The Chemistry In Digital Transformation

Back in school, the chemistry lab with its test tubes, beakers and such stuff was a pure joy. It was magical to see new substances emerge out of old ones in beakers. And it was created right there! On a few occasions, my experiments went completely awry, in a deeply invigorating way. The lab was special. Because the lab was the first place for me to witness transformation before my eyes. That is where I learnt about mixtures and compounds as well. The days in the labs help me make better sense of the chemistry in transformation. The chemistry in digital transformation as well!

The distinction between mixtures and compounds was simple to understand. A compound was a new substance. You couldn’t separate its constituents even if you wanted to. Unlike a mixture. In essence, a compound represented a transformation. A compound meant the original constituents gave up their properties for a new set of properties. Oftentimes it was physical and magical too. An irrevocable change.

What about chemistry in digital transformation?

There isn’t any shortage of Digital Transformation projects that are announced. The question really is, do end results from these projects resemble ‘mixtures’ or do they resemble ‘compounds’?

When digital technology is slapped on top of existing work/ways of work, where it runs as a parallel stream, it is analogous to a mixture. It is a mixture when leadership thinks ‘transformation’ is for “those others”. That it is done to other teams! With sanctions of resources and leadership bandwidth.

The output of real change and transformation is more like compounds. That is when work is reimagined for digital! Digital is not a layer atop work. Digital technology gets enmeshed into work so much so, that work looks different. Such transformation is lasting because the old way of working has ceded space to a new way of working.

I will go so far as to argue, that complete transformation takes places when the change alters the way organisations think and approach their dilemmas. It may take a while and it is difficult. But there are no shortcuts in the long road to transformation.

As much as the allure of a transformed future is inviting, any organisation that seeks to go through digital transformation journeys needs to be prepared to endure pain. The change will cause enough and more disruption to current ways of working and leadership teams must be ready to face these.

There is no dearth of the technology that is available for change. The problems rest in us and our incapability to imagine work differently.

Vectors for digital transformation

“Why are Digital Transformation projects tough?”, he asked me. We were just starting a conversation why the vectors for digital transformation were simple to see yet not commonly practiced. This was a CEO of a large enterprise who has been at his wit’s end, trying to evangelise digital change. The conversation meandered and the two vectors that stayed on the table are outlined here.

A growing number of leaders understand the importance of digital and the impending changes that knock on our gates. At one level, that is good news. The other piece of good news is the surfeit of new technology that docks at our ports every minute. They call it the fourth industrial revolution and thats not without reason.  Technology at that scale accompanied by executive backing should be a sufficient multiplier you would reckon. True, it implies raw power. But digital transformation is more nuanced than that.

Digital Transformation is tough.

Despite all the promise it holds, any transformation is tough. Particularly so for digital transformation. For starters, Digital transformation cannot be achieved through diktats. There are no silver bullets, gilded warriors and ornamented events.

There are many other reasons why digital transformation is tough.  These range from having a common understanding of what digital is to evolving a strategy for getting the organisation ready to leverage it in full. The digital space is dynamic, with both actual change and a lot of noise leaving people confused and leaden-footed. This is often exacerbated by leaders seeking lasting change at a furious pace. Like any other initiative!

The only trouble is that going digital is not an initiative.  On the contrary, it is patient work at organisation social design and reimagining of the work that is important.

The difficult part about the change does not pertain to technology but about conversations about work. To fundamentally reimagine a set way of working with all stakeholders concerned, is not a function of technology alone. Therefore, it requires an inviting way for people to examine their new context owing to shifts heralded by technology. Processes go redundant. Policies will require a relook. Skills are different. Etc etc. These warrant careful examination via conversation. Human and work-centric facilitated conversations make a difference.

