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Monday, 7 August 2017

Surviving a Digital Transformation

So let’s cover off the first question; “Why would I say surviving?” Let me put it as simply as this. Anyone that has experienced a digital transformation, or started to build digital capability within a business, will know that realising transformation through a digital lens is like operating on a patient to replace their heart and lungs while they run a marathon at the same time. (There is a building a plane while flying it too but I prefer the marathon analogy!).

Now, anyone in their right mind is going to say “Why on earth would you want to do that?” Again, simply put, it is out of necessity. No one transforms their business simply because they woke up in the morning and thought it was a good idea. It is born from an urgent need to evolve their business either from cost, competition or changing market dynamics.

Likewise, I am intrigued by the fact that many leaders feel going digital is as easy as building a new app or making a website interactive. However, when their shift to digital commences, they quickly realise it is a lot more than this, and actually that shift to digital is more about their own business’ way of working, instead of the technology they decide to deploy.

This is why a digital transformation makes sense. The move to a digital way of working, combined with the need to transform, makes for a common foundation because to realise either goal requires a business to actually change. However, if a business is not willing to change and make the proverbial “leap” into the new world, then the change that a business is embarking on will simply fail. It is irrelevant how much a CEO or business head is eager to change or evolve their business as it will always be the weakest link which will ultimately determine the degree of success. The weakest link could be a business leader who doesn’t support the change, a legacy supplier seeking to latch on worried they will lose their business, or it could also be the business setting guide rails so tight that it gives the program no chance to fail.

Yes that’s right – fail. In my experience, if you don’t fail you won’t learn what works for your business. It doesn’t matter how well you have planned your strategy for digital transformation, part of the excitement is trying new ways of working and new ways of serving customers. Some will work and others won’t, but this is all about designing your business for the future. At this point, there will be many senior executives who are reading this and say “Ah yes Nathan, learning is fine but my business can’t afford to fail. We need to grow and, as such, we will seek to leverage the expertise of consultants and System Integrator’s as they will already have gone through these learnings with other businesses and then my business will simply leverage from those … right”?

Naturally, there are many organisations out there offering to help businesses realise this digital change, with amazing stories on how they can realise the change and all of the places where they have seen it or, for the lucky ones, realised it for another business. Hence, it is an option for you to have someone transform your business and receive the end product, but as any digital native business will tell you, it will come down to your ability to not only go through one transformation, but to actually realise a greater degree of business agility and hence an ability to evolve your organisation to adapt to the true constant in our business world today, change.

It is very hard for any organisation to simply say we will do this on our own, change our way of working, retrain teams, create a new structure and introduce a whole new suite of technology and platforms. Hence, it is reasonable to be asking partners, integrator's and even software partners for support in realising the digital transformation outcome. The important word here is “support”, because the challenging aspect in this transformation is back to the business change that it is targeted to realise.

So what am I saying? Basically when you are embarking on your digital transformation, a) make sure you have identified the leaders in your business who are going to own this change, b) identify partners who can help you make that transition with a clear goal of having the ability to continue on with your transformation, independent of any partner as you establish a greater degree of maturity in the business. The objectives of a transformation will take time to realise. Putting a specific timeline on the deliverable can result in assuming a business has changed, but with a trail of destruction behind and a long tail of capability still in the old world. It’s like having had the heart and lung transplant and thinking everything is fine, but then realising you are bleeding internally which can lead to a slow painful demise.

However, by ensuring you build the capability within your business, the pace of that change can be constant, holistic and ensure no-one and no capability is left behind. Most importantly, that new internal capability will bring you a greater degree of agility as your business and/or the market continue to evolve. Hence, while you go through that heart and lung transplant, it won’t matter if that marathon evolves into a steeple chase or a cross country ski race, you and your business will have the confidence to front into that change, knowing the team has evolved to a new skill set. When I say skill, I am not referring to a digital skill, but an agility skill. To the point at which you may cause other businesses to look at their own heart and lung transplant as you go from being disrupted and merely surviving a transformation, to becoming the disruptor and ultimately start leading the marathon!