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14 need-to-know tips for digital transformation success

What separates a successful digital transformation implementation from a recipe for disaster? These 14 tips will help ensure your DX efforts result in business improvement.

Despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, digital transformation, or DX, continues unabated. Many digital transformation efforts gained momentum during the pandemic in the push to support remote working and customers living through extended quarantines. Other companies were forced to quickly adopt digital business models in order to keep operating.

Whether your company is in the midst of a digital transformation initiative, nearing completion or just starting out on its digital transformation journey, it must have a clear sense of what it hopes to achieve by this effort.

So, what constitutes digital transformation success? Is it a complete migration to the technologies supporting digital transformation? The implementation of advanced CRM platforms? Increased revenue and market share?

The latter is probably the acid test, as the primary reason for migrating to a digital transformation environment must ultimately be to improve the business -- by delivering a better customer experience, improving productivity, eliminating inefficiencies, ensuring compliance and so on.

What makes digital transformation successful? 

Realizing these business benefits does not happen overnight and depends on many factors, from the dedicated involvement of business leaders to a solid understanding of how digital tools and advanced technologies, such as AI and machine learning, can be utilized.

The following tips provide a roadmap to a successful digital transformation initiative.

1. Conduct research into digital transformation

Digital business transformation is a complex undertaking for most organizations. Begin the process by learning as much as possible about digital transformation and the systems and technologies under the DX umbrella. Searching the internet can produce a wealth of data on DX -- what it is, how to plan for it, vendors that provide DX products and how to develop project plans. DX technologies include, for example, the following:

  • cloud technology, which supports a wide variety of advanced managed services, such as SaaS and PaaS;
  • AI and machine learning, which facilitate the development of sophisticated applications that extend and enhance human capabilities;
  • data analytics, which uses sophisticated algorithms to generate additional actionable information from data; and
  • IoT, which enables the integration of a wide variety of intelligent devices via the internet into a suite of components that supports DX requirements.

2. Identify and analyze the specific ways DX could improve the business

Analyze how the business currently operates. For example, examine the interface between customers and the business: What kind of customer information is currently being gathered? How is the data formatted, e.g., written notes, spreadsheets? What does the company do with this information? What improvements could be made to enhance the customer experience?

If the goals are to improve collaboration and productivity, your DX team will need to observe how employees currently interact with each other and how this affects their productivity. Carefully examine and map workflows, and analyze how existing technology facilitates -- or hinders -- workflows. Next, identify changes to these activities that result in improved collaboration and productivity.

Insights on these changes in business operations will come from business unit leaders and senior management. The analysis will be used to establish a new set of metrics and to identify new technologies and/or enhancements to existing technologies that will help the organization plan its digital transformation initiative.

14 tips for successful digital transformation

3. Brief senior management on results of the initial research

Once you've gathered and analyzed research on DX technologies and business performance issues, brief senior management to ensure they understand the scope of the undertaking, including the following:

  • business opportunities and risks;
  • strategies to achieve the desired objectives;
  • investments likely to be needed;
  • time needed to complete a business transformation;
  • impact of such DX activities on employees and the company's culture; and
  • how the new approaches will be rolled out to customers and key stakeholders.

4. Obtain senior management support to prepare the budget and strategic plan

The next step is to obtain authorization from senior management to prepare a strategy, budget and plan for implementing a business transformation program. Consider a three-year to five-year planning horizon as part of the overall strategy.

5. Collaborate with key stakeholders to create a DX strategy and vision

Many players are needed to create a DX strategy and vision:

  • Senior management can identify the company goals the DX initiative needs to achieve.
  • Business unit leaders are the most knowledgeable about how their organizations support company goals. They also can identify members of their leadership teams who know business process intimately and who can identify ways to improve them.
  • The CIO, CTO and their teams are typically the primary players in implementing the DX initiative. Chief digital officers, a relatively new position, can identify the systems and technologies needed to achieve the DX project goals.

A DX vision statement describes the aspirations of your transformation project -- e.g., "becoming the premier source for X technology in the country." Knowing the endgame will serve as a rallying point for employees. The DX strategy captures numerous specific activities and aims them toward a final goal, which, in turn, fulfills the vision statement. The strategy will be based on the investigative work performed by the DX team and on the information from the CIO and CTO regarding available DX technologies and how they can be introduced to the organization. This last point is critical: When developing a DX strategy, it's important to consider the impact of the new environment on employees.

6. Create a project plan and budget that is adaptable to changing business activities

Remember that the business does not cease operations while the next-generation technology is deployed. The ideal project plan recognizes the nuances of business processes and does not negatively impact them during the migration. If unanticipated costs, such as the need for additional components and upgraded software, emerge, be sure the budget can be tweaked as needed, and ensure that senior management is quickly made aware of any unplanned changes.

7. Choose technologies that align with business priorities

Many different systems, applications and network resources will need to be examined and evaluated before making a recommendation to senior management for a DX program. A business transformation initiative is not a "try it and see" kind of activity. Due diligence should be performed well in advance so that the best possible solution can be implemented. It's important to implement technology that will:

  • help the company achieve its business goals;
  • provide the best possible experience for employees and customers;
  • adapt to current and future business requirements; and
  • make use of AI and machine learning technologies to provide business intelligence needed for smart decisions.

8. Enlist the support of employees as part of the collaborative process

While it's true that digital transformation requires the support of senior management, employee support and cultural acceptance of the business transformation program are just as important, as employees will use the new DX resources to improve the customer experience, among many other activities. It becomes a joint effort across all parts of the company. Be prepared to demonstrate how the next-generation systems will make it easier for employees to assist customers, to quickly adapt to changing customer needs and to provide greater value to customers than previous methods.

9. Develop methods of tracking and validating performance

Consider issues such as potential investments, time needed to implement, cultural impacts, operational changes and customer responses when developing metrics to analyze various aspects of DX performance and demonstrate its value to the company. Simply implementing an advanced CRM system, for example, without the necessary support activities -- e.g., employee training, system testing, documentation, performance measurement, data analysis, management support and emergency response activities -- is a recipe for failure.

10. Train, train, train

Support from employees during a business transformation can be made easier with plenty of training and awareness activities. Conduct in-person -- and remote, depending on the impact of the pandemic -- training to all employees, including senior management and others who might be the frontline users of the new technology. This ensures that employees will be comfortable with the DX systems and even eager to get started using them. From a cultural perspective, technology acceptance equals success.

11. Test, test, test

Before the new systems are officially put into production, test them extensively to make sure all possible glitches are identified and remediated. Have employees participate in testing activities, as they will be using the systems. If possible, invite key customers to participate in testing, as their inputs could be important.

12. Be prepared for unplanned events

As with any technology, it's essential to have emergency and disaster recovery plans in place to minimize any business disruptions caused by a technology outage. Work with the DX vendor(s) to ensure their systems are properly protected, network services are available and backup components are available. If the new systems are cloud-based, ensure that all systems and data can be backed up and securely stored for emergency use.

13. Make adjustments to the new systems based on user inputs

Employees using the new systems are the best resources for ensuring that the systems are performing properly and identifying changes that will improve system performance and customer experiences.

14. Regularly review system performance against company business objectives

Once your digital transformation program has been completed, the work has just begun. Analyze all available performance and financial data from the systems against established performance metrics, and report those results to senior management. Be sure to also regularly report system performance and successes to employees as a way to reinforce the system's value and, more importantly, their value.

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