3 keys to a successful, streamlined digital transformation

Digital transformation has been one of the main watchwords of the tech world – as well as a fairly prominent trend throughout many other major industries – for much of the last several years. Like all terms that manifest (at least to some extent) as buzzwords in addition to core concepts, it can sometimes be misunderstood, poorly executed, unevenly applied or experience a combination of factors that make it not go according to plan. The main point of this legacy system modernization style is quantifiably improving your organization's operations using advanced technologies – which, in itself, certainly isn't hard to understand.

Your chances of success all depends on why you're digitally transforming and what you hope to accomplish. It's important to begin making plans for these initiatives well in advance, set clear goals and engage in sound best practices – particularly with regard to the way you integrate new applications or develop them in-house – to boost your chances of success. 

Avoid the hazard of overcomplication

According to Fast Company, the new coronavirus pandemic led to the dramatic acceleration of digital transformation efforts among countless companies around the world – more than a few of which were brand-new and thus by no means guaranteed to succeed. Citing a 2019 survey conducted by analytics firm UserTesting, the business and media news magazine noted that 44% of the companies polled had previously either declined to embrace the tech trend or weren't even aware of what it entailed before COVID-19's global explosion.

Woman sitting at desk in shared-workspace office in front of laptop, looking stressed or frustrated by her situation
Digital transformation projects should not be overly complicated, as this could potentially frustrate staff and lead to an initiative's failure.

Janelle Estes, UserTesting's chief insights officer, explained in an interview with Fast Company that any post-pandemic catch-up efforts by companies that hadn't already digitally transformed in one or more ways were rushed and quite possibly overcomplicated when they didn't have to be.

"[This pandemic] has expedited the need to become more digitally centric," Estes told the news provider. "Companies are trying to do in a few weeks or months what would usually take a couple of years."

Certain changes to software or hardware, like converting to fully remote operations to protect people's health, were effectively matters of life and death for businesses and had to be done quickly, but they're the exception rather than the rule. Now and in the future, it'll be wisest to first know exactly what you want out of your organization's digital transformation, whether it's better automated data processing, more smoothly running customer-facing apps and websites, improved bandwidth management and so on. No matter what you plan on doing to achieve these results, be it upgrading to software-defined wide-area networking or integrating augmented reality into e-commerce, you must take time to develop and execute it properly. It'll be worth it when everything works well upon launch and doesn't immediately have to go through a round of patches.

Make it a team effort

In almost all cases, successful digital transformation usually affects entire organizations for the better, and in truly multifaceted transformation initiatives, such improvements benefit their customer base as well. When you're in the midst of your own transformative plan, stakeholders from every segment of the company should have some degree of input into the process, even the departments that aren't as tech-dependent as others. For example, if upgrading your encryption in some way, HR will know exactly what personnel data must be preserved to maintain compliance, while sales will have the best perspective on customer financial info in need of safeguarding. Solicit feedback from everyone and incorporate the best suggestions into the final project.

Speaking even more broadly, The Enterprisers Project pointed out that transparency is also majorly important to digital transformation success. Everyone involved directly or indirectly in the process should be aware of its ups, downs and in-between progress updates through clear communication. Even when setbacks occur, thoughtful dialogue among all involved can help mitigate the delays or damage such problems might otherwise bring to the process.

Embrace the cutting edge

Your organization should only digitally transform in ways that will lead it to substantive, quantifiable bottom-line benefits – in other words, don't embrace such advances just for appearance's sake. (Post-COVID, this is much less common, it's just still important to avoid.) That being said, you should embrace the most advanced solutions available for whatever specific goal you wish to accomplish.

As an example, Forbes contributor Steve Androile noted that numerous companies will be transitioning from the enterprise resource planning solutions that have dominated the market for about a decade. To replace them, they'll likely embrace tools like machine learning capable of handling the same tasks even more efficiently and effectively. Your business should have a similar approach and go for the gusto with whatever legacy applications or devices you aim to replace.

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