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Four ways to ensure digital transformation doesn’t disrupt your organization

(Image credit: Image Credit: Chombosan / Shutterstock)

Companies are under immense pressure to evaluate their technology and rapidly transform to meet the demands of a new remote workforce. While the alternative is not necessarily to cease as an organization, the pandemic has exposed a wide gap between enterprises that have undergone digital transformation and those that have not.

At the end of 2019, Accenture found that the companies leading in their adoption of digital technology were growing faster and were very confident in the reliability of their data. Case and point: digital transformation gives companies a competitive advantage. That said, this reality does not acknowledge the complexity of the journey. To become a disruptor in the market, companies must complete digital transformation. Yet in transforming – evaluating legacy systems, digitizing data and creating a new culture – organizations can end up disrupting themselves.

While there is no one way to approach digital transformation, there are less effective (wrong) ways to go about it. Embracing four principles should help ensure that digital transformation turns organizations into the disruptors, not the disrupted.

1. Identify how digital transformation may be disruptive

When the idea of digital transformation was initially introduced, it was thought of as a means to impact margins. The mindset was how to become better, faster and cheaper. While organizations can still strive for these objectives, they need to shift their focus to the most disruptive element of digital transformation: people.

At many organizations, seasoned IT leaders built now 25-year-old systems and business processes that brought the organization great success. It’s difficult to approach these professionals – who often run their division – and tell them that everything needs to change. More often than not, they will be reluctant to retrain their staff or to start from scratch building a system, knowing how difficult it is. IT leaders are justifiably apprehensive: they are faced with a problem, don’t know what new solutions are needed to solve it – or how to address their legacy systems – and don’t have the right talent to figure it out.

Still, the reality is that if organizations aren’t moving forward with digital transformation, they’re falling behind. To keep pace with progress, organizations need to create a vision that engages people and helps minimize disruption.

2. Create a digital transformation vision

Creating a digital transformation vision is deceptively difficult. For this reason, many organizations bring in outside consultants and work with their partners/vendors to craft one together. This process should include defining what digital transformation looks like, as well as both a five-year plan and a benchmark for the end of the first year. Without a clearly defined vision, many organizations have made the wrong investments in technology, and as a result, are now failing.

Digital transformation is not simply building a DevOps team, moving to the cloud, or starting a machine learning initiative. Those are widgets that don’t work across business lines; they don’t actually drive a business outcome.

3. Emphasize the “digital” in digital transformation

DevOps and machine learning teams won’t be effective unless enterprises start with clean data. If an organization wants to retire 300 enterprise applications, they must ask a few questions first: what is the risk? Where is our data living? If it’s in a data lake or large content repository, can we trust the data quality? If the answer to the last question is, “I don’t know,” the organizations needs to take a step back and lay a foundation first. Make sure that data is trustworthy – know where it came from, where it is, who has touched it and how it’s governed. From there, organizations can use it for reporting and learning, and then decide if applications should be kept or replaced.

Organizations must start with a digital transformation vision and determine projects from there. Leaders and members of the C-suite should not propose busines outcomes – e.g., lowering risk and cost – and then try to fit them into the vision. Start by looking at the current environment. If you have a mainframe that works and 300 siloed applications, what can you accomplish with them? What inefficiencies can you eliminate? Once leaders select projects, the next step is to communicate it to their people.

4. Be persuasive with your people to avoid politics

Internal politics will hinder digital transformation at every step of the journey. If the head of a department is not convinced of a project, progress will stall. Organizations can’t just have a digital transformation vision – they need to communicate it to employees at a team level. It’s equally important for the CEO to be bought into a digital transformation project as it is for people on the ground to understand its value. Employees will ask, how will this make my job better? When they are already working 40 hours/week on an existing system, people don’t have time or energy to dedicate to a forward-looking DevOps initiative. Leaders will need to be able to explain why change will be more beneficial than disruptive.

Organizations need everyone to be aligned on digital transformation. Focus on each person – from the people who open up the office, answer the phones and set the meetings, all the way to the C-suite.  Leaders should prioritize projects that improve employees’ jobs and save them a few hours of work today, so they are freed up to innovate.

Digital transformation is not one-size-fits-all – enterprises must understand this to not get disrupted. Creating a vision, outlining business projects and objectives, and creating a culture for employees may look different at every company. As long as it starts with laying a foundation for clean data and identifying real pain points, organizations can make the most of digital transformation. The key is to let go of technological trends and look inward – and get started today.

Kyle McNabb, SVP of Product Marketing, ASG Technologies