Don't Derail Digital Transformation

"Speed has never killed anyone. Suddenly becoming stationary, that's what gets you."

-Jeremy Clarkson

Digital transformation is a continuing process, not a one-time project. To be successful, it requires commitment, a change in attitude, and a change in organization. It's an endless journey. Doing business as you always have means that you are stationary; your competition, however, keeps moving. Think of this as business reinvention (see "The Time Is Now for Digital Transformation").

There are several factors that can affect your success with a digital transformation initiative. Let's take a look at some of the big ones.

Financial

Determining how much money to budget for digital transformation will be harder than budget setting has been in the past. Because you are reinventing the business, it is hard to determine what funds you will need, both internally and externally. You may also find that the return on investment (ROI) takes longer to deliver. Be ready to change your budget allocations and ask for more funding in the future. On the other hand, if the project is not looking successful, don't be afraid to give back the funding as soon as possible. I found in the past that returning funds for projects which were not going to be successful actually helped me convince management to fund me in future projects.

Focus

Developing new ways to run a business may lead into multiple competing projects. Part of what you're doing is experimentation. Ensure that you do not have a number of competing initiatives. This can starve resources and can reduce the focus. Don't be afraid to stop a particular project because it has lost focus. The focus should have a long-term commitment. Do not expect positive results in a short period of time.

Speed in Execution

Speed and agility are necessary parts of a digital organization. While developing and delivering digital transformation, your competition is attempting the same. Moving too slowly to deliver digital transformation can mean it is already becoming obsolete. Set realistic delivery times. Carefully identify the customers, people, and organizations that the digital transformation will affect. Do not assume that everyone you do business with will equally benefit from the solution.

Organizational Structure and Talent

Although speed and agility are required, too much of it can cause chaos and then lead to discipline problems. Discipline does not mean rigidity in your operation. You need to look at your organizational structure to determine what you can accomplish with digital transformation.

Since digital transformation is a change in business, ask yourself if you have the necessary talent on hand. When you look for talent, identify the problems you want to solve first. This will help you clarify the skills that you need. Understand that you need both leaders and doers to complete the project.

Think of creating an organization and developing talent like a startup company, rather than one that has been operating for years. You need to monitor the startup environment. If you leave it alone too much, it may not pursue the problems you are trying to resolve but pursue the problems that are seen along the way that provide more of a distraction from the end goal. Innovation is the key (see "Are You Embracing Digital Transformation?").

Who's in Charge?

Part of the digital transformation process will be determining who is going to be in charge of the projects. Many companies have created the position of Chief Digital Officer. Since this process overall will be changing the business approach, it's better that a business-oriented individual, rather than an IT/technical-oriented individual, take the lead. The second-in-command should be someone with a technology background who can provide guidance and recommendations for successful digital transformation (see "Digital Transformation: Who's in Charge?").

Cautious Approach, Risk, and Fear

Those who take a cautious approach to digital transformation are trying to limit the risk. They are in fear of what is going to happen because this is a new environment for them. Taking more risk does not translate into a more risky business. A bold initiative may seem reckless, but if you follow your common sense, keep track of what's going on, and review feedback, you are very likely to be successful.

Implementation Feedback and Learning

Ensure that you have data collection and analytics programs in place so that you can obtain rapid feedback on your project's success. You need to create a set of metrics for comparison. You may have to modify these metrics as time goes on, as you learn more about the digital transformation process and how your customers are responding to it. You must continually learn from this process; it doesn't stop. Make sure your talent knows that failure can occur as long as the talent has the resources and support to respond to those failures. Continual learning is a necessary part of digital transformation.

Be Ready to Fail

Time-to-failure occurs faster and faster. The faster you determine that the project is not working, the faster you can modify your approach and avoid derailing your project altogether. The development tools available today, use of cloud services, and acquisition of external resources can all go toward success. This is where APIs become important; APIs can accelerate the project schedule, reduce the labor involved, and keep the cost within reason. You may want to partner with other non-competitive companies that can help your projects.

Don't Forget the Network

Many businesses think that digital transformation deals primarily with the software, data centers, and the cloud. These are important, however, the network that accesses them is equally as important. You need a network that is agile and flexible. For more on network issues, take a look at my blogs, "SD-WAN for Digital Transformation - Part 1" and "Part 2."

Learn more about Digital Transformation at Enterprise Connect 2018, March 12 to 15, in Orlando, Fla. Register now using the code NOJITTER to save an additional $200 off the Advance Rate or get a free Expo Plus pass.

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