Is Business Transformation the new buzz word?


Recently for an interview for the vacancy of a Digital Strategy Head, one of our candidates when asked what was his favourite line of activity, said it was Business Transformation.

In the 70s and 80s people used the word Positioning in equal abandon. You could almost substitute positioning with any other word in any sentence. For example you could say ” this product is positioning at kids”. It definitely sounded more intellectual than ” targeted ” or “aimed ” and gave the user of the word some false sense of prominence. Then followed words like Change Management. I remember I once overheard one of my successors talking to a head hunter about a position in our company. He said he wanted someone who was good at Change Management. And I thought what bullcrap!

A little later in the 90s I first heard of the word ‘meme’. A little later I bought the book Spiral Dynamics, by Don Beck and Christopher Cowan. Then suddenly in the current decade I found that the second generation of the big Indian entrepreneurs, who had returned from Harvard ( I am told Harvard is soon becoming a little India ) were educating their fathers on ‘memes’. And I was thinking ‘listen girl I think you are a bit old fashioned and behind the times – I knew this word 20 years ago.’ But then their big industrialist fathers were impressed, so who was I anyway.

‘Meme’ however is already becoming old hat so lets get back to Business Transformation. When any business word enters everyday language you can assume it is no longer trending.

So what the hell is Business Transformation?

If you Google the words Business Transformation you will get 2.29 million results.

The article by Scott Anthony in Harvard Business Review says ‘Business Transformation can be broken down into 3 categories: operational, meaning using new technology to solve old problems; operational model, which focuses on changing a business at its core and running business in a fundamentally different way than before; and finally strategic, which involves changing ‘the very essence of a company.’ The author suggests combining the transformation types and carefully implementing them to maximize business change.

David Warford, Co-Founder, Managing Partner of Knowledge Path Consulting says “The shortest answer I can offer you is that it involves all three core elements in your company: people, processes, and technology. ERP replacement alone does not Business Transformation make. Neither do Change Management classes or an update to your processes.”

But I guess explaining the semantics of Business Transformation still sounds like a lot of gobbledygook. The best way to explain something is to give examples of it. The same HBR article gave several examples when it said, “Liquid to gas, lead to gold, Apple from computers to consumer gadgets, Google from advertising to driverless cars, from retail to cloud computing, Walgreens from pharmacy retailing to treating chronic illnesses and so on”.

That makes it simple enough. Now you know what Business Transformation means. So the next time someone throws this word at you called Business Transformation, please ask him what he means. Its a nice sounding word, but I am not so sure, everybody who uses the word is actually doing it. Professor Theodore Levitt was saying much the same thing in his article “Marketing Myopia” way back in 1960. Commenting on the railroad business Levitt said ” They let others take customers away from them because they assumed themselves to be in the railroad business rather than in the transportation business. The reason they defined their industry incorrectly was that they were railroad oriented instead of transportation oriented; they were product oriented instead of customer oriented….”

And watch out. If you are not practicing Business Transformation yourself in your organisation as a leader, you might soon be the next dinosaur of the business world in a few years. And that’s not going to look nice. Remember Kodak, Nokia, Barnes & Noble, Pan Am, Polaroid and many others?

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Prabhakar Mundkur has spent 40 years in advertising and worked in India, Africa and Asia. He is currently Chief Mentor with HGS Interactive a part of HGS in the Hinduja Group. He is on the advisory board of Sol 's Arc ( ) an NGO dedicated to special education for intellectually challenged children. He is also a member of Whiteboard ( ) which supports senior management of NGOs in financial management, PR, Communication and HR through pro bono expertise.

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