Why digital transformation projects fail (and how to turn them around)

For organisations in all sectors, digital transformation is top of the agenda. Defined as the adoption of technology by a company to improve business processes, digital transformation isn’t always a big bang. It can be as simple as designing a new website or harnessing a new eCommerce operating system. Indeed, most of the time, it’s about making small improvements that lead to bigger strategies.

But while digital transformation is the goal for most businesses, it’s also fraught with problems.

When it comes to making tech decisions, too often they’re taken at a departmental – rather than company-wide – level. We see deployments where no process has been mapped out, users are not engaged and training is minimal – and so, a company’s tech investment ends up being wasted.

Another issue is that most companies are technology-led rather than people led. Some businesses say they want or need tech just because they see others using it, with little thought as to whether it will meet their specific needs.

And, too often, consultants come into a business making broad-brush assumptions about what that company needs with no real assessment of how it’s being used or by whom. Technology in this context is often ordered for all the wrong reasons simply because it’s ‘due’ for renewal or out of date or, worse, the budget needs to be spent or it will be lost.

So, there are plenty of problems. But how do companies get it right?

Go for goals

Establishing a partnership with a tech provider or consultant is critical to working out your goals. You need an enabler, someone outside the business, who is objective and can review and act on the needs of your users and customers.

When it comes to ensuring adoption, identifying leaders and sponsors is vital to instigating change throughout the business.  They can ensure goals are shared, and that they are specific, clear, and measurable to achieve impactful outcomes. And they will engage the right people from the outset which is critical to achieving a successful outcome

A user-centred approach

Engagement is the operative word here. We call it the discovery phase, where you identify your key stakeholders in the organisation, at all levels, who are impacted by the project. At this stage, companies must be open and clearly articulate key challenges, current needs, opportunities, and future aspirations.

Of course, technology does not operate itself – your biggest cost in the business is likely your staff, so knowing that they are ‘compatible’ with the technology you provide for them is paramount to success.  Bringing the user into the tech selection and adoption journey is pivotal to success because the link between user experience (UX) and customer experience (CX) is undeniable. If your users can use it, they will; cue a huge uptick in adoption.

Assess and measure

Before embarking on a transformation project, a complete technical review of both your technology landscape and your security risks needs to be undertaken to establish a benchmark against which the project can be progressed and assessed.

Plans and recommendations need to be made in the context of where you are now; so that proposal for what needs to change to get you where you need to be, make sense.

My hot tip here is to pick your software houses very carefully because vendor lock-in can leave you high and dry. For example, Microsoft Dynamics can be tailored and customised so you’re not stuck with proprietary assets you can’t do anything with.

Establish governance, provenance, and cleanliness

Being ethical, legal, and honest has never been so important in business – customers want to do business with companies who are trustworthy and seen to be doing the right thing. This means considering governance and compliance, an area often overlooked in quick-fix strategies to add digital technologies, is crucial.

User awareness levels on data protection and the known risks must be assessed by data protection officers on compliance requirements, including GDPR. Both current and future requirements concerning compliance status should be factored in, to future-proof the technology plan.

A final word

So, while there’s plenty that can go wrong, there are also plenty of ways of getting it right. The most successful digital transformation projects will be goal orientated and outcome-driven – with robust SLAs to track technology performance and support for users. Indeed, by understanding what users need and want from tech, you can fully reap the benefits of digital transformation strategies.