What Exactly is “Transformation”?

butterfly transformationOne of the words increasingly used in discussions around cloud, big data, mobile and social media in the enterprise is “transformation.”  Depending on who you talk to, these “next generation” technologies will transform IT, transform business, and in some cases transform entire industries.

Which leads to an interesting question: what exactly is transformation?  Is it just another word for change?  What’s the difference between incremental and transformational change?   How does transformation occur?  Why?

The term “transformation” runs the risk of creating the same communication challenges that the word “cloud” does.  People tend to have strong opinions on what it means, but a common consensus has yet to really emerge.  As the authors of this blog haven’t seen a definition we like, we thought we’d take a shot at it.

Thinking about about successful transformation examples we’ve seen in the past, three common ingredients seem to be present each time:

  1. Vision — a transformation needs to embody a new, changed perspective on the world, a complete reframing of what is possible.  It’s about breaking through the status quo of incremental improvement.  It’s about setting a new vision that redefines markets, ecosystems, products and services.
  2. Discontinuity — true transformation provides a fundamental break with the past.  It requires a comprehensive rethink of the organization, including people, processes and technology.  One mark of transformation is its breadth of scope – it touches and changes everything.
  3. Impact — transformation can’t be just a new vision, or change for change’s sake.  It has to drive disruptive business impact.  Whether measured by market share, revenue growth, cost efficiency or productivity, transformation drives improvements measured by orders of magnitude or exponentially.  Gone are the days of linear growth and incremental improvement.

One of the interesting things about transformation is that it occurs at multiple levels.  Enterprises, departments and functional areas, teams, and even individuals can be transformed.

Why is the topic of transformation coming up so frequently these days?  Cloud, big data, mobility and social media are to some extent each reinforcing the growth and adoption of the others.   Each of these technologies on its own could drive its own wave of transformational change.  Taken together, they are creating a tsunami for the enterprise, and driving change at a pace not seen before.

We’re used to transformational waves of change occurring in enterprise IT every decade or so, but that seems to pace seems to be accelerating.  What if that compresses to every five years?  Three years?   What if transformation itself becomes a continuous process?  With the pace of innovation accelerating,  it wouldn’t be surprising if transformation itself became a core competence required for enterprise to compete and win in the global marketplace.

Next-generation transformation is one of the core themes we want to explore with this blog.  We look forward to sharing examples, discussing what’s working and what’s not, and learning more about how people are making transformation real.


  1. Very sensible and interesting article. I liked your blog posts a lot, i get lot of clarity, sense of clear purpose and directions on right thinking about cloud.

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