Digital transformation should play a key role in any firm's strategy if it wants to be successful in the coming years, and those that aren't focusing closely on the latest technologies and how they can help will quickly be left behind.
According to International Data Corporation, digital transformation projects will account for more than 50% of all ICT investment by 2023, up from 36% in 2019. This means more than $7.4 billion is set to be spent in this area between 2020 and 2023.
But this is never a straightforward process, and there are many pitfalls along the way. The key to success will, therefore, be making sure you have a clear strategy that can guide you through the process from start to finish.
Within any digital transformation project, there’ll be several essential phases every firm will need to move through. Knowing what these are, preparing for them in advance, and being able to successfully check them off as you make progress is therefore vital to ensuring positive final results.
1. Making sure you're ready
Before you start, you need to make sure everyone involved is prepared for a digital transformation project. Jumping in too soon in an environment that isn't equipped to handle major change can be one of the biggest reasons for failure, so there are a few key questions you need to answer before you even start.
For example, is the CEO on board? Are you agile enough to adapt to change? Do you have enough capital investment? If the answer is no, you can forget about digital transformation success until your situation changes.
2. Defining your objectives
When you’re ready, the first priority is to fully understand what you expect to get out of the project. You shouldn't embark on such an initiative just because everyone else is doing it or it's the modern thing to do.
Instead, set out key, measurable goals for the transformation. This could be providing a better service to customers, speeding up certain processes, or cutting costs, but whatever it is, you need to know exactly what success will look like.
3. Assessing your current position
Reviewing how things are currently done will be an important part of the process. This helps you identify what works, where any inefficiencies lie, and what legacy technologies are already in place.
This should highlight where improvements will be most useful, as well as which solutions can be migrated directly to new digital platforms and which will need replacing completely. Understanding this is essential in planning out resources, timescales, and budgets.
4. Developing a roadmap
A good roadmap shouldn’t only lay out a clear, step-by-step guide to how the transformation process will take place, but also how you review at key milestones and make decisions about the future direction of the project. A degree of flexibility is essential to ensure you can respond to any new technologies that become available and react if initial solutions don't work as planned.
Setting out a clear plan for how to achieve this is essential. For example, if you're going to embrace agile development or specific tools such as Scrum, make sure everyone is aware of their roles and responsibilities within this.
5. Identifying the best technologies
Ascertaining which technologies will be most effective early is crucial to success, as it may prove difficult to change course further down the line if it becomes clear you're heading in the wrong direction.
For instance, while cloud solutions will almost certainly play a prominent role in many firms' thinking, it's vital you pick the most appropriate model within this. Do you want to deploy using a public or private cloud, or a hybrid of the two? Are there any critical processes that are best served by remaining on-premise?
But your deployment model is just one of the key discussions to have. For instance, consider whether you’ll benefit from innovations like automation, AI, or IoT. It may be tempting to adopt these technologies based on their significant hype, but make sure you have a clear business case for them before committing any major resources.
6. Ensuring your employees are on board
No transformation project can be successful unless the people who use the tools every day are fully on board and invested in the project. Having executive buy-in is essential for this, as their belief in the project will filter down to other employees, but this alone won't be enough.
Therefore, a comprehensive training and education program is a vital phase of any initiative. This should do more than just give users a grounding in the key features of the tools and teach them how to use it effectively. It also must explain the rationale behind the transformation and the benefits the enterprise expects to see - otherwise, people may be left with the impression of 'change for change's sake' and may be less willing to commit to it.
7. Completing a successful rollout
Finally, it's vital that during and after the rollout phase you're measuring your results. Identifying and closely tracking KPIs as early and often as possible can quickly alert you if things aren’t going as expected and allow you to make adjustments before it starts hampering the organization.
Going back and comparing your real-world figures to your initial business objectives can also help you spot issues such as mission creep, where your work has strayed away from its primary goals or budgets are spiraling out of control.
At the same time, positive results from initial small-scale trials or department-specific initiatives can give IT leaders the ammunition they need to argue for larger-scale rollouts to the board and other key decision-makers.