Digital transformation is the process of using digital technologies to create new or change existing business processes in accommodation to rapidly evolving business and market requirements. COVID-19 is certainly speeding up the process of digital transformation. In 2020, according to International Data Corporation (IDC), worldwide spending on digital transformation reached $1.3 trillion. By 2025, it is forecasted that the digital transformation market will grow at a CAGR of 23% from 2019 to $3.3 trillion. But what does digital transformation really mean for everyday people and for future generations going into the workforce? 

For those with entrepreneurial minds, what does digital transformation mean to you? When is a good time to start a company and grasp great opportunities created in this space? How are firms keeping up with the rapid pace of technological change? How can we prepare the next generation of college graduates to enter the digital world? On February 17, 2022, the Sutardja Center of Entrepreneurship & Technology at the University of California, Berkeley hosted an Innovation X Roundtable featuring an industry panel of digital transformation leaders to gather their insights on imminent questions in the space of digital transformation.

The panel featured Anna-Katrina Shedletsky, CEO of Instrumental, a company working to reduce waste in manufacturing supply chains; Ryan Chan, founder, and CEO of UpKeep, an enterprise maintenance management software designed to improve work order process; Joris Poort, CEO of Rescale, a software technology company that provides “intelligent computing for digital R&D” focused on high-performance computing, cloud management, and computer-aided engineering; and DROdio, Chairman and Founding CEO of Armory, a Series C-funded startup in Silicon Valley that enables digital transformation for global 2,000 enterprises. 

Q: What does the future of work and digital transformation mean to you? What do you see as the most exciting opportunities in this space?

DROdio: In this massive shift from analog to digital I see there are untapped opportunities in the fact that we have a digital layer in between all of us these days, and we’re all feeling the pain of that. We’re dealing with the pain, but we haven’t yet really unlocked the possibilities and the value. Opportunities exist due to this digital pain that’s between us, and we’re not really taking advantage of that. 

Ryan: I take digital transformation to be physical industries like manufacturing change into the digital world. The formation of digital twins is creating a digital replica of the physical world so you could run simulations. I could run simulations without actually having to stand next to the equipment. 

Joris: I think the future of work in the case of digital transformation is more of the use of AI, letting machines do stuff for you and utilize human expertise in areas most needed. It’s all about how you take specialty expertise and try to embed it in software without having humans doing all the work.  

Anna: Here is an analogy of what is happening: A decade ago, people built software and had developer environments, and they built apps. You have data centers and infrastructures that you have to physically go into to figure out what’s going on. COVID has been an amazing accelerator for digitizing physical industries.

Q: How do we prepare future generations to enter the new world?

DROdio: The number one thing I see from especially first-time founders is that they fall in love with solutions instead of falling in love with problems. 

“Fall in love with the problem, not the solution; go talk to a lot of people and figure out their pain. Translate that pain into a scalable answer that probably looks a lot different than they think it does.”

Q: What would be the toughest challenges you face as a founder?

Anna: The toughest challenge is definitely learning how to learn new things. Learn how to do jobs that you never thought you would need to learn how to do. Learn enough about those jobs so you could hire people who are way better than you. Learn to build and tap into a network of people who can provide advice. 

Joris: I think soft skills and sales are very important. Especially when you found a company, you are basically selling to people every day. Getting experience in sales and selling to people are going to give you a big advantage, and that’s really critical to being a good entrepreneur. 

For starting companies, it is important to solve a problem, and it isn’t always clear to people that it is just as hard to solve a small problem as to solve a big one. It is good to have a very specific problem where you have domain expertise. But don’t be afraid to translate that into a very big vision and a big problem to solve for the world.   

At last but not least, to use DROdio’s idea, to sum up this panel: 

“Being a founder is a marathon, not a sprint. There’s going to be ups and downs and there’s going to be time for maybe years when nobody cares. Being a founder by definition, you’re doing something that other people think is a little bit crazy, or else they would have done it themselves.”