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The manual for digital transformation

(Image credit: Image Credit: Chombosan / Shutterstock)

Technology leaders acutely feel the digital transformation imperative. For most, it’s not a matter of “should we digitally transform?” – it’s really a question of “how do we digitally transform?” In theory, transformation is straightforward; identify the core processes within your business and change them from a mixture of manual and antiquated technologies to a digital system that is customer-centric, easy to use and fundamentally streamlined for operational efficiency. But putting this theory into practice is the hard part.

Over the past 20 years of my career I’ve held the responsibility of leading digital transformation initiatives for many companies. Whilst undertaking projects of this nature is rarely easy, with the technical innovation and tools available today it is a lot more straightforward than it was, even a decade ago. And the handbook for digital transformation remains essentially the same, whether a company is looking to change its front office or the back-office functions.

With this in mind, below are the key considerations that technology leaders must address in order to achieve a successful digital transformation:

Instant impact

First, it is important to identify one core end-to-end process that has a significant material impact on your business. Companies often encounter difficulties in revenue processes such as the lead to conversion process, which would make these areas an ideal starting point. Organisations that are more risk-averse may want to start by driving change internally. In this case, a department like HR would be a great starting point – with the hire to retire process, for example.

The aim here is to focus on one significant implementation and see it through from start to finish. Otherwise, technology leaders risk spreading project resources too thinly, or facing a range of conflicting priorities and deadlines. Once a project has been completed and has demonstrated clear business benefits, its success can be used as a template to replicate business-wide across a broad range of departments and use cases.

Team building

Getting the right team in place is vital to the success of digital transformation projects. For the best results, bring together a cross-functional team of employees who fundamentally understand the process that is being digitised. 

It’s important to find the change agents in the organisation, the employees who are not satisfied with the status quo, and are keen to innovate and improve. This kind of enthusiasm for innovation is contagious, and will pay dividends in terms of inspiring others within the organisation to adopt digital methods as the project matures.

End goals

Once a process has been selected for digitisation and the best team is in place to implement change, the next step is to delve into the specifics. A strong starting point is to generate a clear conception of how the process will work once the project has been completed. After all, for any project to be a success, it is essential to understand what the end goal looks like. At this stage, it is often helpful to speak with other companies that have successfully completed digital transformation projects – they can offer invaluable insight into pitfalls to be avoided, as well as tips for a smoother transition.

The next step is to identify aspects of the current manual process that are working inefficiently and causing delays or frustration for users. For instance, take the example of the lead conversion process – it may be that the sales department is struggling to convert leads due to delays caused by a manual system, which causes customer interest to wane. Digitising this process would allow the sales team to complete agreements whilst in the field when customer enthusiasm is still at its highest. As a result, the customer experience is improved, and revenue is increased.

Tools and testing

Once the pain points in a manual process have been identified, the next step is to identify the best digital solution to mitigate them. Talking to providers about what their solutions can offer is obviously a logical way of undertaking this, but reliability is crucial here. After all, a digital tool is not a ‘solution’ if it only works intermittently. Look for tools and providers that have a proven track record of reliability, and high levels of existing customer satisfaction.

With the best solutions for the job identified, it is time to pilot the future state process. Pilots are particularly important for customer facing transformations because they allow the opportunity to work out any kinks before a full roll-out. Pilots do not necessarily have to represent the full and finalised process and may still be a mix of manual and automated steps.

Depending on the size of your organisation, going live with a new digital process may need to be a phased roll out. For instance, before converting the whole sales department to digital processes, trial the new solution with a smaller sample group. This minimises the risk of early sticking points causing serious disruption to business operations. It’s important to enable the change across the end-to-end process to ensure that the benefits of the change can be realised.

Keep it simple

Finally, it is important to bear in mind that simplicity is key when it comes to digital transformation. If digitising a process adds an extra layer of complexity to the existing system, then either the tool or implementation is not the best fit for the problem you are attempting to solve. Remember that digital tools are designed to make our lives easier, so do not settle for anything less.

Companies that are able to successfully ‘rinse and repeat’ the above steps as they systematically work through digitally transforming all of their core processes will gradually, then suddenly say good-bye forever to manual processes like printing, faxing, mailing or physically signing documents. Employees and consumers will no longer opt for physical processes when the ability to conduct business in a matter of minutes on any device is available. Isn’t it time to get started with your digital transformation?

Kirsten Wolberg, Chief Technology & Operations Officer, DocuSign (opens in new tab)
Image Credit: Chombosan / Shutterstock

Kirsten Wolberg is Chief Technology & Operations Officer at DocuSign. She has a successful track record of leading major operating change at scale, and over 20 years’ experience as a manager and management consultant with broad capabilities in Technology Management, Strategy, Product, and Operations.