5 pillars of modern digital transformation

Preparing for your next digital transformation initiative? Let these five fundamental pillars support your strategy
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Companies today need to continuously reimagine themselves to stay relevant. In a hypercompetitive, fast-moving business landscape, we cannot rest on our laurels or put off digital transformation projects for a better time. This mindset is critical to surviving at a time when digital transformation is flipping traditional business models to better enable digital engagement and the use of digital products and services.

Throughout my career as a technology executive in both the public and private sectors, I’ve led and been heavily involved in several transformation projects, including the implementation of a new association management system last year at ISACA. Having experienced the highs and lows of these often complex, technology-centric projects, here are what I consider to be the major pillars of successful modern digital transformation:

1. Get the order right: Put people first

The order to set digital transformation in motion is People/Processes/Technology. You need the right people to be able to institute the needed processes and successfully adopt new technology.

From a process standpoint, catalog and prioritize all critical processes with inputs, outputs, and mapping – this will help you focus on the most important processes and not try to boil the ocean.

[ Also read Digital transformation: 4 key building blocks. ]

When it comes time to focus on technology, fighting complexity is mostly futile. Complexity has to live somewhere – if you are lucky, it lives in well-defined places. However, there is one approach that can reduce complexity at least somewhat: avoid over-customizing products. Too often, we buy a product and then put a lot of effort into changing it. If we buy a product, it’s generally best to accept it for what it is and not force it to be what we want it to be.

2. Drive toward creating digital trust

Advancing digital trust with your customers and transformation projects should be tightly coupled. Digital trust, as defined by ISACA, is “the confidence in the integrity of relations, interactions and transactions among providers and consumers within an associated digital ecosystem,” and it is critical to organizations today with privacy, security, and digital ethics increasingly top-of-mind for customers. As such, business and technology leaders must ensure that the organization’s technology instills confidence, as when there is trust in customer interactions, customer satisfaction and business outcomes are improved.

Prioritizing digital trust requires a cross-functional approach, which is also beneficial in transformation projects. Multidisciplinary information and technology teams that cut across departmental and organizational boundaries provide the following benefits:

  • Speeds service, project, and product delivery and accelerates the time to value
  • Encourages a culture of collaboration and team results
  • Develops a more versatile and integrative workforce, with less focus on specific roles and more on achieving the desired result

3. Manage expectations

Boards and senior leadership have high expectations for digital transformation projects to be executed effectively and relatively swiftly, especially if their company is playing catch-up to competitors in the market. High expectations are great as long as they also are realistic. We’ve all experienced going into a project with high expectations and walking away feeling disappointed.

When measuring success, keep the focus on meeting your customer’s expectations and eventually, leadership will be happy too.

Change is exciting, but it can also be difficult. Let’s not forget that the modern transformation landscape is heavily influenced by unprecedented technology, as well as rapid economic and political changes. The paradigm is shifting. The surprise for me is that I hear similar, concerned sentiments from millennials and baby boomers. The enthusiastic, upbeat view of progress is often relegated to technology conferences and alpha geeks.

When measuring success, keep the focus on meeting your customer’s expectations and eventually, leadership will be happy too.

[ Also read 5 ways digital transformation drives customer success ]

4. Develop stamina and embrace change

To piggyback on managing expectations for digital transformation projects, recognize that getting to the finish line takes grit and perseverance. In the world of IT and digital transformation, the number of unfinished projects far exceeds the number of finished ones. Too often, we abandon transformation prematurely and do not see it through. Most worthwhile projects take more than 10 weeks and may require ongoing attention.

With so many moving parts, effective project management can be the secret sauce to succeed over the long haul. Don’t underestimate capacity planning.

While not everyone has well-developed project management expertise, a change management mindset should be expected across the team. Often people ask me to hire a “change manager.” While there are certain benefits to having such positions, technology employees need to understand that we are all change managers. Every job description and posting should include the word “change.” So, if people ask what helps on the digital transformation journey, keep in mind that curiosity and openness to change help tremendously.

5. Don’t forget the communication skills

The old saying ‘What’s it in for me?’ is never truer than when there is a pervasive system change. Understand, listen, and be thoughtful about your colleagues’ questions and concerns. Before you set a course of action, truly understand the existing priorities of the people you’ll ask to change, including their daily challenges and cultural impulses. This will help you to craft a problem statement.

Once the project is in motion, reward the efforts, progress, and strategies (not just results) of employees to build the organization’s capabilities and battle through ambiguity and complexity.

The need for strong communication skills and relationship-building also extends to managing your vendors. Vendors struggle with most of the same issues we do, and they are at the disadvantage of knowing less about your business than you do.

And as with relationships with friends or romantic partners, if something is not going right in your vendor relationship, clearly communicate about it along the way rather than letting issues fester and eventually lead to a bigger problem than it needs to be.

Lastly, spend time strengthening relationships with your business partners – the higher you go, the more stakeholders you need to keep in check.

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

Simona Rollinson is ISACA’s Chief Operating Officer, leading ISACA’s technology team, driving the organization’s continuing digital transformation, and exploring new opportunities for harnessing technology to elevate the educational and professional development experiences for ISACA’s members and enterprise customers.

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