When Is It Time for Digital Transformation?

It’s a jungle out there.

That’s especially true when it comes to businesses staying competitive with technology. Because the reality is that disruption is constant, and staying the same is falling behind.

That’s why so many executives feel the pressure to use technology to improve their business’s performance—a process known as digital transformation.

One media executive reportedly said, “We’ve realized that if we don’t transform the way we do business, we’re going to die. It’s not about changing the way we do technology but changing the way we do business.”

So, business leaders often find themselves asking: How do I know it’s time for a digital transformation process?

The answer?

It’s always time.

Instead of starting and ending times of digital transformation, businesses need to have an ongoing mindset of transformation. It’s not a one-time thing, and it can’t be a process limited to one department of an organization. Likewise, no single person can alone drive all the changes needed for true transformation.

The mindset of continuous digital improvement has to be pervasive across the board, with every aspect of a business’s operations up for change. That means every part of an organization should take a hard look at how technology can help them meet their strategy and KPIs.

Often, businesses find that changing processes and technology is easy compared to the difficulties of cultural shifts in implementing technology. Employees resist having to learn to do their work a different way, even though it will make their lives easier in the long run.

Likewise, digital transformation is not about implementing new technologies. It’s about transforming a business to take advantage of the possibilities that new technologies provide.

DocuSign concluded: “Digital transformation isn’t just about digitization, replacing existing paper-based processes with online ones. To truly transform and get the most value from the move to digital, organizations must reevaluate processes with a customer-first approach, working backwards from the customer to invent new, more efficient ways of working while applying a digital-first mentality.”

But at the same time, businesses should be careful not to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

A 2011 MIT report with Capgemini Consulting reported: “Successful [digital transformation] comes not from creating a new organization, but from reshaping the organization to take advantage of valuable existing strategic assets in new ways. Companies can do much more to gain value from investments they have already made, even as they envision radically new ways of working.”

Drivers of Digital Transformation

Even though digital transformation should be a continuous process, certain forces can drive businesses into major technological shifts.

The 2011 MIT study about digital transformation revealed that executives feel pressure to transform from forces both inside and outside the company. In fact, 72 percent cited competitive pressures to change.

But do you care to take a guess at the number one driver of digital transformation?


According to Gartner, by 2020, customers will manage 85 percent of their relationships with businesses without talking to a human—opting instead for the web, an app, a text message, or even the emerging chatbot options. The reality is that customer preferences and behaviors have changed, and transactions are increasingly self-directed and digitally led.

With access to endless sources of information, customers expect to be able to find to content personally relevant to them—whenever they want, and in the format they want. Meeting those expectations requires a holistic effort from across the business.

A 2015 survey by Forrester Consulting revealed that improving customer experiences was the number one strategic priority for businesses over the next year. And of the ways businesses planned to improve customer experiences, online was first at 63 percent.

Yet, when it comes to using technology, most businesses feel they struggle simply to “keep up with the Joneses.” Of respondents to the same 2015 survey, only 5 percent of businesses felt they were mastering digital to a point that it differentiated them from their competitors. Most businesses (73 percent) felt that their digital customer experiences merely met their customers’ expectations.

Other drivers of digital transformation include:
* Profitability
* Increased speed to market
* Technology improvements
* Changing regulatory requirements

Did you notice what’s lacking from that list? Revenue. It’s just not that important in the digital discussion. While sales will always be important, the Forrester study found that how the sale is made matters more. Firms reported that they look to digital to help them: sell profitably (58 percent), quickly (51 percent), and with superior customer satisfaction (48 percent).

Instead of focusing on top-line revenue, it’s far more important to think through ROI of a digital transformation process. Whether you’re increasing sales, or making it easier for your company to close and process the sales you’re already making, or another internal efficiency goal, find a way to measure the true return on investment. You’ll likely find digital transformation opportunities hidden right in front of your eyes.

Barriers to Digital Transformation

As with any major business shift, digital transformation often comes with its challenges and barriers. Here are just a few that you’ll need to address to get ahead of the digital transformation curve:

Skeptical executives

It’s difficult to measure the true benefit of emerging technology, so it’s understandable that some leaders will struggle to justify the investment—especially if the business is doing just fine as it is. This is where your ROI calculations are vital. You can win over even the least technological exec with a strong business case.

Security risks

All it takes is for one employee to lose one mobile device, or for one device to be hacked. In industries like healthcare and finance, such a security breach could be devastating to confidential client information and/or HIPAA compliance. You’ll need to focus on both software security architecture and employee behavior to ensure security your customers can trust.

Industry regulations

Financial services companies, for example, have been hesitant to enter the social media world for fear of legal or regulatory repercussions. And it’s easy to understand why. If blogs or tweets are not carefully worded, readers could perceive them to be official advice. Likewise, law firms and medical-industry companies face specific regulatory challenges. Your digital transformation plan must include compliance, instead of trying to move around the rules.

Ownership uncertainty

In most businesses there’s no clear consensus about what stakeholders should drive digital decisions. Some think it should be the CEO, others the CIO, and still others senior leaders. But the truth is that as long as the digital leader is customer focused, it doesn’t really matter who it is. There just needs to be one. You know your business well, so you can identify the right person in your organization.

Third-party Providers

Most businesses (88 percent) use a third-party solution to provide for at least one aspect of their digital transformation. Yet, because of the necessity for ongoing transformation and cross-department involvement, many of these outside providers end up becoming long-term strategic partners. Even digitally advanced companies will need help at some point as technology continues to evolve. Therefore, it’s important to ensure your selected provider understands your strategies and has specific strengths that your company lacks. You’ll also want to ensure the provider is a good match culturally with your business.

In Conclusion

Digital transformation isn’t just a topic of conversation. It should be an everyday reality in your business.

So instead of fighting the inevitable, embrace digital transformation as a tool to make your business better and to create ROI. Find opportunities, evaluate them, and pursue the right ones.

After all…

…it’s time.

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