Digital transformation strategy: 7 factors to re-examine about yours now

During the pandemic, you may have taken some shortcuts. Reassess these parts of your digital transformation strategy to make sure you're on track for 2021 and beyond
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The world became more dangerous in 2020. Organizations that had made significant digital transformation strides ahead of the COVID-19 pandemic were better able to adjust quickly to the changing business environment. Many of those that had not dived headfirst into digitization efforts.

“Projects that were supposed to take two years were compressed into two months,” says Jan Erik Aase, director and global leader with technology research and advisory firm ISG’s Provider Lens Research. “Companies know that digital transformation can help them respond to disruptions, whether they are caused by health crises, political uncertainty, or market fluctuations.”

[ Read also: Digital transformation in the remote work era: 11 do's and don'ts. ]

7 key pieces: Digital transformation strategy

Now it’s time to reassess. In the rush to adjust to work-from-home orders, seismic supply and demand shifts, changing customer and partner needs, and a global health crisis, some shortcuts may have been taken, or longer views set aside. Heading into 2021, IT leaders can take a step back to reassess some important aspects of their digital transformation efforts to make sure they’re on the right track not only for 2021 but beyond.

1. Business goal alignment

This is the first and most important aspect of digital strategy to reassess right now. In reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic, many organizations pivoted repeatedly to accommodate the new needs of their customers, employees, and partners. While the urgency to transform was necessary, some initiatives conceived or implemented in haste may deserve a second or even third look.

“Some may have implemented changes at a pace that didn’t allow for the standard level of care and detail that would normally go into digital transformation projects. Others pivoted away from their technical roadmap,” says Greg Stam, managing director in the CIO advisory at digital business consultancy AHEAD. “It’s critical to re-baseline your digital transformation strategy, starting with any new business goals.”

[ Get answers to key digital transformation questions and lessons from top CIOs: Download our digital transformation cheat sheet. ]

2. Cultural readiness for transformation

Moving forward, digital transformation strategy should place less emphasis on the technology itself and more on the organization in which it operates, says TEKsystems’ vice president of products and services Ricardo “Rick” Madan. Rigid business processes and a lack of agile maturity were rated as top challenges related to digital transformation (cited by 32 percent of respondents), according to TEKsystems’ State of DX report. That rose to 41 percent post-COVID-19 outbreak.

3. Employee experience

“As so many IT leaders scrambled to implement new technologies to help employees remain productive and connected from home, some may be starting to find that the tools they implemented aren’t really serving their true purpose,” says Rob Wiley, senior vice president at workplace productivity platform Formstack. Now is a good time to check the numbers – productivity, new system and features uptake, employee happiness, and so on.

“If digital transformation is making your employees’ lives more difficult during this already difficult time,” Wiley says, “it’s probably time to reevaluate your overall strategy. As you plan for the upcoming year, it is now time to take a step back and identify pain points or inefficiencies your employees or customers are experiencing since your company went fully remote, as well as ensure that the new tools you implemented are creating any new data silos.”

Looking forward to future plans, Wiley advises, “think about how to measure employee and business impact and let this objective guide every step along the digital transformation journey.”

4. Your digital strategy story

In 2020, an organization’s ability to survive and remain relevant was largely determined by the efforts they had made pre-pandemic: Those with the most digital transformation maturity and organizational openness to change often fared best. “This year is an opportunity to re-tell your story by emphasizing the need for strategy with your successes (and failures),” AHEAD’s Stam says. “We were prepared, so we were able to do these things quickly, or we were not prepared, and we struggled. Either event creates the foundation for your next business case.”

[ Get exercises and approaches that make disparate teams stronger. Read the digital transformation ebook: Transformation Takes Practice. ]

5. Use case approaches

If your plans center around a digital technology rather than a business problem, start over. “We shouldn’t start with technology, but with a clear problem-and-solution definition and as clear a business requirement as possible,” says Fay Arjomandi, founder and CEO of mimik Technology, a cloud edge platform provider.

“Use cases are meant to describe experiences and interactions in standard human language. We shouldn’t forget that a successful product [or project] definition is not about a list of features but about meeting the business strategy and goals that a product fulfills.”

6. Consolidation prospects

“In an ideal world, digital transformation would be implemented only after careful planning and consideration,” says Wiley of Formstack. “But with COVID-19, many organizations had to skip this crucial step to prioritize business continuity. As companies had to ramp up on new tech so quickly, there are likely tech redundancies and opportunities to streamline your tech stack.”

There may be an opportunity to consolidate three vendors into one, for example, cutting IT costs significantly.

7. User training

“It’s important that companies roll out any new tools in a way that employees and customers have adequate time to adjust to using the new solution,” says Wiley, noting that some newer low- or no-code code solutions can be quite user-friendly and require little to no upfront training. “Successful digital transformation can’t happen overnight, and one of the keys to success is taking the time to train employees so that they understand how to use the new technology.”

[ How can automation free up more staff time for innovation? Get the free eBook: Managing IT with Automation. ] 

Stephanie Overby is an award-winning reporter and editor with more than twenty years of professional journalism experience. For the last decade, her work has focused on the intersection of business and technology. She lives in Boston, Mass.


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