What is a “digitalization management system”?

Clarifying the systematic approach to managing digitalization

Throughout my many years as a corporate trainer, consultant, and academic researcher in digitalization strategy development I have found a general lack of consistency in the application of methodologies for systematic management of digitalization in innumerable organizations. I have had, and still have, ongoing dialogues with IT professionals that bring up the issue that they are running loads of digitalization projects, but that these lack common coordination, a mutual systematic methodology, a deliberate strategic agenda, and much more. My perspective have always been that a strong foundation is the quintessence of proper and continuous digitalization. So I have over the past five years taken it upon myself to help bring a little light to a sustainable methodology to fulfill such a purpose. Let us refer to it as a digitalization management system, a framework for how to systematically manage digitalization based on established standards and best practices. We are very prone today to rely on methods that have international depth and magnitude, so let me use that as an offset to motivate my perspective.

So what is a digitalization management system?

As the name states, the approach is to apply the principles of management systems to digitalization, to systematically manage digitalization. We already do it in other areas, such as quality management, information security management, risk management, innovation management, and loads more, so the viewpoint makes perfect sense. A management system is “a way in which an organization manages its interrelated parts of its business in order to achieve its objectives”. In other words, it represents a structured methodology for systematically managing all components relevant to digitalizing one’s business in alignment with a predetermined direction (a strategy). Having worked with European (CEN) and international (ISO) management standards for more than ten years, I have catalyzed it into a logical framework for internationally validated systematic digitalization and IT management. International experts have been working for decades to establish a common view on management systems and it is super-applicable to business digitalization as well. Why wouldn’t it be?

And what is the purpose of a digitalization management system?

Let’s take it from the top: digitalization normally gets realized through various digitalization projects (or “IT projects”, depending on one’s semantic preferences). To systematically and professionally run such projects we need a digitalization strategy that clearly states what to digitalize, when, how, and why. And to run digitalization projects we need to have a distinct setup, an infrastructure, on which to run such projects – defined as a digitalization process. This digitalization process is the backbone of the digitalization management system, but covers a wider spectrum of areas, from leadership, to culture, to support, to documentation, and so forth. It helps you to get a 360° view on the management of digitalization. By adopting a systematic approach to digitalization and IT that is intimately aligned with the structure of neighboring management systems, you will advance the integration of digitalization with other organizational functions. The corporate management system will become a one-stop-shop for organizational development, including digitalization, innovation, quality, and all that is relevant for business progress.

It is valuable to be aware of the distinction between the efforts to develop your capabilities to digitalize your business and to actually digitalize your business. A complete “digital transformation” effort would contain both. A strong agenda incorporates to establish a systematic model to continuously digitalize your business and then use that scheme to diligently conduct a plethora of digitalization projects. This is where the digitalization management system comes into play. The baseline logic is that if you are just out to run a single digitalization project it will be inefficient to establish a digitalization management system for that one single project. But if you are planning to conduct a full digital transformation journey, you are set to run a sequence of digitalization projects, and then you will benefit immensely from being able to reuse that structure again and again. The more you plan to digitalize and develop your organization the more value you will gain from a systematic approach.

Building economies of scale for digitalization

So how do we go about it? Well, first you need a well carved-out plan. This plan will contain a digitalization strategy, an IT strategy, a target operating model, and a detailed action plan. The planning phase is just a mild initiation to your digital journey, because we are then practically and strategically bound to continue building the foundation of the digitalization management system. We must do the groundwork of the technical and organizational structure on which the impending digitalization projects will rely. As we keep constructing the digitalization management system we will gradually enhance our capacity for digitalization projects. And as the foundation gets stronger digitalization will accelerate.

An overview of the sequence of the strategic digital transformation journey

Digitalization projects are most proficiently conducted with the entire DMS in place. Houses are more stable when on solid ground. But to be realistic, we are yet to find a management team willing to pause business development until the entire foundation is inaugurated. Consequently, as you can see in the image above, we will need to start digitalization projects without all the capabilities for them in place. It is certainly feasible to do so, though it puts some extra strain on the digitalization strategy team, and the action plan will have to be very cleverly composed. But who doesn’t value a good challenge?

Now that you have a visual of how a digitalization management system may be appropriate to systematize your digital transformation journey there is just one thing left to do. To start doing it. 👊🏼