Realising the full potential of digital transformation

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In today’s connected world, it is more vital than ever for businesses to be digital ready. Indeed, more than three quarters of UK business leaders say digital transformation is a strategic priority. But what impact is digital transformation having on businesses across the UK? How are organisations already taking advantage of new technologies? And how can the potential of digital transformation be fully realised?

To tackle questions like these, and understand how organisations are responding to digital transformation, we spoke to more than 2,000 business leaders across the UK, from sole traders to executives in large enterprises and the public sector. Most respondents said they believed digital is essential to their business.  Over two thirds (69 per cent) said their organisation would not survive if it failed to embrace digital transformation.

In fact, many have already started their digital journey. A fifth have successfully implemented digital transformation projects, and more than half (53 per cent) said they are making good progress. Below, I’ll take a closer look at the key findings and highlight steps UK businesses can take to make the most of digital change.

Digital transformation boosts business confidence

Digital can improve the way business leaders feel about their prospects. Of the businesses that see digital transformation as a high priority, 50 per cent said they were confident about the future growth. That stands in significant contrast to those that see digital as low priority. Among these respondents, just 17 per cent said they were confident about future growth.

Part of the explanation for this is that we know embracing digital drives success. It enables businesses of every size to be ‘always on’. With the right digital tools, smaller enterprises can become credible challengers. An example is Stand4 Socks, a start-up offering socks with a difference– at present, there is a particular focus on homelessness but customers who buy their products can help to support 11 of the United Nations’ 17 sustainable development goals. Founder, Josh Turner is clear about the importance of digital to his business.

“We have everything digital through phones and laptops,” Turner says. “I can run [the business] from anywhere in the world, any time of day. Our store is open 24 hours.”

Digital transformation enables businesses to be even more mobile

Businesses are well aware of the need to be mobile. The shift from 3G to 4G accelerated the drive toward mobility and an ‘any time, any place’ approach to doing business. As we move towards 5G, the next generation of mobile communications, ultra-fast speeds and near instant response times will become the norm, and customer expectations will shift accordingly.

The good news is businesses are already investing in digital technologies that enable them to be even more mobile, with almost two-thirds (63 per cent) of companies already making use of both mobile internet and cloud to stay connected. By the end of the decade, this is set to increase to round four-fifths (84 per cent). This significant focus on cloud and mobile highlights that businesses understand they need to be investing more time and money into digital.

These technologies have the power to not only improve business operations, but also how employees work. Better, more collaborative communication is a major benefit of digital transformation.  It’s also a key ingredient in making digital transformation a success, and here’s why.

Digital transformation requires collaboration across teams

Digital transformation requires a shift in mindset. It’s not just about bringing in new technologies, it’s about changing the way people work and think about work. Currently, many organisations consider digital the responsibility of their technology team. When asked which departments lead on the planning and implementation of digital strategy, many respondents pointed to their IT department. Only a quarter of digital projects see creative involvement from senior management at the planning stage, with participation falling even further by the implementation stage (18 per cent).

But sharing the responsibility for digital transformation across different departments is essential. Whether it’s finance, HR, or marketing, effective engagement matters. For instance, if customer service improvements are one of the priority goals of digital transformation, it’s important to involve the customer service department as early as possible. This may sound obvious, yet it doesn’t always happen.

Working with external partners is critical

External partners play a vital role in the digital transformation process. Many organisations have plans to invest in new technology, but a quarter say they don’t have the internal skills they need to help their organisation make the digital leap. Some are constrained by budgets, or a lack of business readiness. To move forward, they need support from external partners. 

For eight in ten respondents, external partners are an important component in helping them to achieve their digital transformation ambitions. Two-thirds said they were looking for external help and advice on how best to move forward.  Bringing in outside support can deliver powerful results – but only if those partners are directed and tasked in the right way. And the external partners must fully understand – and empathise – with the organisation they’re working with.

Helping organisations across the UK to thrive in the digital age

Thriving in the digital age is predicated on emerging technologies such as 5G and IoT. Currently, IoT is used by around a third (36 per cent) of organisations, but that is forecast to almost double (to 67 per cent) by 2020. Much of this investment is being driven by a growing realisation that IoT will have a significant impact on the shape of tomorrow’s businesses. By adopting innovations and taking a collaborative approach, organisations across the UK will be well-positioned to realise the full potential of a digital future.

At Vodafone, we are three years into a five-year digital transformation programme. To deliver a better experience for our customers and our people, we are modernising and innovating across all areas of our technology environment, and putting digital at the heart of our business.  We understand better than anyone that the time is now.

Developments in technology are unlikely to slow down. No matter the size of the organisation, embracing and adopting technology will have significant benefits for businesses, employees and customers. I urge everyone to consider this an exciting opportunity and to make steps now to begin your own digital transformation.

Anne Sheehan, Director, Vodafone Business
Image Credit: Wright Studio / Shutterstock