Three common digital transformation mistakes

By Deeana Radley, Technology Evaluation Centers (TEC)

Any business still using pen and paper to track inventory would be seen as behind the times. However, many businesses see nothing wrong with using spreadsheets to forecast sales. Such cumbersome systems have serious drawbacks that hamper an organization’s ability to grow and thrive in fast-moving economies.

Many businesses thus adopt technologies to help manage core business areas, such as inventory, customer relationship management, and forecasting and planning. While the rationale for adopting new technologies differs from one company to another, the goal is always the same: organizations seek to make smarter decisions, become more efficient, improve the customer experience, and increase their market share.

However, digital transformation goes beyond the simple selection and adoption of new business software. Companies with successful digital transformation strategies understand that the undertaking involves cultural transformation as well as process optimization. While the road is challenging and there will be unique variables for each company to handle, there are three common digital transformation mistakes that can really sink the effort: failure to plan; not adequately involving frontline employees; and taking on too much at once. Let’s examine each of these three and offer tips to avoid each pitfall.

1) If You Fail To Plan, You Plan To Fail
Benjamin Franklin might not have imagined the digital age and its sea change effects when he coined that famous phrase, but his warning is perfectly relevant. Businesses too often adopt technology without first setting clear goals around what that technology must achieve, and without defining a strategy to make it happen.

For example, adopting an email marketing application before you’ve forged a way to gather customer analytics means you may construct campaigns that speak to the wrong customers about the wrong products or services.

Similarly, charging your internal development department to build a customer portal might seem like an obvious step in your company’s digital transformation, and indeed it might improve customer service. But, if the data it garners is not populated to your customer relationship management (CRM) system, and taken downstream to inform your automated marketing efforts, then you’re missing out on real value.

The key to digital transformation success is to work through your ideas with a few central questions in mind:

  • What are our end goals?
  • Which systems and processes are needed to achieve those goals?
  • How will we measure success?

Preparing for Pitfalls
It’s also key to remember that, despite careful planning, there will be bumps in the road. Data gaps, training lapses, and delays in the adoption of new technologies or processes are all likely to occur.

In the case of projects like a website overhaul, especially those that involve major changes to the content management system, databases, or other back-end systems, contingency plans are essential to ensure there is no downtime or, worse, a permanent compromise of data. To avoid these, businesses need to plan each step, involve all key employees in the project, and tackle the project in finite stages.

Part of the reason agile approaches to such projects are so popular is the incremental nature of the releases. Baby steps are often wiser than one massive leap when it comes to implementation of new technologies and capabilities, allowing roll-back in cases of trouble, gradual adaptation for employees, and a smooth experience for customers.

Go Long & Adapt Along the Way
Many businesses hinder themselves by not taking a longer-term view of digital transformation projects: it is critical that organizations develop a multi-year growth strategy when establishing new technologies, processes, and capabilities. There are no fireworks, nor any single moment when the project is “done.” Continuous improvement is the key to leveraging the value of new technologies. Businesses must monitor and track outcomes to ensure they align with the organization’s changing goals and priorities on a continual basis.

One of the boons of the current technology landscape, with its increasing use of artificial intelligence, machine learning, and intuitive usability, is that continuous change is not as hard as it used to be. Altering the data capture of a smart Manufacturing Execution System (MES), for example, is easier than re-doing the workflow of an 8-year-old ERP system for Manufacturing. Adaptability is built in to newer technologies, so plan long, but change course whenever needed.

2) Not Recognizing That Frontline Employees Are Stakeholders
A directive from management will never be as powerful a harbinger for change as a consensus by a team of engaged individuals. Digital transformation involves the implementation of not only new technologies, but new processes and business habits: if only a portion of staff follows a set of procedures, then there will be mistakes, inaccurate data, and an uneven experience for customers.

When forming a digital transformation plan, businesses need to clearly define their goals and the functional requirements tied to each one. The simplest way to do so is to create a task force made up of key, frontline personnel who can provide a full picture of what the business’ needs are, which opportunities have the greatest impact potential, how technology can help, and which processes will need to change.

Trust in the detailed knowledge of these employees and make sure that there are clear channels of communication during the selection and implementation of new technologies and processes. Be sure, as well, to continue their engagement after implementation to maximize employee adoption and process optimization.

Employees Need to be Re-Trained, Too
Organizations usually set aside time to train employees on new processes and software. However, few businesses go beyond the surface in these training efforts. Some employees’ roles will need to adapt and their traditional positions and responsibilities are likely to change, and that needs to be discussed in advance.

For example, customer service reps who formerly took phone calls from customers will be expected to field inquiries from social media channels, as well. The tools of the employee’s operations will change, but so will the tone and approach they need to adopt in this different medium. Businesses need to address any concerns people might have, especially as the pace of transactions increase and more processes become automated.

3) Taking On Too Much
Digital transformation is a marathon, not a sprint. Many organizations try to achieve too many results at once in an effort to justify the cost of new technology and reap the benefits as soon as possible. Unfortunately, by tackling all departments or operational areas in a single roll out, resources are often spread too thin and mistakes and miscommunications can run rampant. The solution: break the rollout into discrete, iterative, and manageable phases. As more departments come on board, they can help train other departments in the use of new software or the management of new procedures.

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it
Organizations should not change their major software systems or processes, or introduce new applications and new ways of working, unless there are clear problems to solve or valuable opportunities to pursue. For most companies, there are indeed problems and opportunities to address, but it’s important to recognize elements that are working well and providing stability.

It’s easy to imagine that all your competitors are way ahead of you on the digital transformation journey, with shiny new systems providing failproof order fulfilment, head-of-a-pin business intelligence, and seamless internal collaboration. FOMO (fear of missing out) is a business reality, and a dangerous one that can lead to hasty decisions and half-baked plans. In reality, all but the newest and most innovative of companies are changing gradually and still managing a healthy bottom line.

Getting Guidance Along the Journey
These mistakes are easy traps to fall into, but with careful planning and preparation, continual employee inclusion, selective focus, and proper pacing, organizations can mitigate the risks of major change.

In addition, businesses don’t have to embark on digital transformation alone: there are more and more consultants and vendors who are well versed in the various phases and angles of the technological revolution. It is well worth considering the time and money savings an expert can provide.

About the Author
Deeana Radley is a business and technology writer for Technology Evaluation Centers (TEC) with over 5 years of industry insight. She has written extensively on technology trends, software solutions and market developments, and particularly enjoys rendering complex topics accessible to beginners.

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