“Digital Transformation” is a term very commonly bandied around but what does it mean, and how do you lead it successfully?
There’s doesn’t seem to be a common definition of digital transformation, so to me..
Digital Transformation is the application of relatively new “digital” platforms such as web, cloud, smartphones, and social networks to radically change existing, or create new, business models or processes.
I think it’s fair to say that digital transformation is not an easy thing to pull off successfully and most digital transformation initiatives disappoint or fail. It seems that most incumbents are disrupted by a digital transformation rather than successfully executing one.
So..how should you beat the odds and successfully execute digital transformation?
In my experience it comes down to only three things..to be successful you need the hill, the will, and the skill.
By hill I mean a clear target or destination for the transformation needs to be decided and communicated. Everyone needs to know where they are going, and what success looks like when they get there. If the transformation is a “hill to die on” for the company then everyone needs to know what that hill is.
By will I mean the organisation needs to be completely behind the need for the proposed digital transformation and completely committed to its success.
You might assume that this is a “given” in these situations but that can be far from the case.
There is usually a spectrum of opinions on the need or priority of a proposed change within an organisation, and there is another spectrum of opinions on whether the proposed digital transformation is the right way forward.
To be successful the digital transformation needs consistent, total, public and unequivocal backing from the leaders in the organisation.
There will be “ups and downs” in any transformation, and the leadership needs to hold it steady through any tough times rather than start expressing doubts at the first sign of any trouble.
OK..so you know where you want to go and you have strong backing to get there.
To be successful it is critical you also have the skill or experience in executing the changes necessary to deliver the transformation.
As they say..there is no teacher like experience and it really increases your chances of success if you have people in the team that really understand the target context.
The only thing more likely to increase the chances of success than people with experience in the future world are people who have done a similar digital transformation before.
They will learnt a huge amount last time they did it and they can save a lot of time and money.
Of course if the digital transformation is truly ground-breaking then experience of the future state won’t exist. If this is the case then you will need to carefully create a team with people who thrive on pushing into the unknown.
Ideally they will have delivered analogous transformations before though of course.
One example that comes to mind of a successful digital transformation I was involved in was when I was at a paper based media business being disrupted by new “digital” products and services that were becoming available.
The Head Of Customer Operations came to me to tell me that when customers bought the new package of our services that we had just launched they were getting up to fifteen confirmation letters through the post per transaction (we a had product rather then customer focussed ERP system at the time).
This was clearly a disaster and I needed to do something about it.
The first thing I did was create the hill.
The hill in this case was to “stop the envelopes” and replace them with a single online record of their purchase within a new “my account” section of our web site. “Stop the envelopes” was simple, clear and unambiguous and I became like a broken record saying it.
As CTO I had the will and authority to make it happen, and most of the resources I needed to execute the digital transformation.
I created a relatively small team, augmented it with an external interim called Ratna Chengappa (who at the time was one of the most experienced ERP experts in Europe) and asked Mark Parsonage to lead it for me.
Mark had already demonstrated he had the skill to successfully lead change within our organisation having conceived and delivered a project to launch an augmented reality smartphone app that was pretty groundbreaking at the time.
Once we had the hill, will and skill my most important contribution to the project was to say “no – just stop the envelopes” every time a team tried to derail or delay the project by saying they needed a new tool, team, process or whatever.
The project completely nailed its digital transformation goal..it was calculated at the time that 1.5 million envelopes per year were stopped from being sent that would have been sent without the project and the customer satisfaction, cost and environmental benefits were material.
So there you have it..digital transformation is not easy but can be done successfully if you have the hill, will and the skill.
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