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Born-digital companies are comfortable working with cloud-based platforms and intelligent technologies, they don’t know any different. But for older companies, reliant on legacy systems, and even analogue approaches, transitioning into a digital model is essential for long-term survival.

It isn’t easy for companies to do this. Look at the Financial Times, for example, and other newspapers. Digital hit them, and the whole industry, hard. Readership dropped, and across the world hundreds of local papers went under. Thousands of journalists, and others in the sector were left unemployed.

Because newspapers were, as the name suggests, paper-based, these represent the perfect example of companies that have been forced into a digital transformation to survive.

Given the consumer trend to do everything we can to protect the environment, we could see the end of print journalism within the next decade. Printing is seen as too wasteful and indulgent when trees perform a more important role in the climate. The whole industry could be completely digital in under ten years.

How did newspapers make the leap into digital?

It was during the global recession, over ten years ago, when media companies started dying out en masse. Many did not survive. For regional papers, a combination of not thinking it would happen to them, and too much debt, prevented hundreds from transforming into digital-first media platforms.

It should also be noted that too many were struggling before there was the revenue models and digital technology to make the leap even possible. For those that survived the difficult years, changing consumer habits are making completely digital models the only sensible way forward. The FT and others, such as The Washington Post, New York Times, Globe & Mail, have all undergone a digital transformation in the last few years.

Instead of relying on advertising revenues or print subscriptions, a range of pricing models gives readers what they want while ensuring these media outlets are self-sufficient and, in many cases, thriving. Behind the scenes, massive digital transformation projects were required to make the platforms user friendly, for journalists, advertisers, and readers. In many cases, web visitors can read a certain number of articles for free every month, and then a paywall appears.

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Many readers are happy to pay, which is how media outlets that offer higher-end, investigative journalism are thriving. Others are still struggling to find the right revenue models for their audiences, but for the most part, the industry is healthier than it was 10 years ago. Digital transformation has made that possible.

What about in other sectors? Is this happening elsewhere, and if so, how?

How companies are going digital?

Healthcare, shipping, logistics, finance, and even manufacturing are on a long list of sectors that have or are in the process of going digital.

It doesn’t mean they weren’t, in some way, already using technology. Companies weren’t relying on telegrams and faxes until Slack suddenly came along. Technology and software was already a normal part of most workplaces at the start of this century. However, what many companies and sectors have been going through in the last 20 years is a gradual digital transformation.

A wholesale shift, in other words, from legacy systems and technology to more modern, agile, and user-friendly software. Instead of servers being on-site, more companies than ever are trusting cloud providers.

Software as a Service (SaaS), and other as-a-service based approaches (PaaS, IaaS, etc.) to running operations are proving more cost effective and popular than outdated, traditional systems.

Take the shipping industry, for example. Not one to change quickly, not since the container revolution of the 1950s, and then then move into automation in docks during the 1980s and 90s. Now, many industry leaders are so convinced for the need for digital transformation that new leadership positions are being created to oversee and implement strategies. According to a PwC report into the industry:

“Digital transformation is featuring so heavily in shipping companies’ scenarios for the future that many companies have started or already recruited a management role to adjust to this transformation.”

Everything from blockchain, as a more secure way of managing manifests and inventory, to ships controlled remotely, from land, is being explored. New booking systems for small and medium businesses are already making a massive impact on the industry. 9 out of 10 shipping leaders surveyed by PwC said that “in only a few years smart shipping tracking of cargo at sea will be the general standard.”

In both sectors, and many others, undertaking a digital transformation follows a similar journey:

  • Identifying and understanding what needs to change and why (this isn’t about using technology for its own sake).
  • Goals for digital transformation projects often fall into one or more of these categories: improve the customer experience, transform internal operational processes, or overhaul a business model.
  • Digital transformation is therefore meant to be an IT-driven overhaul of a process or system to improve the user experience, increase efficiencies (lower costs), improve revenues, or unlock new opportunities.
  • Once an organization is clear on the goals to be achieved, the steps that need to be followed include a strategy and roadmap development, implementation, followed by training, awareness, and cultural shifts.

In every case when a project has been successful, training and awareness are a key part of the process. Staff and/or customers need to be aware of new technology and systems and want to use them. Therefore, projects always need to go ahead with a clear understanding of how new systems will be used in a live environment.

As we have seen, digital transformation is possible even in sectors that were stuck in older business models and ways of working for a long time. Providing a project is well managed, anything is possible.