Digital transformation has gained buzzword status in businesses over the past few years with boards, investors, and other stakeholders demanding that initiatives in this area take flight. These demands come as no surprise when you consider that getting digital transformation right can have significant business impact, from boosting customer satisfaction, to improving business speed and agility, to increasing revenue and growth.

However, in a recent study we conducted with organisations in the US and UK, we found 40 per cent of enterprises admit to either being behind on, or have yet to start, their digital transformation initiatives. Alarmingly, a further 59 per cent of respondents would execute their projects differently if given another chance. Worrying results given how important digital transformation is in our age of data. So where are businesses going wrong?

Strategy and planning

Proper planning is a critical aspect of a successful digital transformation, but this doesn’t mean you need to plan the whole transformation from start to finish. End goals should be clear from the outset, but in most cases, any such initiative should be seen as an ongoing project, adapting as market forces change, business requirements evolve, and new technologies become available. To keep the plan on track, there needs to be constant monitoring of the process and, at strategic intervals, thorough audits which will measure progress and identify possible alternative actions that should be considered.

There are typically two main strategies when it comes to digital transformations: the all-in-one big-bang approach, and the incremental department-by-department rollout. With smart planning and deliberate execution, they can both be successful. Whichever approach you choose, running a pilot is paramount. In our study, 55 per cent of companies that ran a pilot had successful results. However, 21 per cent admitted that they ran an unsuccessful pilot, but carried on with the transformation without adjusting their strategies and plans, effectively rendering them useless. Running a pilot, learning from those results, and adjusting as needed is critical to success.

People

Company culture is vital in the process. It is important to create a data-driven culture that is rooted in shared goals but open to change. Just as the planning needs to be dynamic, so does the culture. Being clear from the start on goals and objectives, choosing the right person to lead the change, integrating cross-functional teams, involving employees at all stages of the journey, and providing regular updates on progress can make the path that much smoother.

Digital transformation should ultimately result in a more connected business: connected employees, connected customers and partners, and connected data, applications, and systems. Millennial culture should aid this shift with a generation that literally grew up with technology in the palm of their hands, is comfortable using data to back up decisions and actions, and is focussed on building a broad and diverse skill set enabling them to adapt as needed to fast-changing business demands. All of this should foster data-driven teams, help break down data and departmental silos, and lead to a more adaptive, integrated, and collaborative workplace.

The organisational leader chosen to oversee the digital transformation initiative will influence its success. Typically, the designated person to run this process is a CEO, a chief information or technology officer, or increasingly a dedicated chief data or digital transformation officer, depending on the size of the business. Historically, chief marketing officers have played a key leadership role in these initiatives, but this appears to be lessening as organisations and projects have grown and new data-centric leadership positions have been created. In large businesses, CEOs benefit from continuing in a broader leadership role, while working closely with dedicated executives who are in charge of the initiative.

Not all digital transformation initiatives must be enterprise-wide in scope, as projects can start in or be limited to certain pockets of the organisation, but the goals of these projects should be shared and understood across the entirety of the company. In our survey, 58 per cent admitted that there is confusion within the organisation around what they’re trying to achieve with digital transformation, and a further 65 per cent agreed that their vision could be better aligned with that of their CEOs. This highlights the need for consistent top-down communication and alignment across the organisation.

Technology

Getting the right infrastructure in place for digital transformation can be daunting due to the myriad of new and emerging technology from which to choose. However, you don’t need to adopt every bit of new technology; the key is understanding your goals, doing due diligence on the technologies that may or may not support those goals, and implementing them effectively. Legacy technology and a lack of tech integration hinders effective data sharing across departments, according to 36 per cent of our survey respondents, so exploring how these issues can be addressed is a good place to start. It is important to find a balance between investing in new technology and not being taken in by unproven faddy innovations which won’t add meaningful value to your company.

One area absolutely worth investing in is artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML), with 68 per cent of businesses we surveyed seeing these technologies as vital to accelerating digital transformation projects. From detecting fraud and mitigating security risks, to processing patient data in order to make better and faster diagnoses, to personalising marketing offers to customers, there’s unlimited examples of how putting AI and ML to work can automate repetitive tasks and accelerate transformation.

Without exception, data and technology are now at the forefront of all leading companies, across sectors and regions. With data playing such a central role, businesses and customers need to be assured that with increasing data collection, storage, analysis, and usage, there are no compromises when it comes to data privacy and security. It is important for companies to consider how the new technologies they are implementing collect, process, store, and protect data, thus ensuring that data governance and integrity is always safeguarded.

Final thoughts

In order for businesses to get and stay ahead in a competitive market, digital transformation must be undertaken and executed with excellence. The projected benefits are too significant to sit on the sidelines. With a thoughtful strategy and proper planning, an aligned and data-driven organisation, and an embrace of the right technologies, businesses can avoid the common digital transformation pitfalls and forge ahead with confidence.

♣♣♣

Notes:

  • The post gives the views of its author, not the position of LSE Business Review or the London School of Economics.
  • Featured image by ResDigital18, under a CC-BY-SA-4.0 licence
  • When you leave a comment, you’re agreeing to our Comment Policy.

Gaurav Dhillon is the chairman and CEO of SnapLogic, overseeing the company’s strategy, operations, financing, and partnerships. He is an experienced builder of technology companies that have a simpler, faster, and more cost-effective ways to integrate data and applications for improved decision-making and better business outcomes. As the co-founder and former CEO of Informatica, he guided it through a successful IPO and global expansion to become a market leader.