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How to build a digital transformation roadmap in 6 steps

Digital transformation, done right, is the key to business survival. Build a roadmap to digital business model success by following this in-depth, six-step template.

Organizations planning to launch a digital transformation program are well advised to establish a detailed project plan and, more importantly, a program roadmap. Migrating to a digital transformation, or DX, environment often means changes to the company's business model, overall vision, sales and marketing processes, and IT infrastructure and operations. Indeed, the transition to a digital business model is a complex process, requiring organizations to map their digital transformation strategy to existing strategies and implement the enabling DX technologies. This article takes organizations through the process of building a digital transformation roadmap step by step.

What is digital transformation?

Think of digital transformation as the integration of digital technology -- e.g., systems, applications and specialized technologies, such as AI -- into all areas of a business. Many, if not all, of the business processes will need to change and adapt to the new technologies. Corporate culture also will likely need to change. This can result in modifying -- or even eliminating -- established procedures, experimenting with and adopting new ones, and being prepared for both successes and failures. In short, for the business to achieve success with DX and its many associated elements, new playbooks will need to be created and adopted.

Why is digital transformation important?

The short answer to "Why is digital transformation important?" is survival. As businesses of all types and sizes migrate to DX technologies and resources, they have the potential to increase their competitive position, boost their reputation, enhance customer experiences, improve operational efficiency, increase revenues, and attract new customers and retain existing ones. Businesses that do not embrace the benefits of a DX program do so at their own risk.

The COVID-19 pandemic is another essential factor for implementing a DX program. As more employees work remotely and customers do not shop in person as they used to, the way business is performed has had to change. Opportunities for success still exist, despite the pandemic, but the means to achieve success may have to be rethought, redesigned and reapplied.

Clearly, as more organizations gain experience with and realize the benefits of a DX migration, they will be well positioned to adapt to new market opportunities faster and more successfully than those firms eschewing the new technologies. The firm's leadership team, key stakeholders and employees will all need to adjust to the new normal for the business.

Getting started

As with any major corporate project, especially one that potentially impacts the entire organization, plenty of upfront research and analysis are needed first.

Once the research has been completed, senior management must be engaged and embrace the program -- not only from a financial perspective, but also from cultural and operational views.

Next is to establish an overall vision and strategy for a DX migration program, along with a detailed project plan that will form the basis of the digital transformation roadmap described below.

Building a digital transformation roadmap: 6 steps

Successful digital transformation programs effectively capitalize on technology and people to improve the customer experience (CX), resulting in tangible benefits to the company's business performance. But keeping a digital transformation effort on track can be difficult.

This section examines a six-step digital transformation roadmap that will help ensure your DX program is successful. We list recommended activities and relative time frames, major baseline initiatives and key activities to perform within each major milestone. Each step builds on actions completed in the previous step.

How to build a DX roadmap

1. Perform research and due diligence. Establish the DX project team at this time. The team starts the process by gathering data to understand how the business operates, including the resources used by the business -- e.g., people, process, technology and facilities. The team should review existing corporate strategic plans, IT strategic plans, policy and procedure documents, organizational charts and any other documentation that describes how the business operates. Next, the team should interview key personnel who are highly knowledgeable on the business and how it operates, e.g., senior executives, division leaders, department heads and subject matter experts. Data from this step is used to initiate activities in step 2.

2. Prepare DX strategy, and brief senior management and employees. A digital transformation strategy should describe the endgame and how it will be achieved. This includes the technologies to be employed, how the migration will occur, parallel activities -- e.g., employee training and technology infrastructure modifications -- that are needed, and other relevant activities. Once that has been defined, the next move is to brief senior management and employees on the key attributes of the DX program. Modify the strategy and support activities as needed based on inputs from senior management and staff.

3. Identify technology options, and secure senior management approval and funding. As part of strategy development, the project team must secure the approval of senior management for the digital transformation project and authorization for funding. In preparation for approval, the project team must research and identify the systems and technologies, network resources and migration activities needed for a successful implementation. They must identify all costs associated with the DX migration, including new technologies, upgrades to existing systems, new apps and specialized systems -- e.g., using AI -- internal and external expertise, modifications to physical facilities to accommodate new components and much more. Once this information has been gathered, reviewed and approved by the appropriate managers, the team can present its findings and recommendations to senior management for approval.

4. Approve project plan, and launch the project. In this step, all resources are brought into play, vendors are staged to begin their work, IT teams are ready to commence their activities, and employees are prepared to begin the transition from their current processes to the new ones made possible by the DX program. This step is one of the most important in the roadmap because it gathers all the players together and moves the program forward.

5. Execute migration and transition activities. During the course of the DX implementation, multiple activities will be taking place, including the following:

  • Installation and testing of new hardware and software, making adjustments and refinements based on experience.
  • Pilots of the new technology to familiarize employees with the systems and apps and how to use them properly. Piloting will help develop the policies, procedures and performance metrics for using the new technologies. It can also be used to update HR policies as needed.
  • Training programs for all personnel on the new systems, especially the employees who will be using them.
  • Regular reviews of system expenditures versus budgets, with adjustments as needed.
  • Regular senior management briefings on overall program progress.
  • Pilot tests of advanced technologies, e.g., AI and machine learning, to see how their capabilities can best be utilized for analyzing data created by the new systems.
  • Tests of outputs from the new systems to ensure the results are consistent with company requirements and making adjustments as needed.
  • Sessions with frontline employees who will be interacting with customers, e.g., during pilot programs, to ensure they are comfortable with the new technology and can provide enhanced CX.
  • Measures to protect the new systems and technologies, e.g., disaster recovery plans, are in place, documented and tested.
  • Procedures for backing up data and obtaining spare parts for the new systems are documented.
  • Programs that ensure that employees using the new technology have the proper devices and suitably equipped workspaces, whether they work on-site or remotely.
  • A plan for going live, including a go-live date with alternate dates, and how to execute the go-live process.
  • Marketing, website and other promotional activities to get the word out and encourage existing and prospective customers to use the new system.

6. Commence updated business operations and performance management. Once the new DX-based systems and apps have gone live, program management activities begin. Among these are personnel management, performance assessments against the new metrics, management reviews, change management activities, technology reviews and updates, financial reviews, analyses of how the new systems have impacted sales and revenues, CX satisfaction, customer retention, and impacts on competitive position and reputation.

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