Digital transformation: Don’t be a follower

Making your digital transformation succeed takes vision and creative thinking. Consider this alternative advice
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There’s a big difference between taking on a digital transformation initiative and making it succeed. Unfortunately, many companies don’t see the fruits of their labor. According to a Boston Consulting Group study, 70 percent of digital transformations fall short of their objectives.

When that happens, there are grave consequences related to time, money, and organizational effort. That’s in addition to falling behind competitors in innovation, customer engagement, and technology, among other areas.

Poor outcomes are common

Virtually every large company has a digital transformation program, but many fail. Even leaders who achieve success are often disappointed with their overall progress.

So, what’s the problem? It’s not always this simple, but a lack of direction and clear vision generally increases the likelihood of a poor outcome.

Consider, for example, a company that implements new software to manage data more efficiently. This alone isn’t digital transformation. It’s a step in the right direction, but it’s not a total transformation.

[ Also read Digital transformation: 3 contrarian tips. ]

There’s more to digital transformation than implementation. It’s “what comes next” that matters. Identify the use cases you want to fulfill, and never fall prey to self-fulfilling goals.

What is your mission? How will the software sync with other internal processes? Have you shared your initiative with other employees? Was it well received?

The role of the IT department

Don’t rely solely on your IT department to manage a digital transformation initiative. Certainly, they play an important place in the journey. But they shouldn’t be the only ones driving. Here’s why:

  • IT teams have a lot on their plate. You can’t expect them to devote all their resources to a digital transformation initiative.
  • Even IT professionals don’t necessarily know everything about everything. Your IT team could step into a project they don’t fully understand.
  • You don’t want to just get the job done – you want it to be done the right way. An overextended IT team may rush the project so they can move on to other important tasks.

Of course, your IT department must be involved, but don’t rely solely on them to carry out a digital transformation initiative.

Second-guess your approach

How you think you should measure success and how you actually should measure it may not align. Second-guess your approach to ensure that it’s aligned with your overarching goals. These tips will help:

1. Think about data integration, not system integration

System integration is an antiquated way of thinking. Accordingly, you can expect less than stellar results. Data integration, however, will move the needle. It fosters a collaborative work environment while providing real-time business insights, intelligence, and analytics. The result is increased efficiency and return on investment (ROI).

2. Don’t (always) think too far outside the box

Digital transformation isn’t always rooted in artificial intelligence, machine learning, and automation. While these technological details can feel like toppings on a cake for organizations looking to innovate, they could lead you to chase something unattainable in the near term.

Thinking outside the box allows for innovation but can also be a distraction. Keep it simple by answering questions such as:

  • How can you simplify core business processes?
  • What steps can you take to get your team on board with change?
  • What’s the best process for moving away from desktop applications?

Continue to think outside the box, but don’t let it consume you. Sometimes transformation comes about through simple changes.

3. Get realistic about unrealistic deadlines

Often you think a deadline will work, but more times than not, you’re scrambling as you near the finish line. Even the most realistic deadlines are unrealistic.

Don’t tie your success to deadlines. You want to move fast. You want to be efficient. But more than that, you need to make real progress. Would you rather meet a deadline and end up in the same place or miss it but have something of value to show?

Deadlines can put you “in a box” when what you really need is the freedom to think creatively. Set deadlines but remain realistic about the true impact they’ll have on your project and organization.

Final thoughts

2020 KPMG International Limited report found that more than 80 percent of United States companies surveyed are planning to or currently investing in emerging technologies such as cybersecurity, hybrid cloud, and smart analytics.

Digital transformation initiatives are on the rise but don’t lose sight of what matters: results. A defined process and system for tracking progress is critical to staying the course and reaching your transformation goals.

[ Discover how priorities are changing. Get the Harvard Business Review Analytic Services report: Maintaining momentum on digital transformation. ]

An expert in Life Cycle Assessment, Product Sustainability, and EHS, Fabian is Makersite’s VP Services.