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Will McInnes

Digital transformation

We are at an interesting point.

The World Wide Web is nearly 25 years old. Google is about 15 years old, and Wikipedia about 12. Mobile phones have been commercially available since 1983, and there are now gazillions of them and not just in the developed world, of course.

This stuff has been around a while now.

Today Amazon no longer only sells books and running shoes – it now sells the building blocks of its own ecommerce infrastructure to others, it develops hardware in the Kindle and is developing an ecosystem all of its own. It isn’t sitting around, cosy in its little digital world. It is busy disrupting the status quo in publishing, entertainment, in digital infrastructure and in retailing,

Activists in Turkey, and before that in the so-called Arab Spring, now use digital networks to get videos, photos and notes about police or government brutality out to the rest of the world.

Here in the UK, an elite team called GDS is seeking to transform government digital services, attacking the highest volume transactional websites in the UK – spreading user-friendly goodness, bringing the best of digital practice to government departments, departments that ran the British empire for hundreds of years.

Communities that have never and will never physically meet raise funds for people in need on Reddit, through Kiva and to get projects off the ground via Kickstarter.

And my dad, soon to retire as a state school teacher after 30 odd years, has been given an iPad, as has every student in his school. What is education like in a world where every person in a classroom has a tablet at their finger tips? Where the greatest universities in the world publish their courseware on the web freely? (See also: Sugata Mitra).

This is the new reality.

You know this. So what. It’s all a bit yada yada, perhaps.

The point is this. We are at a point where digital practices, behaviours and business models are disrupting pretty much everything – education, business, politics, civil society, and so on.

And some organisations are natively digital – those we laud and congratulate loudly. “Well done Facebook!”, “Bravo, Twitters!”, “Go Mumsnet!”. And those guys are great pioneers.

But the most fascinating question for me is what will it take for organisations steeped in and born from the last century or before to make a digital transformation, when their successes were born of old models and practices?

That’s hard. That’s interesting.

Is it classic reinvention story, like Lou Gerstner tells of his transforming IBM from hardware to services in Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance? Can you achieve it through acquisition, perhaps, this digital transformation?

And in the end, who will make it? Now that’s going to be really interesting.

  • Will the US Treasury and the Bank of England move with the times, and will the dollar and the Euro still be suitable?
  • Will state governments resist a great atomisation, a fragmenting into digital tribes and physical small communities?
  • Will schools work more like co-working spaces?
  • And how on earth does an 80,000 person multi-national corporation transform when so much around it is in flux? Who will be on the inside and the outside, how will rewards happen, how will intellectual property be handled, what does leadership look like and who will the shareholders be?
  • And what is like to be a person or a team or an office in all of these places – what is like to have the ground moving under your feet, to have to adjust to things that are profoundly different to before, to be so challenged?

Digital transformation.

This is a big ask of us as individuals, with our habits and norms, let alone a big organisation.

Yet the challenge is we have to bring these large complex organisations with us. And what a great challenge to tackle, in service of a better world.

And it is tempting to divide these things – to see the rise of technology and the rise of a new business consciousness as two separate things, but I really believe that they are innately connected. That transparency, openness and the rapidity of the digital world is a powerful catalyst for the rise of employee ownership, for participatory leadership and new networked organisational structures. I guess that’s what Culture Shock is about.

That is what we’re up for at NixonMcInnes. To help positively transform the business world, with digital transformation as the catalyst.

This post was filed under Technology, The future Comments are currently closed.


  1. Great, thought-provoking, post. I totally agree we are on the cusp of the next epoch – but maybe it’s not about who will catch up and when. Maybe it’s about whether it will turn out well. Technology has the power to liberate us or enslave us. Just ask Edward Snowden.

    For example, there was evidence after the Egyptian revolution (in the looted Intelligence Ministry) that European companies were selling software to Hosni Mubarak’s security services that helped them spy on, track down and murder dissidents ( This happened in Bahrain and Syria too. Mexican drug cartels are now supposedly kidnapping Motorola engineers and forcing them to build private cellular networks ( FBI agents have inadvertently revealed that they have the full text of all phone calls made in America ( And on and on and on.

    Everything we will do in the future will involve the internet and, to quote the sci-fi writer Cory Doctorow (, it will either be “a nexus of control or a nexus of liberation”. This is what we need to think about. Who will control the flow of information; the people or the dictators? How do we guarantee free and open devices and networks to fight oppression? How do we stop the technology being turned on the aims of justice and progress when we can see this is already happening.

    Just a thought :)

    Posted 11th June 2013 at 6:00 pm | Permalink
  2. Hi Will
    Nice post. And to follow Michaels comment, the opportunities presented always open up new challenges as well. For example if we demand transparency, are by definition also demanding less privacy?. I wrote some thoughts on this inspired by current NSA/PRISM debate:
    Even intelligence communities are facing disruption!

    Posted 11th June 2013 at 7:53 pm | Permalink
  3. Hi Will
    I don’t normally leave links to my own posts in comments but the talk I gave at FODM last week resonates well I think with what you’re saying:
    I know you believe organisational culture to be critical – I also think the focus on the future is too often on the shiny new tech and not enough on the people, behaviours, and strategy that surrounds it. As you rightly say, digital transformation is about all of these things.

    Posted 11th June 2013 at 8:18 pm | Permalink

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