What Moroccan Souks Can Tell Us About the Journey to Digital Transformation


I’m just back from a remarkable vacation in Morocco, after eleven years since last visiting this fascinating country. While I won’t regale you with tales from my trip, although I strongly recommend you visit, I think there are some interesting parallels and lessons from my experiences that can be applied to the journey to digital transformation.

In my last post, I talked about being very wary of vendors who are eager to make a quick buck and “digitalize” your status quo. And the need to keep a level head about all of the hype around digital transformation.

So what does my vacation in Morocco have to do with the journey to digital transformation?

If you’ve ever been to souks of Marrakech you’ll have experienced the following first-hand:

A loud, crowded and chaotic marketplace

Big claims, invitations to come and look made rapidly in multiple languages for shiny objects, cheap souvenirs and attractive hand crafted artisan pieces bombard you from all directions. And with multiple vendors all clustered together selling the same type of products, it’s difficult to know where to focus your attention.

Like the frenetic activity in the souks, the daily drumbeat of hype around digital transformation also creates a powerful magpie or shiny object effect. Vendors are bombarding the market with big claims from their position on the digital bandwagon. Making it difficult to understand whether vendors are simply slapping a “digitalization” sticker on what they offer, selling a digital platform that really doesn’t exist or can actually help you progress your journey to digital transformation.

In both cases it’s hard to make sense of the world.

The temptation to judge a book by its cover

At some point in your walk through the souks your eyes will fixate on something interesting. And your resistance to repeated requests to “come and just look” will inevitably break down. The next thing you know, you’ll be hearing all the reasons as to why their products are the best and the others are not. And if you’re not convinced a celebrity endorsement in the form of a picture of Nicholas Cage or rapper Kevin Gates standing with the shop owner will be proudly displayed as a compelling reason to buy.

In the digitalization arena, one could argue the pressure and sales spin is even greater.  Every vendor is selling on the “big customer logos” they have, some are bad mouthing their competition even to the point of just making stuff up and others are playing fast and loose with the capabilities they actually have in their products.  With our imaginations running wild and our desire to dream the dream of digitalization, it takes some serious restraint to avoid rushing headlong into the digitalization fray.

As in the souks, things are not always as they appear.

Rushing a decision instead of taking your time

In order to buy something of significance in a souk in Marrakech at what you perceive to be a good price to value point, you need to be committed to a process. Trying to do it too quickly will always result in paying too much for too little value. You have to commit yourself to the process. This will often involve having tea on multiple occasions, talking about everything else under the sun, getting to know the store owner, flattery, indifference, walking away and returning (potentially multiple times) all over the course of a few days. This supreme exercise in patience, restraint and ultimately perseverance can result in the eventual satisfaction of what you believe to be a good price to value ratio for the object in question. Despite your efforts, the shopkeeper will always win but at least you feel good about your purchase.

In the digitalization arena, the same lessons also apply. It’s easy to be seduced by a vendor’s “big logo” speak, slick demos, cheap parlour tricks, competitor bashing and big “digital” claims. But unlike the souks, getting it wrong here has much bigger implications than an overpriced souvenir or piece of mediocre quality furniture in your living room.

Digital transformation done right is not about digitalizing what you do today or optimizing around the edges. It’s an ongoing process that will change the way you operate and differentiate your organization from the rest.  At its heart – it’s about enabling new end-to-end business processes that produce positive business outcomes. That’s why it’s critically important to partner with vendors and service organizations who can help you define the “to be” for your organization and actually help you get there.

Rushing into a relationship with a vendor without really understanding their digital vision and critically, their capabilities to deliver it, is fraught with peril. If a vendor’s digital imagination defaults to delivering a digitized set of narrow business process at a big price tag… run away… fast…. even if they purport to have done it with “big logos”. In the digital world, this is an analogue approach. It’s a path of least resistance to an “easy fix” that only benefits the vendor’s bottom line and not yours. It’s not unlike the store in the souks I saw where a large quantity of sandals were prominently displayed, all with the “Apple” logo as if they were the latest and greatest from Apple, the “iSandal”.

Instead, take the time to understand each vendor’s vision on how to better connect operations, maintenance, planning, engineering and HSE. Understand how they would do this with their technology, capabilities, partnerships and expertise. Look for deeper discussions and digital vision that moves far beyond an understanding of how you do things today. Digital transformation is about where you could go, how better connected you could be and the transformative business results you could have. Your vendor must be able to lead the conversation and show you how they could practically and tangibly take you on that journey.

Like the souks, if your desired end result is the satisfaction of an excellent price to value result you need to commit to a process. Otherwise you’re likely to end up with a pair of “iSandals” that look nice on the outside, at least for a while anyway, but in practice don’t do much more than your old pair of sandals.

So what do you think? Lets continue the conversation.

Scott Lehmann  has strategic responsibility for market and product segmentation, defining and delivering market driven products and solutions. Scott joined Petrotechnics in 2010 with more than twenty years of senior management experience in enterprise software product marketing, product management, strategy development and sales and channel development.

Before he joined us, Scott was Vice-President of Product Management & Marketing (and co-founder) of Nayatek, a VC-backed enterprise storage software start-up; the EMEA Security Products Marketing Manager at Microsoft; and the Director of EMEA Channel at security software vendor Sybari Software (acquired by Microsoft).

Scott’s earlier experience included being the North American Channel & Alliance Manager at TenFour, a security software vendor, and a spell as a sales manager at an IT systems integrator in the Washington, DC area.

Scott has a B.A from Tufts University and an M.A from Georgetown University.

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