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Digital transformation – taking it one piece at a time

(Image credit: Image Credit: Nebuto / Shutterstock)

There is nothing more satisfying than completing a complex jigsaw puzzle – and many delight in making order out of the initial chaos. In some cases, putting a jigsaw puzzle together is relatively straightforward. But in other cases it may be more difficult because there is no clear starting point and the details underpinning the big picture aren’t always clear. 

The same can be said for digitally transforming your business. While the desired outcome is often transparent – such as dramatic improvements to corporate differentiation, growth and scale, profitability, customer satisfaction and speed-to-market – the roadmap for getting there can be opaque. This can cause a good deal of churn, and perhaps even stall the process altogether. 

Fortunately, the similarities between completing a puzzle and digital transformation don’t stop at the challenges. In fact, the path forward for both is often quite similar, involving four core stages.

Prepare and sort

The first step towards completing a puzzle is often the most tedious – the sorting. If the edges pieces are not separated from the middle ones in the first instance, it can make the job more challenging and time consuming further down the line. And it is no different with a digital transformation initiative. While the first step can feel monotonous, it is essential: taking inventory and identifying where the business falls in terms of digital maturity.

In doing so, a company can assess the efficiency of previous IT investments to determine what’s missing and what represents a solid platform from which to build. Key objectives can then be placed into categories most relevant to the lasting success of the company’s digital transformation strategy. Typically, four elements are on top of a CIO’s list:

  • Optimising for speed by prioritising enterprise DevOps
  • Maximising agility with hybrid IT management
  • Driving insights with predictive analytics
  • Securing what matters most, which is especially important in times of transformation

With the pieces organised it will then be easier to formulate a plan and begin prioritising next steps. 

Build out the edge

After the sorting is complete, it’s time to identify the corner pieces and build the edge. The edges are the simpler pieces to identify because they are unique compared to the other pieces, making them easy to spot and assemble. With digital transformation, the edge pieces can be compared to the tools or technologies central to the business.

In most cases, these core systems, such as the mainframe, have been in place for many years, and generally have additional IP and processes built around them to add more value. Making dramatic adjustments to these and breaking tried-and-true practices can result in degrading ROI on existing investments. Additionally, it introduces risk that could potentially manifest itself in the form of downtime, outages, security threats, and poor interactions with customers. 

It is important that these investments are protected to lower overall cost and time, as well as achieve a lower risk profile as a company proceeds. 

Start with the obvious

Most puzzles will have parts that are easier to identify and group together than others. For even the most-junior puzzle enigmatologist, it’s clear that this is where to start. By focusing on something specific and building on existing work, you will progress more efficiently and, in turn, quicker.

The same is true in a digital transformation project, and yet many organisations will be tempted to jump to the flashiest element even if that means starting from scratch. The “rip and replace” method often brings with it higher costs, inconvenience and risk. 

A better alternative to ripping and replacing is generally to build out from an established position. The strategy, frequently referred to as IT modernisation, allows organisations to extend current investments with software that bridges the old and the new.  By focusing on these investments, companies can move quicker with greater control – and importantly run and transform the business simultaneously.

Fill in the gaps

Once the first three steps have been completed, the final stage to finishing the puzzle involves taking the leftover pieces and filling in the gaps. This may seem simple but it is dependent on the pieces fitting together seamlessly.

We’ve all had the experience of trying to force fit two puzzle pieces together that ended up not being perfectly compatible. On the surface, they look similar and appear to have the same utility, but eventually it becomes clear that they don’t connect. Ultimately, you have to start all over after many wasted cycles, looking for the piece that fits with what you’ve built around it.

“Best of breed” was once a hot topic in IT circles. This approach had a perceived aggregate-value benefit because it provided flexibility on which vendors an organisation could choose from. And in cases where technology is somewhat isolated in terms of geography, department, or use case, such an approach remains a viable strategy.

However, in complex digital transformation initiatives where IT is required to cooperate with other systems and processes, this method breaks down. This is not to say companies have to standardise on a single vendor, but instead that they should make sure that new technology purchases are considered carefully through a compatibility lens which ensures that factors such as downstream risk, time, and cost are minimised. 

An important caveat

While there are many similarities between completing a puzzle and undertaking a digital transformation initiative, there is one significant difference. With a puzzle, once you place the last piece it is complete and you can move on to the next challenge. When it comes to digitally transforming a business, you are never really finished. 

In today’s business environment, change is constant. Successful digital transformations require IT teams that constantly evaluate and evolve. To attain lasting success, organisations need to constantly reassess and be prepared to modify how they work – extending from processes, to organisational teams, to working methods. Ultimately, there will always be gaps to fill.

Armed with this framework, the chaos of separate “pieces” will become ordered. And soon, your digital transformation project will resemble a piece of art.

Joe Garber, global head of strategy and solutions, Micro Focus (opens in new tab)
Image Credit: Nebuto / Shutterstock

Joe Garber is global head of strategy and solutions at Micro Focus.