Digital transformation: 5 steps to boost your progress

Has your digital transformation initiative slowed – or stalled? Consider this expert advice to get things moving again
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As a concept, digital transformation is not new. We have been inching closer to – and talking about – a totally integrated digital workforce since the dotcom boom. But as new technologies emerge daily, volatile markets drive executive leadership to tighten budgets, and “efficiency” outpaces “growth” for the most frequently seen buzzword in your email inbox, there is an increasing pressure to maximize the ROI of your digital transformation.

Ultimately, digital transformation is a game of accurate trend predictions and timely disruptions with the goal of preparing your business for the most success possible in the digital future. If you feel as though your digital transformation efforts have slowed, here are five ways to get the engine revving again.

Step 1: Evaluate where you are

Before you change course, it’s important to look critically at what you have accomplished already. Who are your key leaders and how have they executed on the goals you set at the beginning of your journey? What is the general sentiment of your employees as the ones who endure the day-to-day burdens of organization-wide change?

No matter where you are, it is critical to assess what key changes you want to achieve – efficiency, precision, time-to-market, etc. – and rewrite the roadmap that will help you get there. As you make adjustments, take care to build a plan on the idea that most of your workforce will never go back to the office. The solutions you are building should not be designed to be temporary but rather to endure. Before you execute, work to ensure buy-in from all of your employees. Collaboration may be the best tool to boost morale.

[ Also read 4 ways digital transformation has changed how business is done. ]

Step 2: Appoint a CDO–if only for the time being

It may be unrealistic to expect your CIO or CTO to manage your entire digital transformation initiative. Data/information management and technology are only parts of the larger digital transformation initiative. Even more, CIOs and CTOs may not have the expertise to lead the company down the path to maximizing the digital tools at your disposal.

Consider convening a digital transformation team led by a Chief Digital Officer (CDO) whose prime responsibility is to organize and lead an entire enterprise-wide digital strategy and vision. CDOs can also act as an evangelist for digital transformation, making the case for change to key C-suite executives that must be on board for digital transformation to truly move forward.

There are two approaches to bringing on a CDO: promote internally or hire externally. The position may be full-time or on a contract basis. Whichever avenue you choose depends on the makeup of your organization and the size of the project you are undertaking. There are advantages to appointing a CDO internally – as that person has familiarity with the company, its values, and key decision-makers. However, if your organization lacks the qualified talent to support these digital initiatives, bringing in expert external support can help expedite the transformation process.

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

Step 3: Understand what data you have available, and how to leverage it

The amount of data at our disposal continues to grow exponentially, with the majority of it having been created in the last few years alone. It is far too much for one organization to understand – let alone make use of, so it is important to be strategic about the data you are calling on. Likely, your data is caught up in silos, making much of it unavailable for cross-functional use.

The most innovative, efficient solutions cannot replace the critical thinking of a talented team.

This requires having a roadmap to build (or buy) an enterprise-wide data platform. This includes architecture for ingesting and storing data (data lakes and warehouses), the AI/ML capabilities to process and pull relevant insights from the data, and then a way to bring that data to life in some sort of data visualization dashboard. This is where it’s important for CIOs, CTOs, and CDOs to collaborate closely.

Step 4: Focus on your people

The most innovative, efficient solutions cannot replace the critical thinking of a talented team. Your employees are arguably the most important part of your digital transformation process that ultimately is meant to make their jobs easier. It’s important for IT leaders to consistently collaborate with HR to ensure the right learning and development programs are implemented.

Through your transformation journey, invest resources in retraining and upskilling with the assumption that your employees are as agile as you are trying to make your company. Help them rise to the challenge. Maximizing the talent you have available will help create stability as your organization changes. The right people armed with the right knowledge make the process easier.

[ Read also: Prioritize people during cultural transformation in 3 steps ]

Step 5: Know when you’re done

Innovation will continue through the end of time, but a savvy executive team knows when to say enough is enough. Key performance indices and other data will highlight the effects of a digitally transformed workplace. That information should tell the story about your employees’ evolution during this process and their productivity levels, regardless of their location. Executives should see more effective cross-departmental collaboration, better data to drive decision-making, less employee attrition, and more positive employee engagement.

Digital transformation is non-negotiable, but it doesn’t have to create havoc. By approaching these steps systematically, companies can jumpstart a stalled transformation process.

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

Suresh Sambandam is the Founder & CEO of Kissflow. He is a first-generation, self-made entrepreneur who is passionate about technology and mentoring other aspiring entrepreneurs. He has three US patents to his credit and is featured in 4 books.