What is digital transformation? Investigating the metaphorical meaning of digital transformation and why it matters




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Peer reviewed



Purpose: This study used a visual research approach to investigate how small business (SB) entrepreneurs in Nigeria, a low-income country, perceive digital transformation (DT). The study aims to improve and broaden the understanding of DT by uncovering its metaphors. Making metaphorical sense of DT will increase its knowledge among populations who are unfamiliar with digital technology concepts, as well as communicating and collaborating with them to develop future research and strategies on the subject of DT. This study is significant because scholars have paid little attention to social imaginations of DT depicted through metaphors, more so when considered from a worldview of SBs in low-income countries.

Design/methodology/approach: The uniqueness of the research objective motivated the use of social theory to frame the research approach, and picture-elicitation techniques to drive data collection through in-depth interviews with 17 SB entrepreneurs and business owners in Nigeria. Data were analyzed using a content analysis procedure known as metaphor analysis. Findings: The study revealed three metaphors of DT: a drama, a war and a pregnant elephant. A triangulation of the metaphors with English lexicon, extant literature and interview excerpts supported the war and drama perceptions of DT but opposed “DT as a pregnant elephant.”

Practical implications: It argued that the social perception of DT can improve the sustainable, purposeful and successful execution of DT strategies for SB DT. As a result, this study pushes the boundaries of DT, particularly for SB entrepreneurs in low-income countries.

Social implications: Metaphors pervade our daily lives, not only in our language and communications, but also in how we think and act; as such, they can play an important role in understanding and implementing DT, a concept that has received little attention in the SB settings.

Originality/value: This is one of the first empirical studies to figuratively explain DT and its implications for literature and practice in SB entrepreneurship and information systems domains.


open access article


Small Business, Digital Transformation, Metaphor, Visual Research, Picture-elicitation, Social Theory


Owoseni, A. (2022) What is digital transformation? Investigating the metaphorical meaning of digital transformation and why it matters. Digital Transformation and Society,


Research Institute

Centre for Computing and Social Responsibility (CCSR)