs great alignment across vision, leadership, and implementation – challenging and exciting!
What should a business expect from its digital transformation journey when an effective strategy is in place?
So, I think some discomfort is to be expected with any significant change. And, there will be a learning process and an acclimatization period, and eventually comfort and efficiency with the new ways of thinking and working. Only then will efforts will come to fruition. These are in addition to the almost obvious requirements of effective communication, mature leadership, a strong vision for the future, and the understanding of risks while embracing failure and learning opportunities – to mention a few.
How can Extentia help teams and organizations with digital transformation?
Well, in many exciting ways! There are many reasons why we are in an excellent position to be the right choice for organizations and teams of all sizes. Getting technology right and a user-centric approach are hardwired into our DNA. Our teams have historic experience – in working with customers and partners through this journey. They’ve seen the challenges, helped with navigation, and delivered successfully. The third thing that positions Extentia incredibly well is our ability to work with teams and processes of all sizes – small, medium, and large. So, the same benefits can be delivered to smaller companies, or teams within mid-sized companies, who may typically feed left out. And larger organizations and groups, get the benefit of nimble thinking, rapid progress, and a culture that encourages innovation and creativity.
Any last words for the companies who are still on the fence?
Take the plunge. This isn't going to change or fade away. Digital transformation is going to drive the next generation of transformation in all businesses and organizations. The only option is being left behind. It’s digital-first, or nowhere-at-all…
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