Achieving meaningful success in the digital transformation journey is dependent on more than just tools, technology, and infrastructure. Digital transformation is a process that challenges every employee to think differently about their job, their relationship with their “customer”, and the processes and tools they use.
“Culture” is how people and groups within the organization think about themselves and each other. For a digital transformation initiative to succeed, an organization needs a conducive culture, with multiple characteristics:
- One team – A culture rife with territorialism and pettiness for personal gain is poisonous to any type of business transformation. Everyone needs to be moving in the same direction toward the same goals because the business will not succeed unless everyone succeeds.
- No fear – A successful digital transformation depends on a culture in which everyone, from top to bottom, can speak without fear of being ridiculed. At the same time, employees need to understand that not every idea is a good one, and that some ideas, not individuals, will be rejected. Nothing personal.
- Visionary leadership – An organization that already has the cultural elements needed for successful digital transformation is way ahead of the game. Organizational cultures are notoriously difficult to change; it takes a long time for visionary, courageous leadership to pull it off. Sometimes it means getting rid of “toxic” team members or reorganizing. As a result, organizational leadership professionals must often make hard choices to ensure objective become reality.
- Willingness to change – Organizations with a vested interest in maintaining the status quo and protecting “turf” are going to have a tough time implementing business processes with value-enhancing digital improvements. Organizations must be willing to look critically and fearlessly at existing organizational structures, processes, and interactions among teams.
“Organizational qualities” relates to how the company, as a whole, studies a problem and reaches a solution.
With the optimal culture in place, organizational qualities that are essential to the success of a digital transformation can be fostered. Two of the most important organizational qualities for a successful digital transformation are creative-thinking and design-thinking.
- Creative thinking – “Out-of-the-box thinking” is willingness to step outside conventional boundaries to look at a problem from new angles. Doing so enables organizations to come up with novel, non-obvious solutions.
The smartphone is an excellent example. Instead of creating a device that was primarily a phone with cool features, Apple re-imagined their device as a platform that could do almost anything. They employed independent developers for that platform, and it paid off. For example, voice-calling is one of the device’s many capabilities, not the central purpose of the device. The result was a revolution in mobile devices that ultimately led to Blackberry’s irrelevance.
- Design thinking – This means more than “how it looks,” although visual appearance is an important factor in design. Design thinking goes deeper; addressing how the entire design of a solution, from the system architecture to the user interface, speaks to the business problem or supports the business process. It requires the participation of all stakeholders, especially including the business process owners and the system’s end users.
Tools and Technologies
Digital transformation, by definition, involves the application of digital technologies to enable business transformation. Therefore, tools and technologies are important to the success of a digital transformation initiative, and should have certain critical characteristics:
- Quality – Quality doesn’t mean the absence of bugs. Sometimes a bug-free solution is never used because it fails to appropriately address the needs of the business. A solution’s quality is also measured by how reliable it is, how usable it is, how well it satisfies business requirements, and yes…how many bugs it has. With the right design thinking, and the right development and testing processes, quality can, and must, be built into the solution.
- Scalability – One goal of every business is to grow; to increase revenues, increase customers, and increase product and service offerings. Any digital solution must be designed with future growth in mind. Its capabilities and capacities to scale must be anticipated and constructed to grow with the company.
- Security – In a digital solution to any business problem, security must be considered every step of the way. Having a security mindset when designing the system will reduce vulnerabilities and operational risks, and make the system more robust.
- Supportability – A digital solution is not an end-state. It will constantly evolve as business needs change and grow. The solution must be designed so developers 2-10 years later can easily modify the system without breaking it.
In addition, digital infrastructure can be highly important to digital transformation’s results. Does the organization have the computing resources on-site to implement a digital solution? If the design involves offloading the computational heavy-lifting to cloud-based services, is there sufficient network bandwidth to support the communication with the cloud services across the internet? Would it be advantageous to implement edge computing resources to reduce bandwidth requirements? Answers to these questions, among many others, are important to making digital transformation a success. It’s not just about the software.
Don’t Forget the People
While the opportunities for success are great, the challenges of successful digital transformation extend beyond just technology. An effective approach to digital transformation must start with the mindset of every employee and include the need to optimize their productivity. Peter Drucker addressed this fact when he said: “The most important, and indeed the truly unique, contribution of management in the 20th century was the fifty-fold increase in the productivity of the manual worker in manufacturing. The most important contribution management needs to make in the 21st century is similarly to increase the productivity of knowledge work and knowledge workers.”
To meet this challenge, we also need to address how digital transformation enables teams to work together throughout the enterprise using new technologies, processes and tools. Only then can we expect to receive a return on our digital transformation investments and enable our employees to focus on what we actually hired them to do: dream, create, and innovate.