The emergence of the global Cov19 pandemic has, and will continue to force business owners and technology leaders to look hard at their digital transformation and respective technology investments, which is supported with countless surveys of business leaders such as the CIO, CEO, COO suite.

A recent 2020 report concluded that almost half of digital leaders (49%) reported as being either ‘very’ or ‘extremely’ effective at scaling good ideas and stopping poor ones quickly. Yet in in pre-Cov19 2019 it was concluded that as much as 70% of all Digital Transformation projects did not reach their predetermined objectives.

So why do some Digital Transformation efforts succeed and others fail?

Fundamentally, it’s because most digital technologies provide possibilities for efficiency gains and customer intimacy, but if projects are initiated without the right mindset to change being in place and the current organisational practices are flawed, then quite simply Digital projects will only magnify those flaws.

The following are some key lessons I wanted to share, about how business will need to adapt in order to be successful with their Digital Transformations.

Lesson 1: Figure out your business strategy before you invest in anything. I have discussed this with many clients, and those which adopt this tend to be more successful than those leaders who do not. Do NOT aim to enhance organisational performance through the use of a specific tool- “Our organization needs a machine learning strategy,” or “Big Data”…perhaps, but digital transformation should be guided by the broader business strategy.

Simply there is no single technology that will deliver “speed” or “innovation” as such. The best combination of tools for a given organisation will vary from one Business “Vision” to another.

Lesson 2: Leverage insiders. You simply MUST involve the right people, top down to bottom-up. Organisations that seek transformations (digital and otherwise) frequently bring in an army of consultants, who generally look to apply their respective one-size-fits-all solutions in the name of “best practices.” In my experience this only results in a lack of clarity and direction for the delivery team. It is more effective to rely instead on insiders- i.e. the people who have intimate knowledge about what works and what doesn’t in their daily operations. Adopting this into your strategy will leverage results, both in the quality of the finished products, but also just as importantly in relation to People Adoption to the change.

Lesson 3: Design customer experience from the outside in. If an objective of your Digital Transformation Vision is to improve customer satisfaction and intimacy, then any discovery and design phase must include a diagnostic exercise with in-depth input direct from your customers. Not engaging with your customers and instead choosing to develop a product based on assumptions, will never enable nor enhance customer satisfaction. The best way to maximise customer satisfaction is bring them into the design phase and introduce them to smaller-scale changes across different points of your customer journey service cycle. By obtaining extensive and in-depth input from the customers, this will help smooth out the Customer Readiness for the change impact ahead, something that cannot be overlooked.

Lesson 4: Engage with your People and be empathic. Undoubtedly in any change implementation, some of your people will perceive that the impending Digital Transformation could lead to job losses, so consequently they may consciously or unconsciously resist the change. Sharing the Vision for change and, (as per pt2) involving them from the outset, whilst showing a high degree of empathy and understanding of their fears, will ensure the digital transformation process is perceived as an opportunity for employees to upgrade their expertise to align with the business as it will be, not as it is. 

Lesson 5: Enable an Agile culture. Start-ups are known for their agile decision making, rapid prototyping and non-hieratical structures. However, when more traditional business don’t plan their resources according to the requirements at hand, it makes the process of digital transformation inherently uncertain: In an Agile project, changes need to be made provisionally and then adjusted; decisions need to be made quickly; and groups from all over the organisation need to get involved. If each decision has to go through multiple layers of management to move forward, and governance simply slows down the process, then mistakes cannot be detected and corrected quickly. Furthermore, if traditional cultures and hierarchies are likely to get in the way, it may be more advantageous to adopt a flat organisational structure, whilst removing “business as usual” responsibilities from the team members.

Digital Transformation will work for your business, but only if you adopt these fundamental tools and techniques. Ignoring them will only be at the cost of the project. Focus on changing the mindset of your people, from the Board down, which will in turn influence a shift in organisational culture and processes. Do this before you decide what digital tools to use and how to use them. What your People envision to be the future of the organisation will drive the technology, not the other way around.