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2020 has shown that the time digital transformation is now

(Image credit: Image Credit: Chombosan / Shutterstock)

Digital transformation is a topic that has dominated discussion and discourse over the past few years. It’s something that most organizations are aware that they need to tackle, but equally it’s also something that many organizations realize is a significant undertaking.

Overhauling older analogue systems and platforms and replacing them with digital tools that make operations faster, more efficient and more cost-effective is one thing. But reimagining the organization so that digital informs everything that it does is something else entirely. This requires vision, ambition, the backing of the c-suite and will also involve a major change management program.

Such is the size and scale of this, many organizations have not embraced digital transformation as whole-heartedly as they need to. According to Gartner, although 91 per cent of companies pursue some form of digital transformation, only 40 per cent report successfully achieving it. So what separates the successes from the failures: is it a matter of focus versus ambition or are the determinants more subtle? And how have events of 2020 accelerated the need for digital transformation?

A refocus on digital transformation priorities

Business has been fluid, fast moving and subject to extreme market conditions for many years now. The pace of change is remarkable and shows no sign of letting up. But there’s nothing like the disruption of a global pandemic to refocus an organization’s digital transformation priorities. The events of 2020 have sent many companies into meltdown, as they found themselves unable to maintain service levels or keep pace with shifting customer demand – and their hunger for new content.

Some of these businesses had thought previously that their use of IT platforms and digital channels was modern and competitive. When they failed to keep pace with the way employees and customers needed to engage with them as offices closed down and mobility and remote working became the norm, this shocked them out of their inertia.

As they adapt to an altered reality, many of these organizations are now taking stock of gaps in their capability. How should businesses approach this refocusing on digital transformation, what should they bear in mind? 

1.            Involve internal customers from the start.

Customer-centricity must pervade every aspect of a change or improvement. That includes internal team members. For every decision, think: what will they get out of it? Will it help them in their work; is it something they welcome – or is something you’re doing to them? If it’s a fait accompli, expect resistance.

As for external customers, if the planned change is something they didn’t ask for and don’t like, they will simply walk away and make a different choice. In 2020, companies must provide people with products and experiences they want; not impose something and assume it will be accepted.

2.            Change management is nearly always more about people than tech

Professionals who ‘do change’ for a living are comfortable with it, but embracing something new can be very daunting for others – especially if they’ve had 10 or 20 years of doing things the current way. Failure to allow for and proactively support adaptation will result in rejection and avoidance. If you want change to go smoothly and be accepted, it’s up to you to promote the possibilities, fire people up, and give them something to believe in. Employees should be involved in transformation projects as much as possible – their input is vital and you want them to come on the journey with you, not act as a barrier.

3.            Work to a clear product roadmap to test and evaluate new ideas against

It’s easy to be seduced by ‘the next big thing’ – whether a new technology platform, or a bold new business model. But it’s crucial to stay true to your organization’s product roadmap, understand what any new choice will mean to the business, and what it offers to stakeholders. So when the next bright, shiny opportunity comes along, check whether and how it aligns with what you’re trying to achieve. If it has little or no relevance, say ‘Thanks, but no thanks’ and keep moving.

4.            Incorporate a rigorous testing program within your decision-making

Relying on gut feeling for decision-making can be misleading and risky, so it’s important to apply real parameters and rigor around any testing and evaluation of new platforms and products - rather than become dazzled by the possibilities or follow a path that everyone else seems to have taken. Healthy questioning should include considerations such as ‘What kind of growth do we want to have?’ and ‘Does this product/platform get us to where we want to be in three months, or has it outlived its value now?’

5.            Never forget to highlight and celebrate the small wins

Digital transformation can feel like an elusive feat: just as you think you’ve made progress, a new horizon presents itself. But perseverance is crucial, as is having an aerial view of any significant progress you do make - which can be harder to see at close range.

Keep in mind that continuous or incremental innovation is the way most transformations are heading now, on the basis that there is and never can be a final end point. So, instead of keeping your sights fixed on the vanishing point in the distance, where everything comes together somewhere just out of sight, look for the small but important achievements along the way. These include the everyday frustrations and points of friction that have been removed from people’s experiences; the time saved; the ease with which content can now be discovered and shared.

If some of these improvements can’t be easily quantified, try looking back at how bad/slow/difficult things used to be for a quick comparison, or poll stakeholders for their latest feedback. And don’t hesitate to highlight these accomplishments: celebrating the small wins helps to keep morale and energy levels high so that the bigger wins stay within reach.

Digital transformation has never not been important. The pace of technology development over the past decade has left many organizations struggling to keep up. But the events of 2020 have only accelerated this, and digital transformation projects really cannot be put off for any longer.

Jeff Mills, UK Country Manager, WordPress VIP