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The Top 3 Reasons Why Digital Transformation is so Difficult

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  1. Finding a vision when you don’t have anything concrete to go to

Firstly, take comfort in the fact that no one knew where things were going with digital disruption and didn’t have a clear vision to begin with. We are in the age of “we’re figuring this out as we go.” The fundamental question everyone will be asking you and your organization is why. Why is your organization going to actually go ahead and take this leap into whatever the heck “digital” is for you – especially if you are not traditionally a technology business. For some organizations it is clear – you are losing market share and money to disrupters. For some organizations, it might not be so evident (I know this sounds crazy, and yes we have historical examples of epic fails that should be enough) but depending on the kind of business you are in, and how your business has evolved – it might not be so obvious.

So what should you do?

Knowing that there is empirical evidence of organizational downfalls and why this occurred is probably the first start. Why is this important? It’s because you have to do some outside in scanning and understand the core business reason that it happened. Just because it is not your business exactly, doesn’t mean that the underlying issue can’t impact you (ego reasons, culture reasons, investment – or non investment decisions etc.) If you haven’t done it yet, you should perform a SWOT and PESTLE analysis. Take a look at the weakness/threats your organization has and the external things happening in your industry, nationally or globally that will at some point have an impact on your organization.

Next you have to determine whether you want to take an offensive or defensive (or both) approach to your transformation. There are a few reasons that are pretty standard that underlay digital transformation if you don’t consider it an imminent threat or if you’re not losing money… yet. You can choose from the below, what you think might be the most important to your organization and its future:

  • Because the pace of technology change is quicker outside your organization than in
  • Because customers demand better user experiences and access on all different types of technology platforms
  • Because the world is going to be increasingly interconnected through technology
  • Because you need to think about your succession planning and talent attraction/retention

Maybe its one of the above or maybe it is all of the above. But take your SWOT/PESTLE and any of the above reasons, as well as whether you think you should be going offensive or defensive. You now have your “why” and some places you think you should be headed as an organization. You have a vision of where you want to go and you can create an action plan around it.

2. Business Model Generation

Now the truth is – and if you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it a million times – digital transformation is business transformation. What does this actually mean?

  • It means how you invest your money will change, because you will need to bring in new talent, stand up new divisions and the biggest will be how you invest in your technology infrastructure and architecture to enable your organization.
  • It means how your budgets are planned and allocated will need to change. People get resistant to having smaller head counts or having less money to do what they want. It might even change how you do your accounting in the business.
  • It means processes are going to change. Areas that once owned a process, or where certain decisions happened will change. Often people translate this immediately too: job loss. But no. It just mostly likely means that roles get to change, or the ownership of certain aspects of the process are shifting.

You can choose a variety of models for digital: Decentralized, Centralized, Center’s of Excellence, Offsite (Labs, Mode 1/2). What you pick is really dependent on how your business operates and what you think will help you get early wins. What matters most is that best practices in change management are carried out, which include tons of communication and that processes, roles and responsibilities get ironed out to prevent conflict.

3. A willingness to admit that you may not have the right people at the table

Digital is one of these tricky things that didn’t happen with a school degree. Most digital professionals (myself included), didn’t have a digital degree option when we were in school – and had to go through the evolution of this industry in the school of hard knocks. You might (or might not) be surprised by this, but many digital professionals came from IT (development or product engineering) or marketing/communications – because digital really is the intersection of these functions.

There are numerous debates about whether Digital should be part of IT, or Marketing or on it’s own – but nonetheless it requires people who have real experience in delivery of digital products and experiences. More importantly it requires people at the decision making table with the experience to understand what the organization is being asked to do when it comes to becoming digitally enabled. It means having someone who is versed in digital who can inspire and excite, can see the future of where your organization could go digitally and who can ruffle feathers in a non-threatening way while pushing change in places with less resistance to drive the places with more resistance.

Why does this matter? Those who work in delivery know when someone does or doesn’t understand. You must have a leader that is able to talk to developers, engineers, UX pros, look at the analytics and understand what they are telling you. This is the difference between garnering real respect from your reports. Their belief in you as the beacon for organizational change rides on this respect.

It also requires someone who can speak to the rest of your business and build and nurture relationships for when the going gets tough (cause it’s gonna)! If you have someone at the table who can really understand the details of what is required to deliver digital transformation, it helps decision makers understand what they are getting into. Someone at the decision making table with these skills means the ability to create the endorsement, relationships and support needed to mobilize an organization to really make change.

Do you have the right skills in the right places with the right people to make your organizational evolution possible? It’s a tough call, and only you know what your organization needs – but it does mean you have to be willing to admit that you may not have what you need.

What are some of your lessons learned that you would be willing to share with other change agents?