A business-wide Digital Transformation effort can bring exponential value – but getting it right requires commitment, patience and skill like no other. Here’s how to get it right, from the experts.

A successful Digital Transformation initiative can change the future of your business.  

From resource saved, to better customer experience, to better sales conversions, the benefits of streamlining the ‘back-end’ of your business are obvious – but for so many project and team leaders, the thought of executing a large-scale Digital Transformation project sends shivers down our spine.

This week, GO! invited three experts in Digital Transformation to share what they’ve learned about getting enterprise-level Digital Transformation projects right the first time, the common pitfalls, and the key to success.

First things first: What does 'Digital Transformation' mean for your business?

The basic definition of ‘Digital Transformation’ is the integration of digital technology into all areas of a business.

These technologies fundamentally change how you operate and deliver value to customers. For Andy Nicol, Head of Digital Strategy and Managing Director, Sputnik, “Digital Transformation could be about anything digital that isn’t to do with your ‘front end’. It’s anything that isn’t your brochure, website, PPC, SEO, etc.”

However, the key to defining what it means for your business is based on your needs.

Whether it’s automating manual processes, or consolidating siloed systems, Digital Transformation looks different for everyone – and it doesn’t have to mean ripping everything up and starting again.

Very often, people associate digital transformations with huge leaps in processes. But, as Armin Talić, Commercial Director at KOMODO says, digital transformations can be as simple as digitizing paper processes or implementing tiny changes to current technologies.  

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Preparing your business for Digital Transformation

Whether it’s due to outdated tech, legislation, or the culture of doing things ‘the traditional way,’ many businesses are far from reaching optimum digitization to bring their processes up to scratch.

As with any transformation effort, the project needs to start with an understanding of your business needs.

Step 1: Define what ‘good’ looks like

It might sound simple, but ensuring you know what you’re driving to achieve requires both business goals and an understanding of the possibilities.

Armin’s advice for stage 1 of any Digital Transformation effort is to spend some time exploring.

‘If you have a £1 million budget, set 25% of that aside, and spend it slowly in the first few months. Use it to explore your ideal end result, tools, and outcomes. You can treat it like a mini version of the wider project, and it lets you get a clear view of what you’re working towards.

Step 2: Find the root of the challenge

At the heart of it, the goal of Digital Transformation is to ‘do things easier.’  

Are your employees buried in paper? Do you struggle to find the data you need? Maybe you’re finding that your plans and projects are constantly stalling due to lack of relevant tools and services.

The key here is to get to the root of the issue – not the surface level.

For Armin, conversations should start by asking ‘Are we trying to fix a problem that’s further upstream?’

‘There can be two or three root causes further upstream that you don’t recognise.  

If those things are fixed, then whatever we’re trying to achieve with the project won’t exist in the first place. So, look at the metrics you’re trying to achieve - are they aligned to the business strategy, and are you fixing the cause of the problem, or just the symptom.’  

Step 3: Get your stakeholders on board by showing them the value

Given the amount of effort, time, and patience required with digital transformation projects, it’s no surprise that failing to keep buy-in for the project is one of the biggest reasons for project failure.  

So, from the very start, it’s crucial to make sure that everyone who needs to drive your Digital Transformation project is fully on board.

Lewis Vasper, Director of Call360 recommends “taking a step back and looking at where the value is for each stakeholder.”

“You need to properly relay the benefit to each person within the process. With stakeholders especially, there are going to be different benefits for everyone. You might need to explain that they’ll experience a short period of pain, but when we come through the other side, these will be the benefits for you.” 

The Common Pitfalls of large-scale Digital Transformation – and how to avoid them

Like any change management initiative, Digital Transformation projects often run into common challenges in the processes.

From people-centric issues and structural problems to technical barriers and everything else in between, our experts shared common challenges they’ve come across, and how to solve them.  

Stakeholder burnout and a lack of transformation culture

For Lewis, a fundamental part of getting a project across the line is about managing expectations and communicating to stakeholders why you’re doing the project.

“Where I’ve seen projects falter, is that people lose focus. People get over the excitement of you selling the idea to them and begin to see the project as a monotonous task.”  

A failure to keep continuous buy-in across the business can end up in budget being withdrawn, scope being lost, or great tech without teams that are willing to use it.

To evade stakeholder burnout and keep them engaged and aware of the process as you go, you can run workshops, share transparent timelines and benefits, and get people inspired.  

Keeping teams aware of realistic timelines is, again, key - though it might not be directly affecting them yet, the understanding that the impact of this project will reach them at a specific stage and have a specific benefit is crucial for keeping the project alive.

'Promise creep' and poorly managed expectations

Due to the constant need to maintain excitement with stakeholders and the time these projects often take, it’s surprisingly common for Digital Transformation project leaders to keep ‘adding on’ new promises and ideas as the project goes.  

Although in the short term this can raise the profile of the project and help keep engagement,  over-ambition and overpromising, will almost always lead to project drift, and a slower delivery.

To avoid this, Andy recommends being accurate about the project timelines so that you know “what’s going to happen when, and what the benefits will be at various stages throughout the project.”  

“You might not know what the whole project looks like, but you will have a good idea at what point you’re going to start seeing benefits. It’s about constantly managing expectations and coming back to other idea when we’ve got what you want done.”  

Creating a monster: Inflexible end products

A common issue with large-scale Digital Transformation projects can be the desire to build one mega platform that’s entirely bespoke and entirely interconnected.  

Though it can be tempting to build everything into one source or platform to feel like you’ve got a ‘streamlined’ result, the problem with a massive monolith of integration is that if one part goes wrong, it can have a knock-on effect to other services attached to that ‘monolith.’

Bespoke builds can be impossible to go back in and update further down the line, making any kind of future-proofing complicated. Instead, Andy suggested building an integrated system that’s the sum of smaller parts.

Andy explains that “the modern way of building things is to have microservices, where you build lots of small little things. This ensures that systems can be swapped, changed and scaled when needed.”

The key to success: Transformation culture

The main reason that Digital Transformation projects fail is not the system, or the budget – it’s the people. Keeping buy-in across the full business is the key to success for any large scale effort, but it takes time.

Give teams ownership of the areas that will impact them

Teams that feel they’re having something forced on them are not going to get excited about your work.  

One key to ensure success is by giving teams the ownership of areas that will impact them. Armin advises that “You can’t incept an idea into somebody’s head and make them feel like it’s a good idea. They need to feel that they are a part of it and own the success of something.”  

Balance the ‘process’ with the ‘vision’

To continual excite the team and galvanise them around the impact that they’re having, Armin recommends setting a certain percentage of your budget aside to spend really slowly and in small chunks that start the project.  

“All of that experimentation at the start of a project can take months, and this can keep people energised and lets them see a wider vision of ‘right here there is the baby version of our part of this, and then we can visualise as departments and individuals how this might sill into something much bigger."

Your Digital Transformation project plan – Final checklist

Before finalising your project with a board or set of stakeholders, make sure you know the answers to each of the below:

  • How will you prioritise your requirements?
  • How can you build excitement about the project?  
  • What steps do you need to take first, and when will certain benefits be visible?
  • Will External support help with this?

If you're looking for external support on a Digital Transformation project or need independent advice on where to start, GO!'s cost-free agency recommendation, qualification and appointment can connect you with the right people. Get in touch here for an initial conversation.

With thanks to our speakers,

Armin Talić, Commercial Director, KOMODO

Lewis Vasper, Director of Call360

Andy Nicol, Head of Digital Strategy and Managing Director, Sputnik