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How Hybrid Work Has Exposed Digital Transformation Plans

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Image: Andriy Popov - Alamy Stock Photo
Do you remember when technology vendors were marketing products designed to “accelerate digital transformation” and “introduce modern work?” What about when businesses tasked IT admins and project managers with carrying out these digital transformations and modern work programs? We call this era “pre-pandemic” like it’s an excuse for never getting near the end (or even the middle) of these digital transformation programs. Now, we are shifting to an era (and probable future) of hybrid work, which has exposed how inept we’ve been at getting the job done.
 
Best Laid Digital Transformation Plans
It's one thing to start a digital transformation program. It's another to see it through. The customer or end-user rarely is to blame. When planning for digital transformation, we get excited about shiny features and new ways of working. But we need one core technology (and subsequent integrations and workflows) to improve or futureproof what we’re already doing.
 
A complete overhaul of work processes would create all sorts of pushback from teams with established routines and habits. Yes, sometimes we must change a communications platform. But, often, that’s only a small piece of the puzzle. Take migrating from Skype for Business to Microsoft Teams, for example. On paper, this is a tricky process. But Microsoft and its partners provide documentation and support to get you there. So, is the job done? Not quite.
 
Migration Doesn’t Equal Digital Transformation
Migrating from one platform to another doesn’t constitute digital transformation. It’s merely migration from one platform to another. When we do this, we create a stream of continuous training and management for the new product. The pandemic struck about halfway through the program, forcing companies that started their digital transformation programs to work from home.
 
While we were focused on features and platforms and getting the thing to work as we wanted it to, everyone took their eye off the ball. What exactly did we digitally transform? The harsh reality is everyone had a new platform that they scarcely knew how to use and were now expected to attend remote training sessions to learn how to use it.
 
Note: this is only the companies that started their digital transformation programs. Many other businesses had never even thought about working outside the four walls of their office.
 
Digital Transformation and Returning to Work
The phrase "returning to work" implies we didn't do any work while at home. Remote workers have been working from home for decades and scoff when you compare them to these laggards.
 
But, in a lot of cases, the phrase is spot on.
 
Work could not be conducted at home because there had been no (or poor) digital transformation. While vendors and internal IT teams have made efforts to futureproof communications infrastructure, we forgot that communication exists outside the office and not just on phones and our work laptops. The frontline worker has been excluded, staff in rural areas can’t work productively, and parents with children at home accept that noisy video calls are the norm. The immediate solution for this situation is returning to work.
 
Of course, what we mean here is returning to the office. But this only exposes how unprepared we are for hybrid and remote work. Our digital transformation plans, however well-documented, are failing. Before, staff couldn’t connect to their office infrastructure without clunky VPN processes, and some are still waiting for a response to the ticket they logged in 2020. Digital transformation lacked both digital and transformation.
 
The Three Ps for Digital Transformation Success
The solution for digital transformation includes the three Ps:
 
  • People
  • Process
  • Product
 
These are the cornerstone for everything your business does.
 
Instead of buying new technology and creating evergreen programs for IT, we must focus on solving existing problems. Rather than being lured in by, or luring customers in by, jargon, promises, technology, features, and roadmaps, the approach must answer the following five questions:
 
  1. What is our current state?
  2. What problems do we need to solve?
  3. What is our desired future state?
  4. What are the obstacles that might stop us from getting there?
  5. What technologies will help us achieve 1, 2, 3, and 4?
 
This strategy means less templated requests for proposals (RFPs) and more requirements gathering. That means talking to people who rely on these technologies to put food on their table and not talking to vendors with sales targets they must hit. Of course, there will always be a crucial part for the vendor to play. But that role has changed. Upon receipt of a list of requirements, vendors must question the blue-sky desires and narrow in on the must-haves. Will you use these features, and what’s the likelihood of rolling all these out? It’s this guidance that enables digital transformation.
 
Yes, it might make the sales cycle longer. But it does result in a sale. The vendors with the bigger picture mentality are going to sweep up here. Project managers and IT admins have a huge responsibility here too. Your role is no longer rolling out what gets purchased by the higher-ups. You have an integral role to play in selecting the right technology that is fit for your purpose.
 
Remember, fit for purpose has changed too. We now have remote-only, remote-sometimes, and remote-never in our new hybrid work environment. Work has changed. Digital transformation must change too.

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