Digital Enablement vs. Digital Transformation | Nexient



In the classic debate over which came first — the chicken or the egg — they both appear equally essential for the other to happen. There’s a similarly head-scratching riddle over the role and timing of digital transformation and digital enablement.

Up to 70 percent of digital transformation projects fail, which means many companies are getting this important question wrong. The problem is that companies don’t fully understand the distinction between digital transformation and digital enablement. And even if they do, they don’t always know which should come first.

A big pitfall is to associate digital transformation only with following the latest technology trends (cloud computing and intelligent automation) or delivery models (containerization, Agile and DevOps). That thinking paints digital transformation much too broadly and often as unrealistic for an organization in today’s climate, looking to manage the massive shifts in consumer and business behavior.

Just because an enterprise successfully implements good technology doesn't mean it is ready to drive the cultural and strategic changes required for holistic digital transformation.

That’s where digital enablement comes in. It is a less-used term that describes the process of mastering new technologies to scale your digital transformation strategy. Understanding the difference between digital enablement and digital transformation (and distinguishing these concepts from all the other “digital” terms that have sprung up in the past two years) can help you correctly identify barriers and solutions to common innovation roadblocks. 

What is digital enablement?

Digital enablement is the approach to implementing technologies that improve production and operational efficiency to ultimately provide better customer experiences. The goal of digital enablement is to articulate your technical objectives, address challenges and constraints, define success factors and KPIs and explore combinations of your best technology options. 

The difference between digital enablement and transformation is that digital enablement focuses specifically on using technology to facilitate change. On the other hand, digital transformation is a multidisciplinary, enterprise-wide effort that involves driving changes in culture, governance, people and processes in addition to technology. 

Why is this distinction important? 

As a product strategy consulting provider, we’re in the business of accelerating our clients’ digital transformation initiatives. Sometimes clients come in wanting to adopt a specific technology — like Salesforce for example. But during the discovery process, we find that the problem isn’t necessarily that they lack a certain tool, but that they lack a clear path to digital success. We work with them to design a cohesive technical ecosystem built for longevity and make sure every part of their tech stack is a strategic investment.

The point is, there’s no silver bullet technology that can alone deliver the full benefits of digital transformation. 

Digital enablement In Action

To illustrate a solid digital enablement strategy at play, here’s an example from one of our clients. Here, the problem was not people or process. It was clunky internal software. Once the right technology was in place, the people and process changes followed. That’s why this case study is an example of digital enablement and not digital transformation:

One of our large utility clients needed a more efficient way for supervisors and field workers to plan, inspect and assign work orders. Under the current system, in order to inspect an asset, supervisors would have to drive or call in to get an updated map from the field worker. This process took days and ate up operational expenses. 

We prototyped several proof of concepts and landed on three areas for improvement: operational expenses, data integrity and inspection time. It was also important that our solution would interact with existing enterprise backend systems like SAP, GIS and Couchbase so as to not create any data silos. Finally, we knew it would need to work across different utility systems, including gas distribution, electric distribution and transmission and hydro power generation.

Our solution was to architect, develop and deploy a web-based tool for asset management. 

  • The tool features geolocation to produce digital, on-demand maps and records and the digital maps are updated within two minutes, cutting inspection time down to only a few hours. 
  • The application has been embraced client-wide for its ability to massively reduce operational time and expenses. 
  • Field workers have a wealth of data at their fingertips to improve safety while executing work orders, such as customer information on access codes or whether there are animals on the property. 
  • Clerks, mappers and schedulers use the application to support work management. 
  • Supervisors use it to manage records, monitor activity and perform more efficient inspections. 

Had this been an example of digital transformation, our client would have focused on people and process changes first, then layered on technology once it had re-wired its culture and workflow. But this is an example of digital enablement because the people and process changes were only possible after first putting the right technology in place. 

Does Nexient provide digital enablement services?

Nexient offers digital enablement strategy consulting and execution via cross-functional teams consisting of UX analysts, Agile and DevOps developers and product managers. 

We apply our signature product mindset approach to digital enablement. We begin with defining the digital strategy, then execute the new technical architecture and finally assign performance metrics and management plans for ongoing operations. 

With software development experts across a multitude of technology stacks, our digital enablement services are designed to future-proof your technology investments. 

To learn more about our digital enablement services, please read our case studies or contact us for a consultation. 

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