I apologise if you are expecting some great insights as my point is rather modest.
When I studied the Industrial revolution for A level History one thing stuck in my mind. Earlier books on the subject had titles that confidently stated ‘The Industrial revolution 1785-1815’ or similar. The period was clearly defined. As were the people and technology – Arkwright and the spinning Jenny; Watt and the steam engine; Stevenson and the Rocket. Legitimate legends one and all. The changes were – automation, mechanisation, lots of digging and drilling; mills and factories – the decline of the hand-loom weavers.
However the more I read the more I noticed people saying, ‘well maybe the time period is a bit restricted?’ ‘I can see some earlier industrialisation in the early 1700s’. By the time I finished reading the ‘revolution’ was being pushed back much further back to when the Cornish tin mines existed. Equally the end date started getting pushed forward and the depth and width of the changes to society were questioned. In fact was there really a revolution at all?
So is there a comparison with ‘digital transformation’. I am using the inverted commas deliberately. What is digital and what is transformation?
Is/was Mike Bracken James Watt? Are developers being industrialised for the public sector? Are they previously independent ‘craftsmen’ in a cottage industry made cunningly to feel at home producing industrial code in centres of ‘digital excellence’? Is flexible/remote working and shiny devices the modern digital equivalent of factory schools – a way for ‘benevolent employers’ to tie workers to an industrial routine?
I have a distinct feeling that in decades someone will look back and say – ‘how many consultants made fortunes peddling the snake oil of digital transformation‘? On the side of the bottle it said it would cure – high expenditure; demotivated staff; fix legacy systems; guaranteed to give you satisfied users. Equally how many authors will have made an easy buck with ‘Digital transformation for dummies’; ‘Lean digital transformation’; ‘The digital waterfall transformed’. Or conference organisers coin cash from events called ‘How digital transformed my X organisation’; ‘What have we learnt from digital transformation?’; ‘Digital transformation from the users’ perspective’. (These are all made up by the way).
You get the point.
As I said a while ago the similarity is probably that the Industrial Revolution turned out to be difficult to define, describe or date – I expect something similar to be found with ‘digital transformation’.