Why digital transformation needs a well-defined strategy and roadmap

By Craig Thornton | March 20, 2019

When new technologies and digital transformations are being contemplated, one of the biggest questions is where do we even begin?

What I’ve learned from helping clients orchestrate many successful digital transformations around the world is that those who see the most significant benefit (and avoid potential pitfalls) tend to follow a similar trajectory.

The key to success starts with a well-defined strategic understanding — the why and how — followed by detailed road mapping to guide implementation — the what.

What is the purpose of digital transformation?

Answering the why of digital transformation requires developing a comprehensive understanding of where we are now and where we need to be in the next 5-10 years and beyond. Knowing the reasons why we’re embarking on change is essential to achieving it successfully.

Digital transformation isn’t about adopting new technology just for the sake of it. It’s about using digital solutions to break through the silos, open up the bottlenecks in organizations and improve workers’ safety. The goal is to create a fully connected, transparent and data-centric value chain in order to unlock a wide range of benefits including greater operational efficiency, increased competitiveness, and substantial cost savings. Digital transformation is the successful merger of people, processes and technologies.

Working with an experienced strategic advisor that can offer operational subject matter expertise, companies can determine where they’re at in their digital maturity, where they need to be over time, and what tangible business benefits such change will achieve.

Strategizing for digital transformation

Answering the how of digital transformation requires insight and communication. Management must do 3 things: obtain a full picture of the end-to-end business impact of digital transformation, articulate a clear vision of what success looks like, and develop a scalable plan to smooth the transition at incremental steps that each provide recognizable business value.

Forming a sound transformation strategy starts from identifying the key business drivers for change. These will be different for every organization, but typically manifest themselves as a form of lost value. Lost value can be present in levels of labour efficiency, asset productivity, energy use, and capital and operating expenditure.

Taking time to strategize digital transformation ensures that the core foundations are laid before you add in the bells and whistles. A strategic advisor who can also offer technology-agnostic digital services can guide companies through the end-to-end transformation seamlessly, from strategy to implementation.

How to build a successful digital transformation roadmap

Answering the what of digital transformation requires carefully planning what steps you’re literally going to take to achieve the strategic vision. The product of road mapping looks like a big Gantt chart that maps out individual actions over time. It’s important to take a value-based, holistic approach to road mapping.

1. Form an expert transformation team and a strong steering committee

Any vision of change within an organization needs to start with people. Form an expert transformation team made up of core internal and external subject matter experts that can thoroughly support each of the 3 stages of transformation: strategy, road mapping and implementation. Form a strong steering committee of senior management stakeholders to be vocal and proactive in providing vision and direction. Investing resources in earnest in your transformation teams will cumulatively impact your degree of success in the long run.

2. Prioritize measurable business value objectives

A strong roadmap should focus on and prioritize the areas of improvement that drive real, measurable business value. Those that impact productivity and cash flow should form your core targets. Incremental development is the path to a smooth transition, so build in success metrics at each step so you have a way to show measurable improvement as you go, not just at the end. Pilot projects are one way to show proof of value along the implementation roadmap as well as adapt trajectories according to measurable outcomes.

3. Align people, processes and technologies

Understanding how people, processes and technologies function interconnectedly is the key to grounding your roadmap in operational realities. Determine how new technologies are fit for purpose by investigating how they will be used by different teams and when and where they will be used in different processes. An agile approach to road mapping develops these interconnected elements concurrently and builds in flexibility for their dynamic interaction.

4. Control the scope of transformation initiatives

A phenomenon called “change fatigue” is commonly felt by organizations that try to transform in too many disconnected ways at once. This scattergun approach can lead to resistance and paralysis in the implementation of an otherwise well-formed vision. Keep your steps focused, incremental, and clearly connected to each other and the big picture.

5. Dig deep, invest fully, and be brutally honest

Change can often be quite a difficult process. It’s always a good idea to be prepared to face challenging discoveries and unexpected disruptions along the way. Be prepared to commit to the process for the long run, and know that you’ll likely incur some resistance, even once changes have been successfully implemented. The deeper you dig and the more you invest in an honest and holistic approach, the greater the positive outcome will be.

Remember, success begins and ends at the top of the organization. Unwavering commitment and publicly visible support from senior management will foster a smooth transition. Cross-team collaboration and an emphasis on good communication is paramount.

Don’t forget to celebrate your wins along the way! At the heart of it, digital transformation is all about successful change management, and recognizing the importance of your milestones will build support, momentum, and show appreciation for everyone’s critical role in the transformation process.