Digital transformation by Thomas Siebel

Digital transformation by Thomas Siebel

Digital transformation by Thomas Siebel

by styleabille , February 6, 2020

Book Reviews

This post aims at reviewing the latest publication of Thomas Siebel: Digital Transformation. Siebel is an American billionaire businessperson and technologist. He founded Siebel Systems, a leading enterprise software company, and he more recently founded C3.ai, an artificial intelligence software platform.

It was only until I read this book that the definition of digital transformation was made possible, lucid, and practical. For those who do not know, I am not far from the digital world having worked with digital leaders: Amazon, Oracle, and Deloitte Consulting (first-hand exposure to Deloitte Digital).

This book was generously offered to me by leaders in C3.ai in the Middle East; and I sincerely hope they will enjoy this post that I have taken the liberty to articulate having read the book and, based on my personal experience and some research.

Many companies claim to lead a digital transformation. This is how the exercise goes by in general. It starts with a market analysis in order to position organizations against competitors. Then, there is a need to consider the organization’s performance with regards to financials, processes, governance, etc. Typically, the offering includes a digital maturity assessment helping organizations understand where they currently stand and what their target state is. As such a digital transformation strategy is formulated spanning objectives, teams, and allocated budgets. The strategy is then translated into a technological landscape required to operationalize the digital transformation along a dashboard aiming at measuring progress and return on investment. More advanced approaches might consider having a business case in order to prototype digital transformation in one vertical (or equivalent).

Digital transformation is not a typical IT investment. An IT investment is required but it is not enough. Alone, it might turn into a sinking cost. 

The Silicon Valley visionary entrepreneur, Thomas Siebel, comes with a more thorough approach to digital transformation. His proposed approach is different and more powerful in the following primary dimensions

  1. He is implementing this approach within C3.ai before putting it forward to clients
  2. The book does not position technology in isolation. It also demonstrates the confluence of technology with politics, technology, economy, and business. The book also sheds light on the cultural transformation that is required by the move towards digitalization
  3. Siebel’s approach does not aim at changing how business is done per se. It rather focuses on disrupting the DNA of established companies to become digital enterprises competing with digital natives

Since 2000, 52% of the Fortune 500 companies have been acquired or gone out of business.

The book defines digital transformation as Cloud ComputingBig DataArtificial Intelligence (AI), and Internet of Things (IoT) coming together to re-invent the world we know. The author puts forward a masterful toolkit that converts digital transformation (buzz word) into a comprehensive understanding for the digital evolution, a S.M.A.R.T road map to translate a digital dream into a set of strategic opportunities, and a reference to how (and what!) results have been achieved already by those who adopted the road map to date: US Department of Defense, 3M, Shell, and more.

What is cloud computing? Cloud computing allows organizations to access unlimited computing resources on a pay for what you use basis. Yet, the cost has been decreasing and it is expected to near zero. The security and privacy regulations are mentioned as weighing on cloud providers as such the author reminders the readers of the compliance efforts (aka certificates) nowadays offered by providers.

What is big data? Organizations are currently operating on massive amounts of data. Big data enables organizations to store and compute for nominal fees while crunching and analyzing considerable data sets. Big data is a fundamental pillar for predictive analysis.

What is IoT? IoT is a primary source for data within organizations. IoT lies in sensors (not one sensor!) that are connected to understand how things work and to predict if/when they might go wrong.

What is AI? AI is not a simple code. Oftentimes, organizations trying to build their in-house AI applications have failed: dramatically. In fact, their AI architecture looks more like a patchwork hardly used, maintained, and scaled! AI sits at the heart of training deep neural networks to reduce the need to construct data inputs.

As the author nicely wrote in December 2017: digital transformation is now on the CEO’s shoulders. Two years later, Siebel suggests a detailed and meticulous CEO action plan to drive digital transformation top down. The book demonstrates – scientifically yet simply – how digital value proposition is created. Once created, how organizations can differentiate in an increasingly competitive market.

Thomas Siebel sheds light on how organizations are either theorizing about digital transformation or solely doing digital prototypes. As such, he shows readers how to adopt a sequenced approach to deliver one project at a time, one ROI at a time, in less than 12 months. His starting point is in the formulation of robust use cases that allow leaders to measure the benefit realized from digital transformation.

The book shares the failures of many companies to save the happy few from the hurdles as the world is moving too fast not to learn from others and not to opt for a nimble approach in innovating and delivering projects.

The book also tackles the importance of adoption (internal) and the social benefit of digital transformation. The focus should inherently be on having a structure for the 21st century to enable the 21st century’s technologies. The talent dilemma is put forward with regards to obsolete skills and newly required ones; and how digital transformation will kill jobs, but it will also amplify human intervention and create different professions. Hence the need to re-skill the workforce adequately and continuously.

For those interested in politics, the book is a staggering alarm to the pace of digital transformation in China: a virtual war between the US and China in designing and deploying new technologies and in disrupting industries.

Put simply, organizations do no longer have the luxury to refrain from going digital if they want to “survive and thrive”; it is a one-way ticket towards the creation of economic value, agility, and speed. The book is a transition for digital transformation: from widely discussed to widely understood.

What I liked most about the book: it is experience put into theory. It is also comprehensive tapping into technology, politics, economy, sociology, HR, business, and more

Who should read this book: every person willing to learn how digital transformation succeeds. Every leader who cares for the future of her company

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    2 Comments

    1. Excellent! This demystifies digital transformation for people like May in a way that Siebel himself would probably want

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