Digital transformation is very much about people and change management, but equally, there’s no getting away from the fact that it is fundamentally about the strategic use of modern digital technology.

Many organisations struggle to deliver real digital transformation – real results at scale – even though they succeed in delivering promising early results within individual pilots or proofs-of-concept. You can think of such organisations as creating and managing “islands of digital innovation” that are disconnected from each other, as well as from core IT systems.

Notwithstanding the other (non-technology related) critical success factors for digital transformation, there is a clear technology imperative: to truly succeed, organisations must find a way to bridge individual islands of innovation, and along the way also link them to existing core systems.

It’s easy and often strategically savvy to start digital transformation efforts at the outside edge of an organisation, focusing on the customer experience, or creating new digital products and services. But every “digital outside” also needs to be supported by a “digital inside”. Outside and inside; old and new; classic and agile development approaches – all these need to be bridged.

It’s the job of a digital platform to provide the materials for these bridges.

A digital platform is your future technology architecture that accelerates digital initiatives for the enterprise, enabling the rapid creation of externally-facing digital products, services and experiences, while also enabling you to aggressively modernise your internal IT environment toward an “intelligent core” in parallel.

In its external-facing role, a digital platform has the key objective of creating a network or ecosystem of connected customers, partners and suppliers that use (and pay for) the information and services available to them. The value of a platform increases as the ecosystem it enables grows, and more people start using it. This works according to Metcalfe’s law, which states that the value of a network is proportional to the number of connected parties squared (n2).

In its internal-facing role, a digital platform enables an aggressive modernisation of core IT environments. The heart of a digital platform is the “intelligent core”. This is where the algorithms, code and models live that enable you to glean insights and drive actions from data. What is important to take away here, though, is that an intelligent core by itself does not distinguish your company — it’s what your company does with data that distinguishes it. How you build your intelligent core will determine your potential as an organisation.

This article is part of the IDC series “Your pathway to digital success,” written to inspire business leaders to overcome common challenges along their organisations’ journeys.