Digital transformation is business innovation through the adoption and integration of technology that replaces non-digital and manual processes, or outdated technology, with newer technology. Done right, digital transformation impacts every facet of your organization, fundamentally changing your operations, and how you interact with and add value to your customers. This requires a cultural change that impels the organization forward, continually challenging the status quo, and empowering teams to continually improve.

For SMBs that don’t have unlimited budgets and resources, that can seem daunting. But the cost of not embracing digital transformation is far worse, with those companies falling behind their competitors in a multitude of areas.

The old adage applies here – How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. The key to a successful digital transformation initiative is to not tackle too much at once, but to execute it strategically and incrementally, then continuing with continuous improvement.

Before You Start Your Digital Transformation Journey

It is helpful to keep a few things in mind that will help you have a successful Digital Transformation initiative:

It’s a mindset, not a project

To be successful, a Digital Transformation program is not just about replacing old systems with newer ones, it is about how technology can have positive impact on your company through continuous improvement.

It’s ongoing

If you have that continuous improvement mindset, you are always looking for ways to improve your processes and workflows, interact with your customers better, and to bring value. It never stops.

It’s incremental

You are not doing everything at once. Instead, you will be taking smaller but ambitious steps, making mistakes, failing, and learning from those failures before you move to the next step, which reduces risk.   

It’s about culture

Of course, you are improving your processes and workflows, but more importantly, you are changing the culture of your organization. You must win the hearts and minds of your teams, and by focusing only on the technology, you risk alienating your team.

Planning for Digital Transformation

Good planning is the foundation of a great Digital Transformation journey, and there is no substitute for planning and doing your homework.

This isn’t about technology

Of course, technology is at the core of digital transformation, but this is far more than IT. It is a complete rethinking of how your organization functions by breaking down silos and improving the customer experience. It is much more about culture than technology.

Create consensus and buy-in across all teams

All stakeholders must be involved at every level – this can’t be a top-down mandated process. Your teams very likely already know what needs to be improved, and this is your chance to empower the entire organization. Allowing the entire organization to participate will go a long way towards getting strong buy-in from your team, and you will have much better adoption and far less friction during implementation.

Set realistic but ambitious goals

Digital transformations often struggle when organizations bite off more than they can chew. You can reduce risk with incremental change that has some easy wins. Look for pain points that are easily addressed and demonstrate your commitment to continuous improvement. Rinse and repeat!

The Lighthouse Project

One way to demonstrate the value of digital transformation is with a Lighthouse Project, which is an easily defined project that serves as a model for your ongoing digital transformation initiative. A Lighthouse Project isn’t a prototype or proof of concept, it should be a true implementation that has positive impact and delivers value.

Allocate resources

It might sound obvious, but digital transformation projects can stall out or fail because of a lack of resources. Of course, it has to have financial commitment. But equally important are the cultural and structural changes needed for a successful transformation. The goal is continuous improvement, over time, learning what works and what doesn’t, making mistakes and correcting for wins. That requires not only a commitment from the top, but implementation across the entire organization.

Technology

It’s usually a mistake to focus on the solutions too early in a digital transformation journey. Design Thinking principles can help guide you to focus on the problem and not the solution. By having empathy for your users’ needs and pain points, you create an environment where the solutions are far easier to implement. This includes not only your internal teams and stakeholders, but your customers, vendors, and partners.

The technical stack (the suite of software and systems) you select for your organization is critical, and this is an opportunity to expand your horizons. Generally speaking, outdated legacy systems won’t fit into your digital transformation plan.

A few things to consider when building your technical stack include:

In upcoming articles I’ll be writing more about how Digital Transformation can bring value to your organization.

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