What digital transformation actually means for your business
Digital transformation has become a popular term in business, and I’d wager it’s widely understood by many employees as well as their bosses. In fact, it’s possibly becoming a cliché - and that leaves the serious nature of these often vast projects in danger of being overlooked or undercooked.
It’s vital to not treat digital transformation as a throwaway term, or a catch-all for something that needs huge volumes of blood, sweat, tears and budget to succeed.
First, let’s look at what it really means.
The true definition of digital transformation
Crucially, digital transformation must always be couched as ‘business first, tech second’. By this I mean the organisation that wants to change must define the transformation before even thinking about platforms, processes and people that will be needed on the journey.
A firm could simply consider transformation to mean switching every process it handles on paper to become a cloud-based system; even if that’s just records, ledgers and so on.
But in reality, transformation is so much broader than that. Most goals are a heady mix of boosting profit, removing friction and evaluating success.
It’s also a cultural shift, a reimagining of an organisation’s daily processes. It’s the beating heart of every team – teams who want the tools they use in their professional lives to be as slick and systematic as those that are available in their personal lives.
And digital transformation is also the enabler of digital transformation. That might sound Double Dutch, but think about it: when a business is set up to handle digitisation in one phase of its development, it will be much more agile to respond to the unstoppable pace of technological change.
Artificial intelligence, machine learning, blockchain: all of these might have been around for a while, but we’re now seeing them come to fruition at pace, and business must prepare to constantly adapt in order to win and keep customers - who also have high expectations of brands’ products, services - and their top talent.
Where’s the best place to begin?
With terms of reference defined, the next task is mapping out the stages of the journey to transformation. I believe we can divide this into seven common steps beyond the ‘business first, tech second’ ethos.
1. Assess the current situation
Take a deep dive into all aspects of the business; from strategy and leadership, technology and data, through to operational issues, culture and customer expectations. It means asking searching questions of all the dusty corners of a company; along the lines of:
- Is there a digital transformation strategy and implementation plan?
- What’s the budget?
- Will we update existing platforms or install new ones?
- What areas of present-day operations need improving?
- Is data organised and analysed?
- Are we reactive to customer needs?
- Are employee rewards part of the transformation plan?
2. Start strategising
It’s time to begin laying down a strategy for the digital transformation journey. There is no universal roadmap to digital transformation, every organisation needs a bespoke one. The answer to what is right for any particular organisation is revealed in its assessment of itself. Again, to create these strategies, complex questions must be answered. Here are just a few on my list!
- What do we want to achieve?
- What are our skills gaps?
- What knowledge do we need?
- Who can help us?What technologies are involved?
- Where is the customer involved?
- What do we need to do first?
3. Seek senior approval
This step may seem simplest of all, but it’s not always the case. After preparing the strategy, digital transformation teams must gain executive buy-in. It’s crucial to get the process of digital transformation up and running, and also to ensure the needed investment. Do this as soon as possible after the strategy is agreed by its intended implementers.
4. Tactics matter too
When executive buy-in has been obtained, it’s time to create a tactical plan outlining what should be done and when. For instance, if implementing new technologies, consider doing so continuously and raising the level of digitalisation in the organisation. The strategy should serve as a guide upon which to create actionable tactics that will gradually bring higher levels of digital transformation.
5. Have the right skillsets
Many digital transformation projects fail due to a lack of required skills to operate new technologies. It’s safe to say that high-quality human resources are required in order to carry out digital transformation. All employees, regardless of their managerial status, must have a certain set of digital skills if a project is to run successfully.
6. Prepare the whole organisation
We’re coming close to a ‘finish line’. In this phase of the project, the business will need to communicate the work to the wider organisation. It’s not a small task; cultural change requires effort and persistence. As noted earlier, gathering great talent that will be a catalyst for cultural change is key. Shout about the process to employees on a regular basis - digital transformation affects them all.
7. Time to transform
On reaching this step it’s time to double down on efforts and launch the project. It’s a pretty simple and straightforward step, but the most important: take the plunge. If all the other steps before this one have been successfully covered, it will work.
Finally, it’s always worth repeating the mantra that digital transformation is never done. It might be implemented, but it’s a living and breathing beast that needs constant, careful management. When the next tech development or customer trend comes along, the organisation must be ready to ride the shifting sands without falling from the saddle.
It could just be the defining factor of success.