We are at the start of what is likely to be the most intense period of rapid digitisation in history. The scale and ease with which we adopted mass remote working and embraced the internet as the go-to channel for everything from entertainment to grocery shopping, are just examples of what is still to come. Organisations wanting to stay relevant and compete in this rapidly changing tech-centric economy will no doubt be looking to put their digital transformation strategies into practice as quickly as possible.
The challenge with transformations is that they tend to be particularly difficult to implement with any degree of success. With so many variations across business’ and industry verticals, every journey tends to be a bespoke undertaking. Having said that, there are a handful of themes that run through almost every digital transformation which should be considered as guiding principles of sorts.
It’s not about the tech
As counter-intuitive as this may sound, digital transformation really isn’t about technology. Even though it’s a catalyst for change and innovation, getting this bit right doesn’t always deliver a successful outcome, even when it’s planned and executed flawlessly. Getting it wrong on the other hand often results in failure, usually an expensive one at that.
Tech is merely one of many components that one has to get right before the sum of the parts equate to any form of success. People, culture, execution, innovation and agility play a major role in every digital transformation and (unfortunately), each of them has to be executed flawlessly to achieve the desired outcome. Even though technology is instrumental in most corporate strategies these days, businesses by and large don’t actually care about what their CTO’s run under the hood. Nor should they, the only thing that really matters is that it does what it says on the tin and delivers the business outcomes.
Execution Eats Strategy for breakfast
Every digital transformation journey should start with a challenging yet realistic strategy that outlines the target stated objectives and how to achieve the desired outcomes. Let’s face it, if you don’t have a map that lays out a path to your destination, it’s unlikely that you will ever get there. If you do, then maybe the strategy wasn’t challenging enough to begin with. Changing your mind and re-pivoting on paper is inconsequential when compared to doing so in mid-execution.
But for a strategy to have any value it must be put into practice, and that’s where even the best planned transformations come crashing down to earth. Execution is hard at the best of times, never mind when it has to be done successfully on multiple fronts; tech, people, budget, culture etc. This is where having a proven playbook comes into its own. An experienced team equipped with a well-practiced and finely tuned methodology is imperative for successful delivery. That experience should also be used as a sounding board to validate whether the strategy can be delivered in the first place.
Culture is the Royal Flush
Culture in my opinion is often the most difficult, intricate, prolonged, frustrating and decisive component of any digital transformation. That’s partly because it is the enemy of change. Organisational cultures are built up over time through instinctive shared working practices, beliefs and customs. It is this framework of documented and undocumented behaviours that makes and keeps businesses successful, but by protecting the status quo and slowing down the rate of evolution, also puts it in direct conflict with any attempts to introduce change.
Digital transformation is by design geared to inject new ideas, processes and behaviours into organisations to keep them relevant and competitive. It is therefore almost inevitable that transformation and culture will clash due to the polarity of their objectives.
For transformation to be successful it has to do one of two things; either work within the organisation’s appetite for change or change the culture. Attempting the latter approach is an ambitious undertaking to say the least.
Digital Transformations are difficult at the best of times, perhaps that is why many organisations delay their strategies for as long as possible. But this is not a feasible long-term option as technology and the internet become native to everything we do. The ability to implement change and transform will become a fundamental business reality. More so when you consider that this will become an on-going process that will need to be repeated in ever-shorter increments.
Understanding how to do this successfully on multiple fronts including; technology, strategy, execution and culture, will become imperative to anyone wishing to remain relevant and competitive in the Digital era.
Josko Grljevic is chief transformation officer, Talon Outdoor. He directs Talon’s comprehensive AdTech (investments/roadmap), driving technology-led change.