As we stand in the midst of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, digital transformation is transforming the modern workplace at an incredible rate. According to research by investment company, Close Brothers, one in five small and medium-sized enterprises (SME) are planning to invest in new technology in 2016, while IDC has predicted that the number of enterprises creating advanced digital transformation initiatives will more than double by 2020, from 22% to almost 50%.

While businesses are demonstrating a clear willingness to change, there remain stumbling blocks on this road to transformation. A recent survey by Unisys found that 54% of businesses regarded their progress towards digital transformation as average or below average, while Gartner predicts that only 30% of digital transformation plans will actually succeed. As many have already discovered, becoming a digital enterprise is not an easy process, which prompts the question ‘how can organisations transition to a state of readiness for technological change to empower their workforce and maintain their competitive edge’?

The first point to acknowledge is that ‘digital’ does not necessarily equate to any activity that involves a computer. Manually inputting data into a spreadsheet, for example, isn’t efficient, just as emailing large files between staff members for editing – with several different versions created – is a poor use of time for everyone involved.

Digitisation is about replacing those bad processes with new, improved and easy-to-incorporate ones. After all, employees won’t take to new measures if they’re overly complex or long-winded. Effective IT services are there to save one worker at least a minute per hour. When you multiply this by the number of employees in a company and apply it over a week or a month, it amounts to a seriously large chunk of time that has now been made productive. By helping staff reduce the time spent on process-heavy tasks, businesses can direct more attention to creativity and innovation – reducing the gulf between internal operations and advancement.

Another barrier that enterprises must overcome as they traverse this new digital landscape is the breaking down of existing business silos. For established organisations, which can tend to be stunted by legacy IT systems and a rigid staffing structure, this is a particularly challenging prospect. In the era of high-speed connectivity however, success is increasingly dependent on how effectively multiple business processes and applications can be integrated into one unified platform, creating a better customer experience on multiple touch points.

The public sector provides a strong example of integration in action – where the government has moved to a digital tax return system by providing individuals and businesses with digital accounts that bring together all their tax details. Over time, these accounts will offer access to a range of other government services – for example, people will be able to see how their National Insurance contributions affect their state pension, while small businesses will be able to access increasingly tailored support from across government to help their business grow, via a Single Business Service.

This provides an invaluable lesson to any companies in the private sector that are considering their own digital transformation – namely, that they must pay attention and invest in the right technology mix to achieve their business goals. While off the shelf technology may seem like an easy way to embrace digitisation, it certainly won’t help businesses develop new platforms and processes that work uniquely for them. Indeed, to stay ahead in the digital game, decision makers must work closely with a trusted technology partner, investing in customised technology solutions that are flexible and agile enough to grow alongside their business.

Together with investment in technology, however, businesses must also prioritise the training of their staff. Of course, employees that are fully trained in how to use new technologies, and also understand its business benefits, will perform better and ultimately prove higher return on investment. Going a step further, however, companies must also consider how digitisation is changing the way their employees are choosing to work, and build this into their transformation strategy.

In today’s globalised, 24-hour world, the traditional 9am – 5pm workday is becoming increasingly obsolete, with employees adjusting to a more flexible working pattern that suits their work-life balance.

A recent study by the Centre for Economics and Business Research (Cebr) revealed that 96% of workers in the UK that have the option of flexible working take advantage of this opportunity, whilst eight in ten would do so if made available to them. Flexible working not only benefits the employee’s lifestyle, but also has a significant impact on the UK economy – adding an extra £11.5bn per year through more productive use of available working hours. It is therefore clear that unless the right tools and IT services are made available to employees, any digital strategy will be undermined significantly.

With two thirds of CEOs planning to focus on digital transformation in 2016, businesses will need to implement cross-functional partnerships, invest in the right new technologies and foster a culture of innovation within their IT departments. Only then will they realise the full potential of the digital revolution, and the profound benefits it can have on their bottom line.

By Tony Pickering, Head of Enterprise Solutions Group, Ricoh UK