Enterprise digital transformation is a complex undertaking and can easily grow out of control and miss the mark. A 2015
showed that only 26% of respondents felt the transformations they were familiar with (although not solely digital) were successful at both improving performance and equipping the organization to sustain improvements over time. But leveraging digital technology to address critical business needs will fundamentally change the way a company operates and delivers value to customers and often can’t be avoided.
Companies that are on the digital transformation journey need to anticipate some sticking points and work with stakeholders across the business in order to avoid bumps in the road. While there is no one-size-fits-all approach, there are a number of key factors every organization should consider in order to manage the scope of a digital transformation project.
Any digital effort requires deep-seated commitment and alignment from those who are leading the charge. I’ve worked with many leaders, and a key ingredient I see in those who are able to affect change is passion. If your leaders are not passionate about the transformative mission, then you have a non-starter.
To work together to achieve a vision, you need shared objectives. I’ve found that good organizational structures to carry out the vision are often set up like product teams. For example, you could create a team that’s made up of a product owner and UX designer from the line of business, and IT team members could fill the architecture, data, build and infrastructure roles. The team members can all own the quality component. There are other roles involved, but the point is that organizing like a product team — versus organizing in siloed functions — in order to address specific objectives is key.
Vision Of The Future State
The most successful transformations I see start with understanding user needs. When you understand needs, you can help shape desired outcomes. You can understand needs simply by talking to people and asking them, “How might we change X to improve Y?” Talk to customers, partners, employees and anyone else who may be a user or participant.
Visions are often cast for big-picture outcomes. But approach the realization of the full vision like a journey with lots of incremental stops along the way. Start with the vision, but tackle a small, manageable problem first. Then move on to the next need, and then the next — one at a time. Eventually, you will get to the future state that you’re driving toward.
Edward Tufte once said, “Above all else, show the data.” I have talked to many leaders involved in software-driven innovations where the “before” story is about a tedious, manual process that involves multiple people, spreadsheets, exports and cut-and-paste data to produce a single critical PowerPoint presentation elucidating the health of the business. This is actually a common story. Indeed, there are plenty of opportunities for transforming the way people leverage the gold mines of data in your enterprise.
Data is a first-class citizen that should have its house in order with any digital initiative. Your new applications and processes should have well-designed conceptual, logical and physical data modeling, as well as clean, valid underlying data in order to address new and evolving user needs. This is not a trivial task, and the risk of not giving it the focus and effort required is huge. Ask yourself: Who will use the data, and what needs do they have? What are the required data models? Where is the data hosted? What permissions do you need? Is the current data garbage? Solving for data structure, fidelity, access, management, query performance and other related issues is a key success factor for any initiative, no matter the size.
Do you want people to use your new software for its intended purpose? This sounds like a silly question, but please ask yourself this before you embark on any transformation effort. I’ve talked to so many business and IT leaders who have told stories of their users finding ways to barely engage with software applications — or not engage with them at all.
After all, if people are using a new digital solution as intended, the probability of achieving your business outcomes is much higher. Dick’s Sporting Goods CTO Paul Gaffney tells his team (paywall), “Don’t get excited about shipping a feature — get excited about when the feature turns into revenue and turns into profit.”
Sometimes we forget that software is ultimately used by humans. Instead, we have a temptation to just solve for a problem and not talk to the people who will actually be using the software. This is a key point you should pay attention to before starting any digital initiative. It’s key to comprehend who the users are and their roles and needs first. If the solution doesn’t have empathy for its users at its core, then, well … they won’t be users. Instead, they will be bystanders.
Experiment in bite-sized chunks. Build out something your users can react to, and put it in front of them. Get their feedback, and continue with small iterations. When the users see something tangible in action that they can use and then see that you actually listened to their feedback when they receive the next iteration, you will help them develop confidence in you — and you will know early on that you’re driving toward the right solution that they will actually use instead of shunning.
The Work Is Never Done
Digital transformation is not a singular event; it’s an ongoing journey with many stops along the way. Remember, it should start with a small segment of a larger vision. “Boil the ocean” initiatives rarely work. Make sure you use a continuous feedback and iteration loop to allow improvements and reactions to ever-changing business needs.
When you handle this process effectively, you can deliver engaging solutions and realize unprecedented boons to productivity, customer satisfaction and revenue.