When the first talk about digital transformation started to surface about five years ago, nobody expected it to be easy. In fact, much of the initial reaction was whether the results were truly worth the effort.
As the decade comes to a close, however, the answer to that question is clearly “yes” because without a digital business model, it is highly unlikely that the enterprise will survive much longer.
But that doesn’t change the fact that digital transformation is probably one of the most difficult business initiatives ever undertaken. While on one level it calls for the adoption of new technologies, the change actually runs much deeper than that, touching on employee roles and hierarchies, corporate cultures, business processes and the business model itself. This is a truly transformative change that will challenge not just long-standing practices and structures but perhaps the very existence of the organization itself.
Naturally, a change of this magnitude will not follow a predictable pattern. Every transformation will follow a different course, so there are no templates or blueprints, and for many there is still no clear understanding what success or failure looks like – at least, not until someone with a mobile apps puts you out of business. But from what little we’ve learned so far, there are some pitfalls that can be universally applied.
CMO Network’s Daniel Newman notes that many of the mistakes surrounding digital transformation can be avoided provided the organization has a clear understanding of what they need to change and how. One of the first snags, in fact, comes from a lack of consensus on the part of business leaders, knowledge workers and other stakeholders as to how transformation supports business goals. This is typically a holdover from technology initiatives of the past, where new tech was deployed simply because it was new, and processes and goals were altered to take advantage of it. In today’s world, the business comes first, so any and all changes, technological or otherwise, need to reflect that idea.
As well, many organizations fall into the trap of trying to change too much, too fast. A better approach is to choose one process or one business unit for an end-to-end transformation. While success may be limited due to the fact that most functions are interrelated, at least you can effect change on a reduced scale, which serves to get the buy-in of those affected even as it points out the procedural difficulties when the time comes to expand the rollout.
Many organizations run into trouble simply by failing to document their progress and communicating it to the larger organization, says InformationWeek’s Jessica Davis. Citing a study by IDG, she notes that this leads to an inability to foster the culture of change required for success, particularly as the size and scope of the transformation broadens over the entire organization. More than anything else, digital transformation requires a strong vision for what the digital business model will look like and how it will function. Without that, you wind up with a disjointed series of projects that fall prey to the needs of legacy infrastructure, parochial concerns and competing priorities.
Indeed, says Toolbox.com’s Rose de Fremery, the most significant challenges in digital transformation are likely to be cultural, not technological. Large, complex organizations are inherently resistant to change, particularly when populated with long-time members who have spent years, if not decades, crafting processes and workflows to their liking. Couple that with the fact that virtually no one in-house will have any inkling of what digital transformation is or how it is to be accomplished, and there is every reason to think that life will get worse for employees before they get better. Initial perceptions can be powerful influencers, however, which puts the agents of digital change under even greater pressure to produce early positive results or risk losing the support of those who can make or break the entire program.
But as mentioned above, today’s enterprise has no choice but to forge ahead. In the end, the key difference between the winners and losers will be the ones who go in with a solid plan and those who just wing it.
Arthur Cole writes about infrastructure for IT Business Edge. Cole has been covering the high-tech media and computing industries for more than 20 years, having served as editor of TV Technology, Video Technology News, Internet News and Multimedia Weekly. His contributions have appeared in Communications Today and Enterprise Networking Planet and as web content for numerous high-tech clients like TwinStrata and Carpathia. Follow Art on Twitter @acole602.