Scale is the holy grail of businesses that look to digital technology and methods for the ability to distribute standard processes in order to reach new customers. The vocabulary of scale permeates conversations about digital transformation, as protagonists talk about becoming agile with small pilots that prove a model or process, and spinning these out across organisations and regions.

Because scale is such an assumption, it’s a useful exercise to unpack the conversations and find out what scale actually means to different digital adventurers. A blog I came across made the point that services don’t scale easily, because people sell services. But even that truism is disrupted by digital capabilities, which augment people so they can be more flexible and work smarter.

Over the past year, the subject of scaling has cropped up again and again in conversations with chief information officers (CIOs) describing what it means to them. Dominic Aslan, the then vice president of IT at global shipping procurement portal, ShipServ, talked about his mission to take the business to the next stage. “We’re evolving a communications and digital strategy to support a mature, scalable organisation into the future.”

Aslan’s mission was not about growth, he explained, but about augmenting product excellence with sound governance and a cyber security proposition it could pass on to customers. He summed up his vision of scale like this: “The company wishes to retain the feel of a start-up but evolve into a more mature organisation at the same time.”

To achieve this, the journey at ShipServ was all about reengineering processes and workflows, as Aslan confirmed. “How do we do things? If we want to get certification for regulatory compliance, we must ensure an auditable history of transactions, the right level of access and communication with the correct bodies, and that we’re responding to client needs.”

Details of another scaling journey came from Gavin Hattersley, chief executive officer at Miller Coors Brewing Company. The beer giant integrated its operational system with a new business process platform, run in the cloud to manage 100 beer brands and 19,000 staff in 50 countries. With finance and human resources processes now running from the cloud, the brewing giant is more efficient and can expand into new markets faster and more cheaply.

Importantly, as Hattersley points out, real agility and digital capability means the ability to scale in both directions. “In the evolving beer market, being nimble and flexible brings a huge advantage, and the flexibility of the cloud enables Molson Coors to quickly scale up and down as business needs change.”

Dan Hushon, DXC Technology’s senior vice president and chief technology officer, has a scaling message for digital businesses in 2019. “Pilot projects and small wins are nice, but it’s time for companies to take their business transformation efforts to the next level to boost productivity and growth.”

Whether you’re scaling up or down in 2019, maintaining the vision of where you want to go and where you want to be next year and beyond may well be the critical success factor.