A Simple Concept That Can Accelerate Digital Transformation

Over the last two years, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced many organizations to shift their digital transformation goals.

According to a survey from TechRepublic, 60% of respondents said COVID-19 forced them to change their digital transformation plans in 2020. This year, the number grew to 62%. Other findings from the survey include:

  • In 2020, 68% of respondents focused on implementing remote digital tech that helps collaboration, digital and online training (56%) and IT and business process automation (39%). This year, 32% prioritized collaboration technology for remote employees this year. 
  • The focus on digital and online training shrank to 26%.
  • IT business process automation was a high priority for only 23%.

Whereas social media initiatives were the most popular digital transformation projects for 23% of respondents last year, the number was only 8% in 2021. Digital capabilities focused on collaboration tools provided the most benefit for 42% respondents this year. Cloud-based computing for systems like HR, CRM, ERP and office systems were helpful for 17% of respondents. 8% of respondents said data analytics as the digital tech provided the most benefit.

What is “Algorithmic Business Thinking?”

As reported by MIT Sloan Management Review, algorithmic business thinking is “a series of interconnected insights, frameworks, and models to help people break complex problems down into their smaller constituent parts, be able to work on them in parallel, and then recombine them so they are opportunities for sustainable growth.” The phrase was coined by MIT Sloan senior lecturer Paul McDonagh-Smith, who teaches a course on the concept. McDonagh-Smith told MIT Sloan that the concept is “a toolkit, mindset, and a digital language.”

The concept involves breaking complex problems into smaller ones for easier solvability; recognizing the patterns of failure and success; knowing how to apply strategies that were effective in one domain of the organization into others; and having an ability to “abstract and remove things that aren’t necessary for a certain task” for greater focus on the important elements. 

Once your organization achieves these goals, the next step is an increased relationship between its human and machine elements. “Algorithmic business thinking algorithms are humans and machines working side-by-side, shoulder to shoulder, on problems,” McDonagh-Smith told MIT Sloan. This relationship can be revolutionary for organizations, since human traits, such as creativity and curiosity, can make technology more effective. 

All in all, algorithmic business thinking gives employees a “common digital language” that can help them communicate better not just with one another but with machines, according to McDonagh-Smith. However, he also argues that in order to implement algorithmic business thinking successfully, leaders need to encourage their employees with incentives.

“You’re creating this swimming pool of digital language that people get immersed within,” he said. “But if you don’t create a motivation and you don’t create the environment, it’s never going to happen.”

While digital transformation often requires a great deal of change, many organizations can ease the transition by embracing this simple concept.

Prepare Your Organization for Digital Transformation

Get your organization ready for digital transformation. The IEEE five-course program, Digital Transformation: Moving Toward a Digital Society, aims to foster a discussion around how digital transformation can transform various industries and provide the background knowledge needed to smartly implement digital tools into organizations.

Contact an IEEE Account Specialist to get access for your organization.

Interested in the course for yourself? Check out the course program on the IEEE Learning Network.


Wachsman, Melanie Wolkoff. Survey: COVID-19 continues to impact digital transformation plans. TechRepublic. 

Brown, Sara. (30 September 2021). Boost digital transformation with algorithmic business thinking. MIT Sloan Management Review. 


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