Time to retire digital transformation? Your questions answered.

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Our webinar “Is it Time To Retire Digital Transformation?” resonated with a lot of people. What’s clear is that saying digital transformation raises certain expectations among senior executives. But whether we should look for another way to describe what we’re trying to achieve is debatable since communication is central to a successful outcome.

Some great points were made by our panellists during the discussion, but we didn’t get time to answer all your questions at the end. As promised, we’ve taken those questions and provided answers that reflect the views of the panellists and the thoughts of Emma and Michael here at 101 Ways.

Let’s get started.

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What are the main triggers that lead organisations to decide they want a ‘digital transformation’?

Triggers for digital transformation come from inside and outside a business. It can stem from something as simple as trying to fix a broken spreadsheet or a new CEO who sees where things could be done better. It may also be driven by new regulations, industry change or pressure from falling sales as customers switch to competitors’ products.

There needs to be some discovery before organisations start thinking of where to invest and define the outcomes they want to achieve. How can organisations surface their current ways of working to get a clearer understanding of where their challenges are?

When it comes to surfacing current ways of working to understand your challenges, you need to talk to people. Identify who your colleagues are and who your customers are and get them talking so you understand their needs. Use these conversations to identify the outcomes you want and then pin down how you are going to measure your progress towards those results.

How large a change in an organisation qualifies as digital transformation? Aren’t we always changing and evolving?

A great question. Digital transformation does give the impression of major change, but it rarely lands with a big bang. Instead, it’s a process of constant iteration in pursuit of a defined goal, or so it should be. As such, we’re talking about change and evolution as much as anything else, but digital transformation as a term still does a decent job at engaging a large audience.

If it is a Business Transformation then who should lead it? Can IT transform the business? Does the business know how digital technology can transform their business?

There is widespread agreement that C-suite buy-in is fundamental to digital transformation. Only with sponsorship from the leadership team will you receive the resources to get things moving. But in terms of who will enable that transformation, IT will ultimately have a massive role. As to whether the business knows digital technology can transform the business, that’s a moot point. The focus needs to be on colleagues and customers and how you’re going to improve their lives.

I’d love to hear more about your experience about adjusting org structure to reflect new ways of working and collaboration.

We’re seeing more businesses work in cross-functional, collaborative ways, where departments and business units are no longer siloed. What’s more, we’re seeing people with non-digital backgrounds appointed in roles like chief customer officer, whose remit is delivering change. These kinds of appointments work well because they highlight the cross-functional nature of transformation projects, whose success depends on cultural change as much as technological innovation.

If you are in an organisation blind to its need to transform how can you influence?

Maybe come at this from a different angle and avoid talk of transforming. Start a discussion about your company’s pain points and work your way back to the causes of those pain points. Get metrics that verify what the issues are. Then focus on resolving those pain points through transformation, getting to some measurable improvements.

Should we be using different terms for where we really are moving from pen/paper, spreadsheets etc. to digital-native, vs moving from already digital to improved digital experience?

A fair question since most companies are modernising their digital experiences right now rather than digitally transforming them. But again, the nomenclature is irrelevant to a large extent; it’s the people and whether they engage with the idea and get behind it that counts, so it’s important not to be dismissive. 

How do organisations know “what good looks like” when they are defining outcomes and implementing change?

To get a handle on this, you need to look outside of your organisation. Go to conferences, attend events and speak to your peers. Most likely someone will have already done what you plan to do, or something similar, so there is a wealth of precious insight to gain. What worked well, what didn’t work well. Their success measures may not align perfectly with yours but don’t let that put you off.

Can we rebrand GenAI to RegenerativeAI?

The short answer is yes (but do we really want to?) This speaks to our inherent creativity when it comes to naming, and also the limits of our language. The nuance may mean something to you, but not to your stakeholders, so we’d be inclined to stick to the most widely used name in this situation.

Have any of the panel experienced failed transformations: what happened, what did they learn, what would they do differently now?

All the panellists had experienced failure around a transformation project in some sense, but for different reasons. Those included rushing to making a start, a lack of communication with stakeholders, or a breakdown in project momentum. Key learnings from this were taking an iterative approach and focusing on communication, like celebrating every success however small to help maintain the energy.

How do you feel that technology is the enabler but transform and evolution should now be led by sustainability?

We’re assuming here that we’re talking about environmental sustainability. And while it’s clearly important to businesses—after all everyone has a stake in the future of the planet—we don’t think it’s leading the transformation discussion right now. Industry isn’t mature enough yet. Profitability and internal efficiencies are still the main drivers.

I like the round table analogy from Norma, but is a saw now a vital tool for digital transformation?

Norma’s point around a roundtable where everyone has an equal voice was a good one. But the idea of a saw and using it to cut a chunk out of that table and therefore deny a voice is not ideal in our view. Remember cultural change is critical to every transformation project, so you need all stakeholders in on the conversation, no matter the conflicts. Resolving issues shouldn’t be avoided.

Where do you recommend people go to, for seeing and experiencing what good looks like? we all only know, what we know (or google!)

We’d go back to our earlier answer, namely get out there and talk to your peers. Go outside your organisation and discover those “warts and all” transformation stories from other companies that can teach you something.

Is digital transformation fundamentally a human subject? And if so, should we allocate resources to specific collaborative roles?

This is good question to end on because it gets to one of the key takeaways from the webinar: and that is that digital transformation is always a human subject. Digital is the outcome, but it’s people that deliver it and use it at the end of the today. Therefore, resources need to go into dedicated roles and/or team, whose sole purpose is to facilitate cultural and technological change across multiple disciplines. That way, you’ll have a much better chance of staying on track and achieving those transformational outcomes.