Digital transformation projects are failing, but why?

Businesses have been quick to implement new digital transformation projects but did they carry out the initial pre-planning correctly?

Digital transformation is indisputably complex. It can often be misunderstood and can go on to cause negative disruption for businesses. AppLearn’s Mark Barlow looks at how technology is shaping the business landscape and how to improve the success of your digital transformation project.   

Technology has dramatized the way businesses create and shape the world in which they and their end users live. Old school office environments are no longer, now overtaken by rapid technological advancement, allowing users to interact with a global market.   

Easy-to-use applications like Google Drive and cloud software lend to their intuitiveness and the way they simplify processes. Applications like these understood that software and usability are a package deal. Simple software made for a simpler understanding. 

The influx of innovative technologies that have assisted our personal lives has grown exponentially with our professional lives now taken over as well. 

Shaping up the business landscape 

It’s no secret that businesses across world are implementing technologies to make them better, faster and more successful. This number continues to grow, but whilst it grows, so does the rate of failure.   

I’ve been working in the change enablement sector for seven years now. Working closely with some of the industry’s leading pioneers in software. During that time, I witnessed the hardship and struggles of enterprise organizations when it came to implementing a large-scale IT project.   

For years now, when businesses had rolled out digital change projects they engage a change consultancy to support them. These change consultancies, despite their expertise in consulting around this area are still are using old school change frameworks and outdated training methods.    

Fragmented communications and training through classrooms, intranets and email. With no data driven way of tracking consumption or understanding.   

It means businesses could not deliver, track or optimize change comms from one single place. They relied on anecdotal feedback and for users to remember impersonalized training content provided outside the application at a previous date. 

The reality was when the project went live users would log into a new system with no idea of what to do or where to go. They would take to intuitive tasks, but would soon get stuck and need to go to the helpdesk for support. Constant emails /phone calls clogging the support desk with repetitive queries, left IT staff feeling overwhelmed. Organizations needing to spend more on extra IT staff to compensate.   

There was no real useful readiness and personalized training in the pre-go live stage, users were expected to adopt and learn parts of the system they needed for their role from day one. Organizations noticed that their digital transformation projects, despite spending millions, were failing.   

How to solve a problem like global software adoption 

Most ERP project teams are relieved when they hit that fundamental goal and get to the go-live stage. Month after month has been spent getting the project where it needs to be, so the last thing anyone wants to do is have is discussions about how to beef up the project or make it take longer than it needs to be.   

No matter, the reality is that most user adoption issues are identified after a project has gone live. Most of the benefits realization framework doesn’t kick in until well after the go-live phase of a project, so defining go-live as the project finish line is a common misguided assumption.    

An effective user adoption and organizational change management framework will ensure that your people are not only prepared to adopt the system at the time of go-live, but also ensure that they continue to improve their individual and team performance in the weeks and months after go-live. This incremental investment in time and money after go-live has returns that exceed the investment multiple times over, but most organizations fail to recognize this need. 

Starting transformation projects without a clear digital transformation strategy that provides a manageable, measurable and flexible framework for identifying, delivering, assessing and bedding-in the various components of a digital transformation project. 

In an environment where disruption and change seems to be the new normal, there is a perception that strategy is, at best useless. Projects are started based on the latest trend or in reaction to some opportunity or threat. In an environment such as we are in now, strategy is more important than ever. Without it, obvious risks are not addressed the implications of what is being done are not taken into consideration. 

Why your people matter the most 

I gained insight into user adoption of large systems, which is when I realized that getting users to use a new system was the biggest struggle for an IT project to deliver substantial ROI. 

Your users are the front end of your project. It’s vital to remember that users have different value systems and abilities, they consume content in diverse ways, some are natural adopters and accept change but most don’t. Your project will only be a success in your user’s eyes if the software is intuitive and easy to understand.   

At the back end, your project team are essential, having a leader with a holistic view of adoption is a major priority. A leader who ensures the right people are involved in decision making at the right time. A leader who offers their expertise early to avoid mistakes and poorly-informed decisions. I know that people are the core of a digital transformation project and without taking them into consideration, project failure is inevitable.   

What can we conclude from this?   

I believe organizations should look at digital transformation as a three step, end-to-end process; You have your pre-phase, before implementing a new software project, your go live phase, the immediacy after implementing a software and your post phase, in business-as-usual when you’ve had your software implemented for some time.   

If you have the right ammunition in place at the pre-phase of your project, the right project team, project lead and a clear framework you have the necessary tools for project success.   

Commencing a project without a strategy is no longer enough. After all, if you fail to plan you plan to fail.  

Mark Barlow, AppLearn CEO 

Image Credit: Chombosan / Shutterstock