Digital transformation: 10 reasons your IT initiatives fail

Successful digital transformation initiatives involve all areas of the organization and require careful strategy and planning. Here are ten common missteps to avoid
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Companies have been embarking on digital transformation efforts to reduce costs, boost efficiency, and better serve their customers. But it is easier said than done. Successful digital transformation requires a well-defined strategy and experienced teams.

From a customer’s perspective, providing the information they need when they need it and making interactions easy and frictionless means your digital transformation has been successful.

From an IT perspective, it’s about speed and agility and getting the tools, technologies, and processes in place to deliver solutions quickly. IT teams must be organized to include representatives from a product, technology, and user experience perspective.

Digital transformation spans the organization, including business units, suppliers, manufacturing facilities, distribution centers, and IT. To be successful, leaders from all these areas need to be involved, aligned, and accountable. A solid plan and roadmap outlining the initiatives, dependencies, investment, business value, roles and responsibilities, timing, and governance should be defined.

[ Also read: Digital transformation: 5 'human' mistakes to avoid. ]

Digital transformation requires a significant investment of money, time, and commitment. The last thing companies want to do is embark on an enterprise initiative, only to have it fail. Failure can negatively impact the credibility of executives, business leaders, and IT.

10 digital transformation pitfalls to avoid

Consider these ten reasons IT initiatives fail and let them guide you in making sure your digital transformation is a success.

1. Focusing on the wrong things

Focusing on initiatives that don’t drive value or transformation is a waste of time and resources. Ensure that each initiative will result in transformation or is a component to support transformation. Focus on transforming customer experience, business efficiency, employee experience, or IT efficiency.

2. Taking on too many things at one time

With teams challenged to keep up with current projects and support, you can easily overextend them. This will result in project delays, frustration, and ultimately more time and money.

3. Thinking it can all be done internally

Few companies have the internal talent and leadership to understand the latest business trends and emerging technologies. In addition, internal resources are typically bogged down with day-to-day support and project initiatives. You can save time and money by bringing in a partner.

4. Insufficient strategy and roadmap

Digital transformation spans the enterprise and requires alignment across the organization. Initiatives must be laser-focused on driving transformation. If they are not, resources will be wasted, and transformation will fail. Technology strategy is a key component: Make sure the future state platform, technologies, and enterprise architecture are well-defined to ensure support of the digital transformation.

5. Insufficient or missing objectives

If you don’t know what your end goals are, how can you achieve success? Clear goals and objectives provide the guardrails and scope of any digital transformation effort.

6. Lack of executive commitment and alignment

Enterprise initiatives require executive sponsorship, commitment, and accountability. Executive leaders will make the final decisions on new business processes and provide guidance on how to best address issues. In addition, executives should make sure their teams are committed, focused, and understand priorities; otherwise, delays will occur, impacting the entire effort.

7. Lack of change management

Digital transformation is about more than technology; it’s also about people transformation. Business processes, technologies, and staffing models may be drastically changed. This means that people’s jobs will change – therefore, it is imperative to develop a sound change management strategy and plan. If employees don’t see the value in the transformation, they will reject it, causing friction and making transformation more difficult to achieve. People need to feel comfortable about being uncomfortable and will need assistance to embrace change.

[ Read next: Change management: 4 tips for leaders on embracing human nature ]

8. Not managed like a program

The size, scope, and magnitude of digital transformation can be enormous. As with any large IT initiative, it needs to be managed like a program. Stakeholder alignment, progress, costs, timeline, risks, and status need to be understood and communicated on a frequent basis. Risks should also be identified and addressed.

9. Insufficient governance and KPIs

Enterprise governance and KPIs are critical to ensure the digital transformation effort is tracked as planned. If governance and metrics are not in place, you’ll have no way of knowing if you are achieving your objectives and making progress. KPIs can provide an early indication that course adjustments are necessary.

10. Lack of technical vision

Technology is the foundation for digital transformation. The existing technology platforms and applications may not be using the latest architecture and tools. Microservices, cloud, edge, artificial intelligence (AI), and machine learning are emerging technologies that can help position IT for the future. However, if IT does not know what emerging technologies can be leveraged, IT may be creating more technical debt.

It’s a journey

Remember, digital transformation is a journey and not a final destination. It is an ongoing process, not something that is accomplished overnight. Digital transformation is also unique to each company. There is no one-size-fits-all approach.

As you embark on the digital transformation journey, it is critical to stay current and continue transformation efforts. Otherwise, your investment in time, money, and resources will be all for naught.

[Where is your team's digital transformation work stalling? Get the eBook: What's slowing down your Digital Transformation? 8 questions to ask.]

Donald Hook is the founder of Full On Consulting, a technology and management consulting firm helping companies successfully leverage technology and deliver their initiatives.