In our final digital transformation column of the year for Manchester Digital, Discerning Digital Richard Lucas takes a step back to reflect on 2015.

"As the holiday season draws in and businesses begin to wind down for the break, we often find ourselves busier than ever at Discerning Digital.

"Despite this, I always try to carve out time to reflect on the year gone by. It’s been another important twelve months in the digital transformation journey and I’d like to take stock on my key learnings from the year.

A review of digital transformation in 2015

1) Digital is Everyone’s Business

"To say that digital transformation is an imperative for your business isn’t exactly a new learning, but it’s something that becomes more apparent with each passing year.

"Despite this, it’s clear that businesses have work to do in the digital space.

"At this year’s National Digital Conference, Nick Williams, consumer digital director of Lloyds Banking Group outlined research by Lloyds which showed that 25% of organisations surveyed didn’t think digital was relevant to them.

"We also learned this year from digital entrepreneur Baroness Martha Lane-Fox that only 30% of small to medium businesses are buying or selling online. Her research shows helping small businesses to understand digital would contribute £18bn to our economy.

"Despite the chatter around digital, these figures show some businesses are failing to grasp the potential of the internet.

"Digital is everyone’s business.

2) Strategy Precedes Technology

"Conversations around digital transformation often centre around systems and infrastructure.

"Of course, technology is an important driver of digital disruption and it would be naive to suggest otherwise but research by MIT this year demonstrates conclusively that businesses which develop a sound strategy before making technological investments are more digitally mature, and therefore more competitive.

"In my conversations with executives, I always emphasise the need for transformation on a wider scale, and to underpin any reconfiguring or implementation of systems, tools or processes with a detailed digital strategy.

3) The Crucial Role Culture Plays in Digital Transformation

"This year we witnessed the departure of a number of senior people from the UK Government’s Digital Service (GDS), including GDS director Mike Bracken.

"While Mike remained diplomatic about his reasons for leaving, he did hint at his frustrations:

“Are we going to back a centre of government that works for all of government and is not departmentally aligned to a single issue? Or are we going to try to use a civil service system that is tremendously resilient but works in silos, to try to effect digital transformation. The jury is out, but that's the real question.”

"I’ve encountered these frustrations time and time again with my own clients. One of my key takeaways from the year has to be that the success of digital transformation depends on senior buy-in and a willingness to lead cultural change across the business.

4) The Digital Skills Gap is Real

"To get fit for purpose in a digital age, businesses need the right digital skills. At its heart, digital transformation is less about systems and processes and more about people, mindset and skills.

"That’s why I was disappointed to read the research by digital skills charity Go ON UK, which created a digital exclusion map to highlight areas in the UK where people are most lacking in basic digital skills.

"Not only did it reveal that over 12 million adults lack these skills, but 1.2 million small businesses do too.

"23% of UK businesses are lacking fundamental abilities in digital - a fact which affects all of us.

"The internet has ensured that it’s never been easier, cheaper and more accessible to start a business. But without fundamental digital capabilities, traditional businesses are at risk of disruption and we could see overseas suppliers with the right skillset and fewer barriers to entry to take work out of the UK.

5) The Space to Think

"I’ve had some interesting conversations with my clients this year that really brought home to me the value of critical thinking in digital transformation.

"Digital technology is one of the most powerful enablers of business today but the trick really lies in being able to create the process and environment to extrapolate great ideas into workable digital solutions.

"In your rush to invest in digital, I’d counsel you to create the time and space to extract all of your understanding and insight into a digital plan that can translate ideas into reality.

Digital Transformation in 2015

Twelve Months in Transformation

"A year is a long time in digital transformation, but in many ways, what we’ve seen this year confirms some of the core truths we already knew.

"Transformation isn’t about reaching digital nirvana, it’s about embracing a journey of change with tenacity and enthusiasm, one that is necessary to the survival of your business.

"I hope we’ll continue our journey together in 2016."

With very best wishes for Christmas and New Year,

Richard and the Eleven Content team.