Change management with digital is a messy dialogue. It needs patience and a series of sustained activities. Two vectors for digital transformation are outlined here.

a. Portfolio of initiatives:

Any transformation project doesn’t get accomplished with one swish of a sword. It needs multi-pronged initiatives over a period of time. Work and accomplishment of work tasks being at the center, a multidimensional patient effort is a bare minimum. Communication, org design, workflow, processes and policies, skills enhancement and several others. All targeted at a few work-related outcomes that can flourish through conversation, ideation and perhaps experimentation. Teams that are willing to invest the time in conversation and evolve new ways of working have far more chance at engineer lasting change.

b. The necessity of the big moves and the small wins:

Digital transformation success stories have often an adroit balance between ‘big moves’ and ‘small wins’. The big moves provide stability and the foundations. Investments of money and time, infrastructure, commitment, and communication etc are all examples of the big moves. Small wins are like speedometers on the journey. They show that there is progress in the direction of the Big Moves.

Several leaders recognise the importance of these and bring about a play in both. A celebration of the Small Wins in the context of the Big Move brings clarity to a wider population about what is what. Not to mention, a clear understanding of the need to keep going forward.

To be able to hold the space for all stakeholders to come together to reimagine their roles, skills, and ways of working, in the wake of digital, is a key skill for modern day change makers. We must remember that the days of ‘herding into a room for a powerpoint based announcement’ are long over.

All this is for ones that are serious about orchestrating a mindset that embraces digital transformation. The essence to lasting Digital Transformation is getting ready to change again, just after you have changed! It is a continuing conversation with no finish line in place. That makes it perpetual.


Cryptography in Blockchain

There is much in the airwaves about the loss of privacy in the internet-enabled world? Have you wondered about it yourself? Of course, there is much truth in it all.

It is a fact that modern-day digital technology, with facial recognition and the likes of it, poses a grave question on privacy. Organisations (& hackers) have been able to link pool all data about an individual and use it chilling effects. Many business models today rely on the collection, organization, and resale of ‘your and my’ personal data.

And as the world wrestles with this, there are people who are working on reclaiming the potential of the ‘original’ internet. Their answer: Blockchain! For all the noise surrounding it, Satoshi Nakamoto brought Blockchain alive in 2008. But since then, it has made rapid strides.

Blockchain technology holds the promise of offering the best of both worlds. That it would offer personal information just as much as its needed and yet protect privacy. Blockchain has proven that Transparency and Privacy can co-exist in a peer to peer decentralized network through ‘Cryptography’. The blocks in the blockchain are linked using Cryptography. In more ways than one, ‘cryptography’ is at the very core of Blockchain and developing an understanding of this is fundamental.

Cryptography is not new or unique to Blockchain. Whatsapp announces it proudly letting you know that no one else can see those messages but for the sender and the receiver. So do several other apps. In fact, people around the world, over time have worked with their own ‘encrypted’ messages through the ages! From the Pharos of Egypt to Julius Caesar! Modern-day cryptography, by extension, has different forms.

Cryptography or encryption on the Blockchain is the means to ensure that ‘only’ the intended recipients have access to the contents of the message. Blockchain uses a combination of ‘public key’ and ‘private key’. Let’s try and keep it simple.  Think of your safe where anyone can ‘deposit’ documents but only you have the key to open it, retrieve it and access it.

Let’s assume that you need certain important documents from your colleague. You give him the ID and location of your safe for him to deposit the documents. Once he does so, only you can open the door now, with the key you have. This is how Blockchain combines both public and private in cryptography to make it doubly secure.

While a lock and key in our physical world take the form of metal. In the world of Blockchain, the public and a private keys take the form of an alphanumeric string.


Lock and Key in the physical world Public and Private Key in the Blockchain world.  Now assume you maintain a notepad. A notepad where you make a note of all the documents and valuables that have been given to you. You also initial your name after it along with the date, to prevent confusion later on. Won’t you be better off?

Blockchain does exactly that to keep a record too. The combination of the transaction (colleague giving you documents on a particular date) and your signature/initials (private key) create a unique entry in the notepad called Digital signature which looks like the one below.


Well, physical theft is a possibility in our worlds, why can’t the same happen in a Blockchain? In the physical world, someone will need to use brute force to break open the lock/door and get access to the documents or valuables in the safe/room. The ease of breaking open depends on the strength of the door, the sturdiness of the lock. In a Blockchain world, someone will need to guess the string of numbers and alphabets or Digital signature correctly.

To have a 1% chance of guessing a digital signature the entire Bitcoin network would have to work together for 5,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 years. Thats a tall order, I would think!