Arbiter of digital transformation, or early adopter regret? This is the question many enterprises are asking as they look back on their efforts to move into a more modern approach. But with the luxury of perspective, many have discovered that their early digital transformation intentions were either short sighted or totally missed the mark. The promise was attractive, but the ultimate goal not yet totally understood. This resulted in these early digital pioneers frequently shuffling their way through half-baked ambitious projects that never completed or took companies in misguided directions that ended up costing them dearly.
The Early Digital Transformation Promise
Walk the show floor of any technology event and you’ll find all kinds of vendors who promise to be “next generation”, “emerging”, or “built for a new [fill in the blank].” While they may be truly developing something innovative and exciting, organizations can only implement a certain amount of new technology before they overwhelm their IT teams and end users to the point of adoption fatigue. Many of these early adopters become rigidly beholden to making a nascent strategy work, and in their attempt to use that strategy to move ahead of their competition, often found themselves married to technology that wasn’t actually ahead of its time and didn’t offer any of the benefits of continuous change.
A Bridge is not the Path Forward
Originally, enterprises became enamored with the promise of digital transformation because it was the bridge from legacy tools to an environment that made more productive use of technology, employee resources, and data. Though building this bridge should not have been the end-goal, it is nonetheless where many early adopters stopped. They invested heavily in tools and software solutions, but now find that they are now saddled with systems that don’t talk to one another, are not agile, and cannot support the speed and scale required by modern enterprises.
The real value in transforming a business has to begin with a clear vision for how it can boost productivity and efficiency while being an enabler for organizational change. Early attempts were often derailed because they lacked a roadmap and neglected the inevitable need for streamlined automation and integration with multiple applications. These organizations typically fell into traps around the following issues:
No Clarity on Digital Transformation Ownership
The advent of digital business often looked like an attempt to be more inclusive – that inclusivity was supposed to extend to people, data, and technology sources. But in order to deliver on those goals, transformation processes require distinct ownership of design and implementation processes. Successful optimization always demands some level of executive sponsorship and top-down control, but it’s especially the case when a project includes such a far-ranging set of activities like digital transformation. To keep the project in scope and prevent overwhelming implementers, organizations needed to solidify operations and management around key decision-makers. In the absence of that type of ownership, many projects simply became too unwieldy, or veered off in directions that didn’t adhere to original goals.
Over-Emphasis on Replacement
Many saw ‘transformation’ as replacing existing tools or processes, rather than being a way to improve overall operations. This made the project easier to manage, because it only demanded 1:1 mapping of old too new. But this totally neglected the importance of why a company would embark on digital transformation in the first place. The idea was to build processes into a company that could rely on digital methods for implementation. Doing so meant that the organization could benefit from automation, a faster way to develop applications, and the reduction or inefficiencies. Being so tactical in their approach prevented many companies from truly taking advantage of becoming a digital business.
The whole notion of transformation is that it never truly stops. Once a transformation begins, it is supposed to pave the way for continuous evolution and enablement of other things that transform and change as well. But many organizations sought an endgame that was narrowly focused – maybe they just wanted to integrate key applications, or perhaps they wanted the ability to pull data from internal sources and deliver it to customers through forms. In that light, the transformation project ends once the goals are achieved, but as we now know, the ability to apply digital methods for process-oriented outcomes, and to continuously improve on those processes, never ceases. Companies that sought the former approach were rewarded with new solutions, but they still lacked a foundation that was enabled continuous innovation.
Today’s organizations have access to more data, more connections, and an ever-expanding list of new technology. For these organizations to thrive in today’s competitive marketplace, they must evolve from previous models to ones that engage more stakeholders and make better use of data. But they must also be able to support the need for rapid development of new solutions and subsequent delivery through all necessary channels.