Seven imperatives for worldwide digital transformation

What happens when most of your operations and customers have gone online? Some corporate planners talk about datafication, but I prefer calling it digitization. Both terms refer to the reality that business has moved online — customers, channels, content, code and competitors. And they’re moving elsewhere, too. People are increasingly mobile, many connected by sensors and myriad other devices, and everyone wants to communicate or transact wherever they happen to be. While this digitization and ubiquity represent the future for most enterprises, large and small, the reality is that many organizations today still struggle with executing on this transformation. Studies find that major industries are less than 40% digitized.

How will digitization transform your organization? In most cases, it will mean bringing and optimizing information online, adapting and adopting technology to manage it, and making those assets available across the enterprise. If you’re successful, you will eliminate many of the data dead-ends and content silos that limit the usefulness and availability of your organization’s information resources. This digital transformation will force you to rethink internal systems and processes, pry open databases and content management systems, and educate your staff and suppliers in this new model. 

While the digital transformation is a big mission on its own, CSA Research’s data shows that it becomes even more challenging once you factor in your international operations. Doing business in multiple locales means that you’ll have to adapt core business functions for those markets, along with the materials, supply chains, transactions and user-generated content that support them.

But in all the discussion of content and the technology to manage it, what often gets lost is the fact that most people typically focus more on the “how” than on the “why.” Step back and think about what it is you must accomplish — you use that technology to deliver your content in a way that meets your business goals. We recommend seven business imperatives for managing your digital transformation.


Your mission is to converse with your customers and partners, support transactions and exchange information. A sophisticated stack of technology like the cloud, microservices and heavy-duty content management systems lets you do that, but you still need to keep your eye on the ball. Keep coming back to how these mechanisms lead you to the outcomes that matter, such as better customer engagement, experiences and loyalty.


Before much of the information driving that communication can be consumed, it has to be adapted. Why? The blunt reality of our digital world is that content is often in the wrong system, format or language. The most common transformations involve connections to get information out of the wrong system or file into one that works for the task at hand. Personalizing experiences to meet customer expectations is another critical adaptation. And of course, translation and interpreting are major transformations that address the issue of “can’t read, won’t buy” — our long-running research of business-to-business and business-to-consumer buyers around the globe underscores the critical importance of adapting content for local needs.


Information that you don’t communicate because you don’t have the time to transform it into a form that your audience understands cannot help you advance your organization’s agenda. Scrutinize your operations to replace low-value human touches with lights-out project management, and augmented translator and reviewer tools that eliminate tiresome and mind-numbing steps. Intelligent automation based on rules and machine learning can help you scale operations to meet customer expectations. Wherever you can, make these transformations, including translation, easier than it is today. Incorporate them into your everyday business operations. Removing process friction is a message that has resonated in the corner office in the nearly two decades that we’ve been researching business globalization.


In this space 15 years ago, I encouraged people to think about the “local eyes” consuming their products. That homophone for “localize” is even more critical today as interactions have become both more local and now vocal. Today’s mission is to transform code and content for consumption through any device, through any of the human senses. Invest in understanding how local mouths, ears and touches will affect your communication plans. Create a strategy for how your company will interact with its markets through personal devices, the Internet of Things, and a growing array of cosmetic and prosthetic devices that help people communicate in their own and other languages.


Pay attention to the geopolitical climate and plan for a future where your claims are contested and your systems hacked. Think about how you can build confidence and trust in your brand. Strive for security in your processes, transactions and customer database. Aim for integrity in your messaging. As we’ve suggested since our first report on business globalization in 2002, you should find the most rigorous directives and implement them worldwide — for example, don’t restrict General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) compliance to Europe, but make it a worldwide standard for your organization.


Create a sustainable business. In everything you build, make sure that you have a rigorous development methodology. Stress test your systems for reliability in all the markets in which you compete. Invest in the talent that will grow your company, educating both your own staff and your suppliers in your mantra of communication and transformation.


Unless your company is a nonprofit, don’t act like one. It’s not enough to simply survive, but you have to thrive and grow. As your company continues its digital transformation, look hard at the opportunities it creates and the dangers it exposes. For some, it will mean growing by new product lines or acquisition, others will morph into new businesses.

From the back pages of Multilingual, what really encourages me about digitization is that it removes many of the obstacles to localization — with so much information available online, the digital transformation fully converges with globalization. In our nearly 20 years of researching this market, we’ve observed clear progress by the service and technology sectors in automating and optimizing information flows, but there’s still a long way to go. Both your home and international markets are linked by shared information needs, all of it accessible, analyzable and translatable online. It’s up to you to stay focused on how you can use these capabilities to transform your company for the next decade or two.