BRM: The importance of buzzwords and Digital.


  • Isn’t there a real danger that Digital is becoming an industry buzzword that means different things to different people?
  • The digitisation of an entire business. How do you do that? Is this a realistic ambition or a recipe for disaster?

People seem to fit into two groups. Some see every industry term as a meaningless buzzword to be avoided at all cost. Others litter their conversations with them believing they magically explain everything. I would suggest it is human nature to want to give things a label because then we feel like we can deal with it.

I previously spent some time thinking about some of the big themes that would impact businesses. One idea that developed was how we define what 'good' looks like. In an online and connected world our expectations span industries. If you get a great customer service experience from your bank you expect the same from government. I called this Expectation Convergence. What was interesting was that when I started with the term no-one understood it. Starting with a description of the symptoms and then putting a label on it resulted in everyone nodding in agreement.

At a more personal level, if we go to to the doctor with a set of symptoms and they tell us we have a condition, just the act of giving it a name makes us feel like we can deal with it.

In responding to the point made in the first question regarding digital being an industry buzzword, I think it is important to consider why this may matter. For some, it means there is no substance. For others, they feel excluded because they don't know what it is. Finally, with such vagueness then even when two people say the same thing you have no idea if they agree or not.

This matters not because of what we're calling something but because of what else is going on. Whatever position you take on "digital" (and its variations) the important thing is that within the organisation there is clarity. People need to understand why things are changing, how they're changing and what needs to be done. Calling your response to change in the industry and consumer trends Digital Transformation shouldn't be a shortcut to explanation.

The danger isn't that digital becomes a buzzword or that it means different things to different people. Without a clear and consistent narrative within the organisation why, how and what is being done the real danger is people will pull in different directions.

This then takes me to the second of the questions that have prompted this article. Is it possible to digitise a whole business?

Having set out that we need to define why, how and what we're doing the first thing to reiterate is that to answer the question you need to be clear about what it is you're trying to do.

The simple answer to the question is 'yes'. Nearly everything is ultimately possible to do but we tend to face many constraints. Just because you can do something, doesn't mean you actually should do it.

It would be wrong to digitise a whole business, not because it is unrealistic but because you don't need to. The recipe for disaster is to take the technology of today (or the future) and apply it to the business practices of yesterday's problems.

Before you start to digitise anything then be clear on what the objective is. When this work is completed what will you be able to do that you couldn't do before and why that matters.

Stating small and scaling up is arguably better than trying to achieve wholesale change. If it's helpful to consider it as the minimum viable transformation then do. My advice in starting to bring about the changes need to operate in the future is to first work out what are the critical capabilities.

With your critical capabilities at the centre, you can then start to take a systems approach to explore the dependencies. One objective of this exercise is to minimise the work done and stop doing more than you start. Bill Gate's once said: "When I have a difficult task to do, I hire the laziest person because they'll find the best way to do it."

The danger in trying to digitise the whole organisation isn't that it creates too much work for us to but simply that we're doing things that do not need to be done.


  • Knowing why, how and what you're doing is more important than the label that you give it
  • Creating a clear and consistent narrative that everyone understands and is engaged with is critical to moving forward together
  • Just because it exists today doesn't mean it should do in the future. Don't try to change something until you've worked out why you can't stop it first.
  • Minimise the work done, focus on what is important and deliver the critical parts first.

Finally, remember it is better to start and shift course than to try to work out all the answers in advance. If you plan everything out then by the time you're finished you'll need a new plan as the world will have changed.

Written by

An experienced senior digital business leader with experience of delivering transformative change.

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