Digital transformation is a term that has been thrown around quite a bit in the last few years. But what does it mean? Is it actually tangible? How do you facilitate it? And most importantly — at what point is digital transformation complete? Here’s a short guide to define what it is and how you can achieve it.
Digital transformation is a broad term referring to implementing technology to optimize, modernize, and digitize processes. At its core, it’s digitization. And when it’s done right, it should make otherwise manual processes more efficient and secure.
Digital transformation impacts all industries, companies, and departments. Although many companies have slowly turned to digitizing parts of their business in recent years, the pandemic has forced the need for rapid changes. Here are some examples of digitization across different types of companies — many of which were spurred by the pandemic and the need for virtual and online business.
Digital transformation can mean something different for companies based on where they are in their digital journey. For example, more digitally-mature companies might already be using basic online spreadsheets, but find that using a department-specific software or platform is more efficient. Sales teams are a good example here. By using a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software that is purpose-built for tracking opportunities, prospects, and pipeline, they can put their efforts towards selling rather than manually inputting information into a spreadsheet.
For companies (and industries) that are further behind in digitization, it can mean switching to digital invoices or bringing business offerings online. Another example is moving employee training from in-person to an online platform, making it easy to reference instructive videos anytime and lessen the lift for the people conducting those trainings. In the same vein, some companies might be ready to modernize their IT through cloud computing instead of on-premise software. This example of digitization in particular has become even more important since 2020. Going through lockdowns that forced remote work increased the importance of employees being able to access their work securely from outside of the office.
Big changes are difficult to implement. People innately want to stick with what they know and do things the way “they’ve always done it.” But digital transformation isn’t impossible. You just need to have the right processes and people in place to drive change. This is how to get started with digital transformation:
1. Label the problem and the solution
People are more likely to be receptive to change when there’s a problem that affects them. It might be an obvious issue, or one they don’t even realize. Some people don’t know that there are better, more efficient ways to do things, so it’s up to the person facilitating the digital transformation to flag the problem and then find the right technology/software/solution to solve it.
By using concrete numbers to show why there needs to be a change and how digitization will increase efficiency, output, sales, etc. you’re more likely to get executive buy-in, which is the next (and a very important) step.
2. Get executive buy-in
Once the problem has been labeled and the proper solution determined, you will need to get executive buy-in. This is paramount for successful digital transformation because everyone affected by changes in technology needs to know that it’s a mandate coming from the top down. People may be resistant to change even if they know it will make their jobs easier, but if it’s something that leadership or their managers are enforcing, resistance will subside.
At this stage, you need to get executives on board by showing the positive business impact that the transformation will have and discussing what they can do to be partners in facilitating change. Missing this step can cause digital transformation efforts to crumble.
3. Put together a rollout plan with goals and name drivers of change
Once you have executive buy-in, it’s time to start planning. Set the goals that you want to reach and determine a timeline. Then create a plan that rolls up to the goals of the project, and socialize that plan with executives who are supporting the initiative. Communication is key when it comes to digital transformation.
It’s also a good idea to appoint an evangelist within the organization or department that is going to be undergoing the transformation. This person should act as a cheerleader for the digitization efforts and be a driver of change by encouraging people to adopt the new technology and flagging any issues or resistance.
4. Socialize the plan with the help of higher ups
Once your plan, goals and timeline are approved by management, it’s time to socialize them with the company or specific department that you’re going to be working with to implement the technology. It’s best to do this in a setting where higher ups can be in attendance to show their support for the effort. Again, communication is key, so use this opportunity to explain the purpose of the digital transformation, what can be expected in the rollout and what the end goal is.
Emphasize the delineation between the current state and the ideal future state so that everyone can understand the reason for the transformation and what successful digitization will look like. And most importantly, hammer home the positive impact it will have on how employees do their jobs because ultimately, people are more likely to adopt new technology if it will serve them personally.
5. Track progress and iterate where needed
It’s essential to monitor progress throughout the rollout of a new technology. Depending on your goals, you should have periodic assessments to ensure that adoption numbers are rising and to monitor how it’s impacting employee’s efficiency and output. You may find that you’re ahead or behind in your plan, and need to make changes to keep it on track. This is a good time to address any concerns or specific individuals who are particularly resistant to the new technology or digital process. You won’t be able to reach your goals unless everyone is on board, so it’s important to nip any opposition in the bud.
Socializing progress is also a great way to keep people involved and acknowledge their efforts of committing to a new digital process. The more you can give others a sense of ownership in the rollout, the more likely they’ll become evangelists and help push the initiative forward.
Goals are dependent on the type of digital transformation. There should be adoption goals (e.g. number of users) as well as business impact goals (e.g. increase prospect outreach by X%). The latter is incredibly important for improving adoption because if employees can see there is a tangible improvement because of a new technology, they’re more likely to continue using it.
For example, if you’re implementing a CRM platform for sales, and sales volume has increased because the team is able to focus more on selling than on administrative work, this is something that should be shared as it would likely drive further adoption.
1. Employee pushback
People are resistant to change, so expect pushback. This is a natural part of the digital transformation process, and it may take time and patience to convert some people into believers.
One way to deal with people you expect to be the most resistant to change from the outset is to give them a special role in the launch plan. This helps to keep them engaged and feel a sense of ownership over the adoption of a new digital process or product, which can even turn them into evangelists. This will make it easier for everyone to stay on plan and reach adoption and business goals.
2. Organization culture
Digital transformation success largely depends on the people in the organization and how the company operates. If the company culture is based around innovation, working efficiently, and trying new things, then digitization won’t be a hard sell. But if the culture is rooted in more traditional ways and approaches technology with skepticism, then you’ll likely run into adoption problems from the executive level and down.
When it comes to digital transformation, management needs to take accountability to be drivers of change. It’s incredibly difficult to convince people to change the way they work if their managers or team leads aren’t adopting and enforcing the technology as well.
The other side to the notion of accountability is the metrics that digital solutions enable companies to gather. Some people might be resistant to adopting new technologies if they know that they’re going to have to be held accountable for conversion rates, leads, etc. because of more insightful digital reporting. In this situation, it’s best to flag with leadership or someone who can address the problem at its core.