Yesterday, building on a Tweet from @hondanhon I posed the question
“What is a successful digital transformation project, from the last decade, that everyone would recognise?”
I started the list off with Netflix. This company has achieved three impressive feats:
- Disrupted the video rental market with its postal model, no late fees, large back catalogue etc … putting Blockbuster out of business (there are a couple of good books that tell the whole story, and an even better podcast from Wondery, in its Business Wars series)
- Transformed its own business model into a fully digitla model by moving, first, to an online streaming business, letting customers watch major films and TV shows (though not those currently showing)
- Made a further leap to become a content company – like Warner, Sony and others – producing and commissioning its own shows and films, not just in English but in several languages. This has all cost a lot of money – their content budget this year is rumoured to be some $15bn – and it’s not clear if there’s a path to profitability, but it, coupled with streaming, is an astonishing transformation.
But if you look for other examples of transformation and, particularly, digital transformation, it’s hard to find them.
That, for me, is because it feels like we’ve linked two words that are largely nothing to do with each other.
Digital is about putting your previously offline services online and improving them to fit better into the online world. In 2001, HMRC put Self Assessment online. It wasn’t called digital then, but e-government, but it was clearly a move to digital services. From that year on, you could fill in your Self Assessment form online, at 2 minutes to midnight on deadline day, 31st January, and be confident that your tax return was accepted. Later, PAYE forms could be sent, from pretty much any accounting software, via the Government Gateway, achieving the same result. Over a few years, paper returns were largely wiped out.
But was this transformational? The forms were the same – they weren’t on paper, but they were still forms, asking the same questions in the same way. You didn’t need to print PAYE forms from your Sage package (or buy their hugely marked up paper), but the data you needed was the same. Perhaps the biggest benefit was that various applications – whether HMRC’s own or those from third parties – validated the data you were entering and ensured that it would be accepted (it didn’t mean it was right of course – there were, and are, still plenty of ways to get the data acceptably wrong).
More recently, an example might be that of DVLA with their online tax disc transaction.
That’s clearly a digital service – no longer did you have to go to the Post Office with your MOT and Insurance documents to pick up a new paper disc. If I recall correctly it was a two stage change, with the more recent work getting rid of the tax disc.
But is it transformational? Those who don’t buy a tax disc are now slightly more difficult to catch because a passing Police Officer can’t look in the window and check the date. And, of course, you still need a “tax disc” albeit now it arrives via email.
Perhaps transformation would have meant that the tax disc was purchased along with your insurance, or was given to you when you passed your MOT, collapsing some transactions, moving the point of collection to industry and changing the relationship with the customer so that it was no longer with government,
Very recently the Home Office launched an app that would allow an Android phone user to scan their passport when applying for, say, settled status. In a couple of weeks that same capability should be available for the other 50% of the population – the iPhone users – as the new release of iOS will allow the Home Office access to the NFC chip.
This is definitely game changing – some 85% of transactions (and there have been roughly a million so far) have apparently come through the online channel – and when iOS launches, this should jump massively (and help cover the 2m who haven’t yet used it but who may need to). Is this transformation? It could be, but then, of course, it’s a new burden that we are imposing on people and we are giving them a faster way to remove that burden, we are not removing the burden altogether,