7 tips for a successful digital transformation programme

Ben Hart

Delivering a successful digital transformation programme is one of the biggest challenges faced by business. It takes risk and commitment, agility and experimentation – and above all, it requires change.

The irony of digital is that we already live and breathe it in our daily lives, yet many organisations have failed to keep up. Both their customers and their people are way ahead of them. Employees are often better digitally connected with workplace friends and colleagues than they are with the organisational vision and direction. Customers, meanwhile, are firmly in the digital driving seat - rewarding or punishing companies based on a single experience. No matter how large or well-established an organisation, it is the customer who holds sway over its future success or failure.

Having helped many organisations navigate the journey that is their digital transformation programme, Atmosphere have put together 7 tips that will increase your chances of success:

1. Take the time to arrive at actionable insight

Actionable insight starts with getting to know the individuals, not just the market. This takes time. While it’s tempting to launch into change, doing so without insight is likely be a waste of effort and resources.

Digital transformation is not simply an understanding of `what’ and `how’. The common denominator of companies that achieve positive change is a belief in the `why’. Through an understanding of their customers’ needs, desires, motivations, objections and preconceptions, successful companies can deliver value in direct response.

How are people consuming what you’re creating? What else are they looking for? Start your digital transformation programme by looking from the outside-in, and plan your strategy accordingly. For every organisation, the customer is its greatest asset. Insight gives you a priceless opportunity to elevate your offering and innovate relevantly.

While all firms are rich in data, only some are rich in insight.

Find out more about why you’re wasting time with digital transformation … unless you understand the “why”.

2. Don’t just stand there… Inspire the business!

If you were to take a long hard look at your organisation’s people and ask “Are they excited about the prospect of a digital transformation programme?” the answer would probably be… Absolutely not. It is disruptive and uncomfortable. But the fact is, they need to be excited.

It is people who are top of the list when it comes to dealing with the challenges of digital transformation. Successful change won’t happen if it is imposed upon an organisation from above. It should be a desired and shared vision, championed by digital catalysers who understand the tangible benefits. It’s achieved by people who choose to embark on a journey that delivers what it promises – more efficient and enabled ways of working, collaborative connections, more meaningful relationships with customers and a greater understanding of their needs.

Change is more likely to be embraced by employees who feel that their talent is a contributor to transformation process and who feel empowered to make a difference.   

3. Shaping the strategy means getting out of your comfort zone

To shape a future-proof digital transformation strategy, business leaders need to get uncomfortable. Informed by insight, and supported by a digitally inspired team, successful organisations will embrace the opportunity to `digitally disrupt’ themselves in order to protect margins.

In their 2017 report `Dynamics that will shape the future in the age of the customer’, Forrester predicts that one third of companies in the B2C space will begin changing their organisational structure to get closer to the customer, effectively competing on the basis of customer experiences. They forecast that successful organisations will devolve operational control downward to individual brands and divisions, moving from functional-siloed departments that prioritise control to customer-driven matrix structures that leverage shared functions.

Admittedly, this will be a difficult balancing act: getting closer to the customer whilst avoiding the complexity – and marginal results – of trying to deliver experiences to multiple customer segments across multiple products. It requires a careful blending of roles and responsibilities.

Any organisational changes must be durable. Creating gap-filler roles (chief data officer, chief digital officer, chief customer officer) may make sense in the short-term, but they cover up gaps in the existing leadership team and rather than forming the solution they risk a governance mess. A future-proof digital transformation strategy must involve putting in place the right leaders with the right skills. These leaders do not need to be IT experts.

They don’t need to know how the technology works but rather how to use it, why it’s important and how to champion it.

4. Plan to communicate the plan

Digital transformation involves new tools and technology. While IS&T is, by the nature of its expertise, geared around the implementation of new processes and systems, a digital transformation programme will succeed or fail on the readiness of its adoption. Change has far-reaching human implications, and most humans will resist change unless they see a good reason for it.

This is the reason why your digital transformation strategy must start with, and run alongside, a mutually supportive Human Resources strategy.

HR is in a unique position. It is the only part of the organisation with a transversal perspective, able to see the bigger picture of technological change and communicate its business and personal value. HR can appoint business-to-technology change agents, monitor the `people pulse’ through the user-acceptance phase and mitigate the risks. It can facilitate open communication, carry out a capable assessment of company culture and competencies, and marry technological requirements with the overarching business goal.

Read more about 5 ways your HR strategy may allow technological deployments to fail.

5. Empower your people

Digital transformation is not about changing the way we do technology, it’s about changing the way we do business. Digital leadership starts from the top because CEOs, for the most part, get it. However, that top-down vision and enthusiasm for change must be communicated and cascaded in a way that creates and supports bottom-up energy.

Creative digital thinkers are already within your organisation, operating at all levels.

Successful transformation means getting them involved in the change process. Opening flexible, cross-functional communication channels gives these digital influencers the power to help others catch the bug of agile processes and transformative technologies.

Listening and learning, sharing ideas across organisational silos not only unlocks latent talent, it arms both leaders and employees with the inspiration to come up with innovative ideas and approaches to creating business advantage.   

6. Involve people in what they care about

The ability to access collective intelligence is the defining phenomenon of the digital age. In this intelligence-led, customer-centric business world the hierarchical `command and control’ structures of the past will no longer cut it. A well-functioning network, leveraging the knowledge of digital catalysts both internally and externally, is a smarter and faster way to create a model where humans and technology work together.  

Digital should not live within a department. It’s everyone’s job. Interdependence and interconnectedness are essential aspects of any digital transformation, enabling knowledge-sharing and collaboration.

When you have people joining forces cross-functionally, figuring it out as they go, they will better understand each other’s challenges and capabilities.

To drive change forward, there needs to be maximum reach for new ideas and new ways of working. Bringing the customer into the heart of the organisation, through community outreach and 2-way communication, is key to discovering where an organisation needs to go and how a digital transformation programme can deliver that shared and desired outcome.

7. Foster an iterative culture

Digital is not just what you do, but how quickly you can adapt. Rather than becoming dependent on processes, agile organisations relentlessly search out, identify and develop new ways to enhance their strategic toolkit. By developing an iterative culture, your organisation can accelerate through the subsequent waves of change that will undoubtedly come.

Experimentation, testing and the encouragement of feedback are powerful drivers for constant transformation.  

While you should celebrate even minor successes, it is the failures that provide the real chance to learn. Each failure becomes a starting point for the next success.       

Digital transformation is, without a doubt, one of the leading challenges facing business today – but it also offers unparalleled opportunities, with advantages for both business and society.

Ask us how we can bring value to your plans for your digital transformation programme.

Ben Hart is a strategist and thought leader with a track record of success in growing digital businesses and helping brands and organisations realise the potential available to them in a world increasingly full of change.

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