Many company leaders say they’re focused on digital business transformation, but how many follow through with the necessary steps to achieve this goal? If you only talk about the innovative technology present in your industry, you’ll get left behind by competitors digitizing every aspect of their operations.
As most of us know all too well, putting together that three-door dresser from IKEA or 1,100-piece LEGO set is rife with opportunity for, let’s say, disagreements to arise. Lots of (sometimes literal) moving pieces combined with less-than-clear assembly concepts can make everyone a bit tense. Thankfully, both LEGO and IKEA have spent decades perfecting their instruction manuals. We rely on them to provide us with clearly articulated steps through which we will achieve our intended outcome.
But what if occasionally there were random unnecessary pieces sprinkled in your LEGO set? Or tools other than the classic Allen wrench included in the IKEA box, dropped in there with the assumption that you’d automatically know how to use them? Your IKEA or LEGO playbook would become a lot less solid, right?
That potential for confusion is why a one-size-fits-all pattern doesn’t work well for digital strategies. No matter how closely you plan your digital transformation, it won’t ever follow an exact map. Internal and external forces are guaranteed to toss in a few wrong-colored pieces and unexpectedly shaped tools. Your best bet is to rely on a set of guiding principles that incorporate creativity and adaptation into your company’s own unique process. We’ve broken these principles down into 10 straightforward steps in order to bolster the integrity of your technological innovation and give you the best possible outcome:
1. Understand Your Landscape
As we always point out, you need to understand the context in which your business or enterprise operates before you can even begin to think about digital strategy on your own terms. What do competitors value? What do consumers value in your segment? What have been the driving forces behind recent changes among your competitors? When you have a good overview of your position, both within your own industry as well as throughout the evolving digital ecosystem, then you’ll be well-positioned to respond quickly as new technologies emerge. Fully mature organizations have a company culture that revolves around constant change and optimization.
2. Research Your Competitors’ Transformations
After understanding your company’s context, you’ll have to come up with a repeatable, solidified, data-backed approach to examine where you stand in your competitive set or industry. Without a repeatable and standardized research method, you’ll lack the necessary rigor to perceive where impactful change can be made. Are your competitors significantly more advanced in the maturity model, or are you all at a similar stage of development? Research their customer experience, the technology powering their infrastructure, their latest partnership announcements and other information sources to learn what they’re doing.
3. Establish Objectives
One of the key overlays on top of a data-driven approach is the identification of your own objectives as they relate to the rest of the industry. You need a cohesive strategy from the outset, which is impossible to get without a vision of what you’re working toward. Sure, you can measure social media strategy broadly across the industry, but if social-based conversion isn’t one of your major objectives, perhaps your company’s weakness in that specific area isn’t a high-priority problem for you. Set your own objectives for customer experience, back-end operations, infrastructure and individual departments, and have a concrete idea of what your company should eventually look like. This vision will fuel the efforts and investment you put into becoming an innovative leader. Discussing your objectives, clarified with data derived from evaluating the landscape, will yield a fruitful baseline from which to launch a robust digital transformation.
4. Understand Your Lifecycle
Another key concept integral to your digital transformation is the ability to make split-second decisions. Unexpected factors are bound to appear as you start your digital transformation journey, and you’ll only be able to respond appropriately to them if you have a deep understanding of your own current infrastructure. A fully digital company doesn’t simply add new technology as it comes on the market. You need a clear awareness of your full deployment process in order to determine whether any given solution moves you toward your strategic goals.
Your management must work together with the IT department to develop systems that will let you reach digital transformation maturity. Part of that conversation is understanding your company’s potential for implementing change. The agility of your entire organization determines the ability of individual employees to adapt to emerging shifts in procedures and routines. Every facet of the organization must be fully responsive in order to successfully drive a company-wide transformation.
5. Examine Your Solutions
Once you understand your business challenges, it’s up to your team to push ideation, design and testing of potential solutions. Boiling down priorities, successes and obstacles into workable solutions can be a tedious process, but the imagination it can inspire is unmatched.
However, don’t look into specific digital solutions too early in your transformation process. If you start off at the beginning with technology procurement, you run the risk of getting too caught up in details: choosing the right vendor, going through demos, comparing costs and so on. It’s both easy and unwise to skip past the required leadership mindset and plunge right into making big commitments. By waiting until a later stage of your journey, you stay on the same page as your IT department and maintain a better blueprint of how everything fits into your overall business strategy.
6. Focus on Actionable Solutions
Once you conceive of and understand your potential solutions, it’s key to focus energy on prioritizing the ones that work best within your context and lifecycle. Continuous testing and experimentation are needed to push the conversation forward, and ultimately the data produced by this process will deliver to you the precise set of solutions you need for your real-world challenges.
7. Empower Those Who Have Been Transformed
While digital transformation requires participation from every department, it begins with your IT team. They play a key role in getting your company where it needs to go. Empower them with the tools and resources they need to accomplish procurement, deployment, maintenance, support and every other duty associated with a fully digital business. Look for ways to balance out their new duties and bring in the right specialists to help out before anyone gets overwhelmed.
The IT department is only the beginning, however. Moving outwards from IT into every niche of your organization, each employee will need to be equipped with the correct tools and resources if you are going to be successful at pushing your transformation forward. Your solutions are only as good as your ability to implement them, and it will be key to get the right people behind the wheel as you kick the process into overdrive.
8. Address Roadblocks Head On
Much as understanding your lifecycle helps you anticipate potential failure points, there are bound to be thorny spots or points of contention as the transformation is enacted. You will inevitably run into a few roadblocks when you completely change the traditional way of doing things, so you must be ready to fine-tune your strategy in mid-stream. Adaptation is key to surviving in nature, and your business will have to be able to do the same if it is to thrive in today’s digital ecosystem.
9. Manage Change Constructively
Long-term employees and industry veterans are set in their ways. A digital transformation disrupts every aspect of how they do business, even if they’ve been using modern software tools. A comprehensive change management plan minimizes employee stress and turnover during this process. It also gets your people up to speed as quickly as possible and helps everyone recognize the organization-wide benefits of this process. You can systematically address the stresses of change by adjusting expectations and outputs to meet challenges as they arise. One way to ensure a smooth transition is to institutionalize a process for documenting, tracking and discussing each process change as it happens. This attentive stance provides you with key component of measurability, as well. The more specifically you can address the KPIs or metrics impacted by your recent transformation, the more successful your efforts will be.
10. Establish Yourself
You’ve put in a lot of work to get this far. Your company moves forward with the digital transformation plan, you have a solid foundation in place, and your customer experience and operations rely on standardized digital processes to maintain consistency and improve efficiency across the board.
This stage is just the start to your long-term adherence to digital transformation. You now have a platform capable of adapting to market disruptions, a company culture embracing innovation and a structure that helps you get the most out of your digital transformation.
It’s important to remember that initiating change is a worthy achievement, but establishing yourself as a digital leader takes more than just internal collaboration and realignment. All aspects of an organization, including its actions, culture, structure and people, must stand behind the new strategy. When that realignment can be supported and initiated by a digital effort, transformation can be continually renewed.
As you move into the future, be prepared for new business models, major disruptions in the marketplace and unexpected developments in technology. You can’t always predict what’s waiting for you in the long-term, but you can leverage your digital platform for the flexibility you need to adapt and grow.