Another (digital) Transformation initiative, really? Think again!

I’ve spent most of my career deeply involved in technological and organizational transformations, working hand in hand with my clients through challenging transition times. Along the road, I have seen some projects succeed and achieve incredible results, while others have made no significant impact. I will share what I have learned, hoping it can be useful for those who are currently undergoing tech renovations or (just) dreaming about them!

“Technology alone is not enough. It’s technology married with the liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields the results that makes our hearts sing.”

STEVE JOBS (after launching the IPAD).

Although digital transformation is sometimes understood as the mere incorporation of digital technologies into an organization, the truth is that it means much more than that. The use of these technologies should allow you to better serve your clients as well as improve your internal processes. Let’s start by making your (internal) stakeholders and clients happier. How can you provide a great digital customer experience?

Some ideas: (a) Explain your services better. (b) Make yourself more accessible to prospective clients. (c) Make it easier to buy your products or subscribe to your services. (d) Revamp your customer service. (e) Get to know your clients and their preferences. And what about your internal operations? Make your processes more efficient, error-free, environment-friendly, compliant, or flexible. Improve communication, training, security, storage, manufacturing…. no limits on that either! You see where I am going: technology is obviously a must, but just changing your software won’t be enough to really transform your business.

First things first

Even at the risk of sounding too insensitive, I would like to start with a warning: Do not try to think about how fancy your digital transformation will be when your organization is still using 10-year-old computers and a long-deprecated version of Internet Explorer. While writing this article, it seemed like a good idea to stereotype my examples a bit, reducing them to the absurd, for the sake of making a clear point, so please do not take it too seriously if some of the situations presented feel too familiar to you.

Was this too harsh?

Ok, if that’s your case, you can still think about your digital transformation, and even compile a list of crazy ideas, but please do not attempt any acrobatic stunt before getting your basics in order. We have all been there; technology moves fast, the most innovative ideas become obsolete in the blink of an eye, and we suddenly find ourselves out of style. It is perfectly ok, just start your journey with a much-needed reality check, be aware of your starting point, and build from there your step by step plan to the future.

Aim for progress, perfection can come later

“We are going to build the most amazing [insert here name of the app, platform or alike], which should allow us to do A, and B, and C, and D, and… All of them are absolutely indispensable, of course. We will launch once everything is ready.” Oh yeah! You’ve heard that one too, right? It gives me chills. Having a clear definition of your final goals is a fantastic idea, but there are other things that might help:

  • To establish priorities and classify your requirements. Some of them may be mandatory, but others are probably optional, or simply nice-to-haves. Some of them can perhaps wait until a second phase. Make sure you can count on the essential ones and move forward.
  • To introduce the changes to the organization in a progressive manner. Too many changes at the same time, big bang style, can be quite painful. However, when defining a gradual approach, do take into account temporary situations that might complicate the life of your employees (i.e. duplicated data-entries, processes split in different applications) and try to reduce them to a minimum.
  • To standardize and simplify your processes first. Understand how people in your organization are working, how different departments, teams, offices… operate and interact with each other. Identify any unneeded bureaucracy, inefficiencies, discrepancies, or redundancies and tackle them before going digital.

Your plan should not be carved in stone

Once you are halfway into your transformation, your professional requirements may change. Also, it may be easier to adapt your processes to the technologies available than doing it the other way around. Who knows, even your business can change directions, or a weird virus no one heard about can turn your company upside down! Make it your priority to revise your goals often and be flexible.

Business departments drive transformation while IT enables the change

Ever heard of any custom software that took months (even years) to develop and that was forgotten on some random place and never used? It happens more often than anyone would like to admit. A complete waste of time, money, and efforts.

My point?

  • Ensure that your CEO and business departments are on the driving seat. Technology becomes meaningful when it adds value to your business and makes people’s work easier. Would you be willing to change the way you work to make it more inefficient and painful? I would definitely not. There might be some exceptions, when change is not a choice and can bring extra work, for example, due to regulatory reasons, audits… but we will leave these ones for another day.
  • Communicate your plans from the beginning, get everyone on board, and truly understand their needs. Appoint a spokesperson from every relevant department and make them part of your digital transformation process. Give them the responsibility to establish priorities in their area of expertise and help them understand any budgetary or time constraints.
  • Update everyone often, let them know what to expect. Be upfront with them about any challenges that they may have to face. In short, make them an active part of your transformation process. And remember: Transformation will take time from your team. Do not expect that employees that are already giving their best to the organization, will magically make room for all the extra effort, especially if any contribution that they make in this area is not somehow rewarded, valued, or considered as part of their goals.