Tablet and notepad

Digital transformation is the ultimate buzz phrase right now. Regardless of the vertical, be it finance, utilities, insurance…. everybody is preparing to ‘go digital’ or to implement some kind of digital change in order to best position their company for the future. That said, having worked with a number of organisations in a wide range of sectors, of differing size and at different points along their journey towards digital maturity, it’s clear to me that many of the more traditional companies are still struggling when it comes to adopting digital agendas within their organisations.

It might surprise you to know that today there are more than three billion IP connections, and it took more than 25 years to reach this number. Now with the advent of cloud, the Internet of Things and other technologies, it is expected that over the next five years IP connections will grow to more than 100 billion. You don’t have to be a mathematician to work out that the volume of data is growing at an exponential rate and this means every organisation will need to find a way to cope. Fundamentally, we need to understand that the way in which organisations do business these days has changed and will continue to change. The arrival of SMAC (social, mobile, analytics and cloud) technologies has set in motion a chain of events that has seen industries, formerly thought relatively immune to digital upheaval, now needing to adapt their strategies to incorporate a digital first approach.

I think organisations in most industry sectors are waking up to a future where service delivery is underpinned by greater levels of end-to-end digital integration and many have a clear vision for this. However, having a vision is one thing, delivering it is quite another. For many organisations the real challenge is more about the journey and how they are going to get to where they need to be. What sort of policies, processes and technology does the organisation need to have in place in order to deliver on a truly digital strategy? And what organisational and transformational changes will it need to drive through for this to happen? Embarking upon this is not for the faint hearted and there has to be a real will amongst senior management to make it work – vision and words alone just won’t do it.

It is genuinely difficult to know how those changes might play out and particularly hard work to deliver the required changes internally; so I completely understand the trepidation. The words ‘digital’ and ‘transformation’ sound expensive and complicated and lead organisations to believe that delivering such a vision will require wholesale and rapid change to the people, process and technology landscape of their operation (often with associated workforce reductions). At the same time, the promised outcomes are exciting and are often allied with the fear that doing nothing will risk losing ground in already hyper-competitive markets. It’s quite a conflicting mix of emotions and often results in organisations rushing into a course of action that is not sufficiently well thought through and without a credible plan for delivering the vision. And that’s asking for trouble.

My advice is that you don’t need to set a rigid path but instead work out how your digital vision can evolve in a way that best fits in with how your organisation operates. Look at how you can improve points of capability and processes, one step at a time, all within the overall framework and context of the vision. The days of the half a billion pound giant programme are over, it’s best to think about how you can make incremental gains to the business and deliver smaller projects more quickly while not losing sight of the long term direction and the associated benefits.

This doesn’t mean that a digital initiative can’t be big and disruptive, it can still encompass transformation at an organisational level and change how you operate both internally and in the context of your market. However, it can also be broken into small ‘bight size’ chunks which focus on a particular issue or priority challenge, or change how you deliver a service or product to customers - one step at a time. Perhaps the most important aspect to remember is that digital transformation should always be viewed as a journey towards a beneficial outcome and not a means in itself. The goal is to achieve lasting change that makes a difference to your customers and your business, whereby true benefits are realised rather than just implementing the most up to date technologies. But ultimately, a digital transformation is no different to any other large scale business change programme: to be successful it must be approached in the right way and done for all the right reasons.

This means that you need to be able to demonstrate that your vision for the future is backed up with a solid business case that sets out the benefits that will be realised and a credible plan of how these will be delivered and when.

Laying secure foundations and bringing on board the right skills and experience from the start will ultimately stack the odds of success in your favour. So rather than ask the question so many organisations seem to be fixated on right now: “what is our digital strategy?” The right question is “What is our strategy for a world that is becoming increasingly digital and how do we ensure that we successfully get to where we want to be?”

By Charlie Mayes, Managing Director, DAV Management