selling transformationWith winter coming, it’s time to think about soups. Not as in savory stews, but in the unsavory slop we dish out when we carelessly talk about “transformation.” Blending the various definitions without thinking dilutes the message and leaves prospects confused, rather than wanting to learn more.

More than seven years ago (yikes!) I first trashed the term as meaningless jargon and since then tried to puzzle out its various meanings. Since folks can’t stop using the “T” word, I thought I’d offer what (based on my most recent work) clients mean these days by the various flavors of transformation and some messaging that works best for each:

Application transformation. This usually means deciding which applications to keep, which to get rid of and which to improve. This often involves existing tools and techniques such as “application portfolio rationalization” or “application portfolio management” and includes the use of enterprise architecture tools to understand the apps you have, how they relate to the business and how to streamline your portfolio. Today it usually involves moving apps wherever possible to less expensive, more scalable cloud platforms.

Your messaging:  Get specific about how reduce the speed and cost of application assessment and prioritization. Quantify the savings you enabled by ditching unneeded applications and moving others to the cloud.  Be sure to also describe how “app transformation” drove the top (sales) line through better information access for customers, employees and business partners, and how the streamlined apps boosted customer retention and margins through more differentiated services.

Customer experience transformation. This means making life easier for customers than your competitors (or how you did it in the bad old days.) This often means on-line (think user interfaces and easy to use chatbots) but can extend to in-person (roaming service agents with tablets at airports or self-service kiosks at stores.) Services range from rapid application development and redesign through, on the high end, on-site “ethnographic” research to better understand customer needs.

Your messaging: Stress how your agile development helps developers quickly roll out “minimum viable products,” get feedback, fine-tune and redeploy them with continuous integration and continuous delivery. Prove it not with internal metrics like how many MVPs you rolled out or how much customer research you did, but with business benefits such as higher revenue per visitor shopping cart, increased margins or (best of all) dominating new markets through sheer ease of use, such as Amazon does with one-click shopping.

Infrastructure transformation: This is all about the IT plumbing of hardware, storage and networks. While it can include streamlining such processes on site, it usually means moving them from internal data centers to the cloud, shifting applications from proprietary platforms like mainframes to commodity hardware and open source software, and moving from manual, reactive management to lower cost, faster, automated monitoring and management.

Your messaging: Depending on where you play, you can stress anything from your automated cloud migration tools to your skills in cross-cloud or hybrid (public and private) cloud management or at deploying and managing containers that run multiple applications on a single server. The overarching trend here the use of software, automation and artificial intelligence to cut the cost and expense of managing IT through a “software defined data center” or “software defined Wide Area Network.” With giants like Cisco scrambling to define and dominate the market, it takes careful thought to position yourself right. Don’t forget to cover security, which is becoming trickier the more complex such environments become.

The tactical benefits are, of course, lower costs. But the more strategic play is increased agility, the ability to scale infrastructure up and down as needs change, and quickly delivering new products and services to meet changing customer needs.

Digital transformation. The great grand-daddy of them all, which is often used to mean any or all of the above subsets of transformation. I hear my clients use it most often to mean changing the corporate culture and strategy to focus around the effective use of new technologies such as mobile, social, analytics and the cloud.

Your messaging: Changing corporate culture and strategy is a huge challenge. If you’re playing here, you’ll need a good, defensible story that includes business consulting and strategy and organizational change management as well as delivering the underlying technology. Even more than with other transformation flavors, the benefits to stress are long-term corporate survival and the creation and domination of new markets.

What other flavors of transformation are you seeing and what messaging works best in marketing them?

Author: Bob Scheier
Visit Bob's Website - Email Bob
I'm a veteran IT trade press reporter and editor with a passion for clear writing that explains how technology can help businesses. To learn more about my content marketing services, email bob@scheierassociates.com or call me at 508 725-7258.