‘Digital Transformation Journey’: A Yellow Brick Road To Nowhere?

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In this guest post, Miles Toolin (pictured below), principal solution consultant at Cheetah Digital, explains why focusing on business value and taking a top-down approach are key to a successful digital transformation strategy…

Type ‘digital transformation’ in Google and in less than a second you get 597,000,000 results. In a BCG survey, 80 per cent of Australian businesses surveyed were undergoing digital transformation; however, only 30 per cent are doing it successfully.

So, the question is: are businesses actually driving digital transformation, or are they suffering from ‘transformation fatigue’?

No doubt COVID-19 impacted digital transformation, with PwC reporting Australian businesses’ slow-burning digital transformations got fired up in response to COVID’s work-from-home requirements.

The usual statements from businesses “undergoing digital transformation” are along these lines:

“We are kicking off a digital transformation journey where we will buy new marketing technology to solve our data problem and our customer churn issues.”

“We are in the middle of our digital transformation journey which has been ongoing now for about two years, and we still haven’t fully implemented that product. We aren’t in a position to buy new platforms.”

The list could go on and on. When I hear the three dreaded buzzwords ‘digital transformation journey’, I picture The Wizard of Oz and Dorothy walking down the yellow brick road, with absolutely no idea where she is headed or what hurdles she will face on her journey.

Are you transforming or mutating?

When I think of the term ‘transform’, I have visions of a slick-looking Transformer toy from my childhood days such as Optimus Prime. Everything about them was streamlined, right down to the core and they were far superior to anything we had seen before, but all had one common goal: going to war.

Now if I think of ‘mutating,’ my mind goes back to another favourite childhood toy of mine, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. These were mutated, larger turtles that could talk and use their ninja powers for the greater good…and they loved pizza! They weren’t accepted and were continually rejected. Now stay with me here as you’re probably reading this thinking, ‘does all this have to do with digital transformation in a corporate setting?’ It absolutely does.

End states distilled down

Let’s break down these two ‘end states’ of transforming and mutating. The concept of ‘transforming’ is associated with providing clear value to the business, driving efficiencies and a streamlined customer experience.

The concept of ‘mutation’ is associated with groupthink, rigmarole, muddled inefficiency and unacceptable business practices. The ‘mutated mindset’ generally ends with a re-launch or a new technology platform, which was supposed to solve a supposed problem that another piece of technology couldn’t.

In summary, here are some keywords one would associate with each ‘end state’:


  • Vision and common goals
  • New and improved
  • Agile and robust
  • Efficient and scalable


  • Mixed vision and no alignment
  • Old and new
  • Clunky and unknown
  • Groupthink and rigmarole

Here are some questions to ask yourself to clarify whether you are transforming in a constructive way, or merely mutating down a yellow brick road to nowhere:

  • Common goal: Do you have a portfolio of martech platforms that overlap in a multitude of ways, but don’t have a clear common goal of how your tech stack is achieving value for the business and optimising the customer experience?
  • Value: What value and impact does this transformation bring to your business? Can the value be articulated easily or is it muddled and ‘mutated’?
  • Vision: Does the business share a common vision of delivering the best customer experience?
  • Alignment: Are you transforming like Optimus Prime and your business goals are aligned with your executive team, IT team, board of directors and customers? Is the value aligned from the top down?
  • Collaboration: Are you working with the correct external vendors who understand the start and end states that your business is in? Are these vendors aligned with you and your business to achieve success in a joint partnership where both parties have a value exchange?
  • Clear trajectory: Are you on a ‘journey’ or do you have a clear flight path and destination and know exactly where you are heading and what is required to achieve that ‘end state’?

Robust growth with a turbocharged transformation strategy

Cartoon and kids story references aside, if you’ve read this far, then it is clear that you don’t want to be a ‘mutated ninja turtle’ sort of company. You want to be a ‘big shiny transformer’ that can adapt and transform quickly and provide value to your business and most importantly, to your customers.

If we focus on the business value and the top-down approach to transformation strategy, we will always come out the other end with a defined path to our destination that is clear for everyone involved, champagne in hand.

Once we have our value and alignment in order, we can move to align with third-party vendors and share our vision with them. They bring us the tools to transform and create long-lasting partnerships for perpetual success.

Featured image source: iStock/BDoty

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