The What and How of Digital Transformation

Digital initiatives aren’t solely an IT or Marketing concern. Let’s get down to the nitty-gritty of ‘digital transformation’.

If you’re like me that don’t come from a technical background, you can guess my reaction the first time I heard the phrase “digital transformation”. Two years later, I find myself comfortable with, and even using phrases similar to “digital transformation”.

To give you some context, our team at Wiredcraft works with large MNCs - specifically internal teams with digital, innovation, or product in their names. In most cases, these teams are not IT or Marketing - they have different goals and drivers to these traditional teams. Usually, IT are not risk takers (not necessarily a negative thing) and they are supposed to be focused on infrastructure and operations. What marketing seeks is often short term (if not instant) outcomes, going after a ‘Wow’ effect, and there’s no doubt they struggle with long-term sustainability of their results.

What digital transformation is not

There are 3 parts to this: the expectation, the team, and the process. However, there are common misconceptions for each part that contribute to wide misunderstandings of what digital transformation actually is.

It’s not magic.
You cannot build digital culture by completing one digital project or choosing new software. Another common misunderstanding about DT is that people expect a lot more from it without putting in the proper time and consideration. For example, how it will serve their business strategy, answering what success actually looks like, and who would benefit from a digital implementation - all these questions are very important at the beginning of the process.

It is not driven by a single team.
Another common misconception of implementing DT is that all the work is done by a single team, either internally or externally. This sets out the wrong impression from the start, with all the onus on an individual team to help you achieve a full company-wide transformation.

It is not an overnight change.
Digital transformation takes time and there are no shortcuts. Leaders or team members might expect quick results before the whole execution has been completed. The fact that it takes time is due to the need to drive change within the whole organization, not just your sales or marketing team using a newly purchased CRM. They need time to get to know, use and understand the tool, and that will take a while.

To sum it up, digital transformation is about organizational change at every level in a company for the purpose of improving performance through digital technologies.

Type of teams

There are 3 common types of digital teams, based on their status within the organization.

Type 1 - Zero Product Culture

Teams that fall into this category are facing the challenge of creating a space for a digital product culture to be accepted.

Difficulties they must overcome include IT being defensive and opaque (e.g. 5 years “digital transformation” plan) and Marketing being focused on short term results (e.g. short lived digital campaigns).

The problem with a 5 year digital transformation plan is that the timeline is way too long. In today’s digital era where the market is changing on a daily basis, 6 months is long enough for a plan. It’s time to change the traditional way of looking at things.

Type 2 - Digital Team Beta

Digital team beta is the type of the team that has built some digital foundations but are still at a very early phase, facing enormous challenges and constantly fighting to survive.

Difficulties include IT working against rather than working with them. For instance, stealing the budget the company has allotted for new digital projects. On the other hand, the Marketing department is interested in helping but has no actual investment. What we often see is that a lot of marketing campaigns are not tied to business KPIs, which means the resulting metrics (which looked so promising) were not truly representative of the real business goals and drivers of success.

Type 3 - Some Product Culture

When a digital team has built up some product culture around the team, they feel challenged to stay lean and make efforts not to crumble under the weight of the organization.

At this stage, IT is now comfortable playing a supporting role, helping on maintenance and security. Meanwhile Marketing is confident owning analytics and commerce, coordinating on omni-channel campaigns, etc.

So how?

Create a digital product culture that leads on innovation

Sounds complicated? Don’t panic yet. Culture is not something you can build quickly and easily. However, there are a few steps you can take to get started.

  • Have champions at the C-level; this means that you need to have key decision-makers on board to leverage technology to serve the business strategy, not the other way around. You will need to acknowledge that you are heading in the same direction together, and working towards common goals
  • Set clear roles for IT, Marketing & Digital; as mentioned above, when your digital transformation process starts, aligning different teams is the key to success. That being said, clear responsibilities need to be established for each team
  • Brace for growing pains; there will be some, if not a lot of disagreements and arguments along the way, we can guarantee. The good thing is that through the pain, your teams will be able to learn and grow. For example, abandoning the old way of doing things and slowly accepting new tool to improve efficiency
  • Do things one step at a time; yes, there are many items on your to-do list, but it’s for the best to focus on one thing at a time. For instance, it’s easy for people who initiate to get excited and go big on the concept of DT at the start, they may want to start CI/CD approach, try cloud computing and third party KPI at the same time, which is a great but an unrealistic idea. Draw a small road map, be reasonable about what you are going to accomplish, tackle one problem at a time - it’s cliche but it’s valuable advice

Boost efficiency while heading in the right direction

Once teams in your company are aligned on the overall goal and their roles to contribute to this, start to build a quick feedback loop to speed up your transformation process. Along the way, there are a few other things to keep in mind:

  • Tech is an enabler; during your digital transformation process, view technology as an enabler, not an obstacle. To compete, you need to validate your assumptions quickly, safely & cheaply.

  • Culture beats tools; digital transformation isn’t digitization. It isn’t about AI, VR or a specific platform. It’s an often painful and necessary cultural shift.

  • Scientific method; apply a “build → measure → learn“ methodology. Embrace failure as an acceptable outcome: it’s incremental changes, not disruptive launches.

Posted on April 23, 2019 in Strategy

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