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PHOTO: Paul Keller

The emergence of the internet as both a global economic and social force has colored the last 20 or so years. 

Companies are now actively working towards embracing this medium, with varying degrees of success, as a key driver of growing and sustaining their prosperity. This digital transformation imperative is an absolutely necessary step for companies to protect their interests as at no other time have they been so at risk of disruption. 

The Case for Digital Transformation

Don't believe it's an imperative? Over 50 percent of the Fortune 500 have disappeared from that list since the year 2000 according to the Accenture’s CEO, Pierre Nanterme. This year alone over 300 retail bankruptcies have been filed and the industry is on track to close more stores than ever before

While retail may be the poster child for digital disruption courtesy of Amazon (witness its recent acquisition of Whole Foods) what we are seeing today is still pretty much just the tip of the proverbial iceberg for most industries.  

Given this backdrop, companies know they have to modify how they do business, but more often than not they struggle to manage the change. The challenge they face is how to successfully navigate from the path they are on, to where they need to be. 

While the cocktail always includes some combination of people, process and technology, rarely is the formula in equal parts. The hurdle has always been determining the most effective combination — and for every company this will probably be slightly different.

Creating a Collective Digital Maturity Model

So if a company knows something has to be done but is unsure how best to proceed, what steps can they take to better ensure success? 

While some common characteristics of successful approaches are surfacing, within the last nine months an initiative has emerged to help companies more effectively start their digital transformation planning process. 

The TM Forum launched an effort in July 2016 to define and develop a digital maturity model (DMM). Having researched similar initiatives for the better part of 2016 and not having identified anything comparable, I became involved with this multi-company, cross-industry initiative.

The work involved defining a model in conjunction with a global team representing many different companies, which organizations could then use to assess where it was in its digital transformation journey. When I joined the effort in December 2016, the framework encompassing five dimensions: Culture, Customer, Operations, Strategy and Technology. The team spent the first few months of 2017 flushing out the details of those dimensions in the lead up to the launch of the survey instrument in mid-May at TM Forum Live.

Organizational Perspective and Benchmarking Against Peers

The assessment is currently accessible through a survey tool on iPad and iOS, but by early fall it will be accessible via a browser. That will really simplify how the assessment is taken. While the DMM process can be performed in person, for budget conscious companies it is more cost effective to manage the process via webinars, and by allowing employees to complete the survey as time allows.

For an organization operating across multiple time zones and countries, this increases their ability to participate as well as reduces the associated costs. 

Having employees take the survey on their own goes a long way towards ensuring numerous points of view, as opposed to reflecting the influence of others. The survey results are directly input into a database, which allows easy aggregation all of the assessment results, which simplifies the process of determining the organizational perspective of its digital transformation journey maturity.  

If a firm wants to see how it matches up against other companies, it can select to share its results as part of the larger survey participant group so it can then benchmark where it stands against other companies who have completed the survey and opted in. While not a requirement, this option can help companies better understand how they are doing against peer companies.

Establish a Baseline to Build On

Currently, the TM Forum DMM is available to members on a self-service basis at a rate starting at $2,000 for the first 100 survey participants, and declines on a per person cost if the number of people completing the survey exceeds 100. For a more guided experience, members can contact TM Forum directly. The forum also offers training for members on how to deliver the application so they can deliver this to non-TM Forum members at their discretion.

Worth highlighting, none of these options include the employee time required to complete the assessment, but the current estimates are around eight hours for the full assessment and less for only a portion of the survey. 

That being said, the real value lies in understanding where your organization is today in terms of its digital transformation journey so you can define a planning baseline. Once you've established your starting point, your company can begin work on defining its roadmap for how best to move forward.

While TM Forum isn’t the first organization to think of a digital maturity model, as far as I can tell it’s the furthest along. The idea of assessing one’s current state is a useful and necessary step for plotting where you want to be on the roadmap — so for organizations serious about transforming digitally this is worth considering.