Photo by Bob Mical licensed under Creative Commons

Focus On People, Not Process, For Digital Transformation

Digital transformation is just one of those business and management strategies that are hot right now. Every business journal is talking about the best way to change your business model and how to be the next Instagram, not the next Kodak. It’s easy to forget that just five years ago nobody was even using this term, let alone deploying it as a strategy.

Digital transformation is a genuine change in how we do business today, but it is easy to get carried away with the hype. As the term suggests, it focuses on digital opportunities and that means technology that enables change.

What is really interesting is that this change can be observed across all industries – even government. Publishers are now online. Cars are becoming a service rather than a product. Banks are finding that their biggest payment rivals are technology giants. Retailers are on websites and apps and in Virtual Reality environments. No matter which industry you think of, there are examples of business models being redefined by what technology can offer.

But if the transformation of a business could be successful just by purchasing some new technology then every CEO would just be on the phone to Cisco or Dell asking for some shiny new boxes that can transform their business. That’s not how it works.

The best tools are only as good as the people you have using them. It’s your people and the idea that really count. The technology just underpins that vision of how the company will operate in future. A Digital Transformation project is really no different from a major change management initiative. Here are the important steps if you want it to work:

1.     Accept that this is about change; stop focusing on the technology and accept that you are about to change what your business does and how you do it. This probably involves major business model surgery so the focus is on change.

2.     Get senior buy-in; the leaders need to support the vision and very openly be talking about and defending the new direction. If the boss doesn’t really believe it then that gives some slack to everyone else further down the chain to say that this idea probably won’t work.

3.     Change your approach to training; think hard about how you get the team ready for change, but take this opportunity to create more of a focus on continuous ongoing training. You are not going to set this new business model in stone and then function that way for the next two decades.

4.     Communicate constantly; don’t give any fuel to rumours. Constantly update everyone about your plans and make information easily available. Over-communicating is better than not keeping people in the loop.

5.     Don’t forget to ask why you are changing; keep asking this question. A digital transformation isn’t easy. Can you shortcut the process through acquisition or use other steps that allow the business to change without betting everything on a successful transformation? Remember that this is more about changing to a new type of continuously changing business rather than reaching a settled future state that will then not change for years.

There is so much new and emerging technology that is changing the relationship between brands and their customers that it can be difficult to resist the urge to change, but I’d advise caution. Change your business because your customers want something new and make sure your team is on board with that change. If your decisions are driven simply by the availability of new technology then you will not be leading the business into the future. More likely you will lead it into the history books.