Although it’s a staggering number, the rate of digital transformation failure hasn’t altered the belief that such efforts are crucial to the future of organizations across the spectrum of industries — and for a variety of reasons.
As it’s frequently said: We know the ‘why,’ so it’s time for the ‘how.’
For Forbes, customer experience futurist Blake Morgan examined three cases of initial digital transformation failure by three major corporations (who later underwent successful DX efforts), and lessons that all organizations can learn and implement in their own actions:
GE’s digital transformation learning
GE started its digital transformation process in 2011 in an ambitious way — building a huge IoT platform. A new business unit called GE Digital followed in 2015, with the goal of turning GE into a technology powerhouse.
While billions of dollars were being spent, GE stock price kept dropping and other areas of the business took the hit. Without strategic focus, “the company was simply too large to transform all at once, especially without a true vision of what it was trying to achieve,” explains Morgan.
Takeaway: Quality over quantity. As Morgan advises, “Digital transformations are often done best with a handful of passionate people leading the charge instead of thousands of employees.”
Ford’s digital transformation learning
Ford branched into early digital transformation by creating Ford Smart Mobility, with a goal of “building digitally enabled cars with enhanced mobility,” explains Morgan.
But the offshoot was seen as too segmented, with a separate, far-away headquarters and little cohesion to the rest of the business. Stock prices dropped as other areas of the company saw a drop in quality.
Takeaway: Better integration. In this case, digital transformation as less of an actual transformation and more of a pivot into a new business area,” writes Morgan.
P&G’s digital transformation learning
Procter & Gamble faced troubles from the start of its initial digital transformation journey back in 2012. P&G wanted to become the world’s most digital company, but its goals and initiatives were too broad — especially since the economy was in a slump at the time, and they were already industry leaders.
Takeaway: Digital transformation for its own sake won’t work. Strategy must be a component.
“P&G likely could have seen more success if it had focused on smaller digital efforts that were more targeted to its existing products and processes” says Morgan. “It failed to look at what was going on in the industry to see it was already ahead of competitors and what was going on with the economy.”
In other words, keep an eye on your competitors.
Failure is common
Despite being expensive and embarrassing, digital transformation failure happens, and it’s often because of common mistakes.
“Instead of ramping up quickly, only to ramp down painfully,” explained Tomas H. Davenport and George Westerman in Harvard Business Review, “it would be much better if companies can make steady progress toward the right end state without making such costly mistakes.”
Related reading: Why it’s not too late for your digital transformation journey.
MIT Sloan scientist shares digital transformation lessons for older companies
Not sure how examples from Apple, Amazon, Uber, or Airbnb can apply to your older organization currently on its digital transformation journey?
Not all of us can be digital natives, but a new book from MIT Sloan’s Center for Information Systems Research principal research scientist Jeanne W. Ross (along with Cynthia M. Beath and Martin Mocker), is exploring lessons from established organizations that have made substantial progress in their own digital transformation work.
Designed for Digital: How to Architect Your Business for Sustained Success distills five years of research, which includes case studies and surveys from hundreds of business and IT leaders. Most companies represented were very early in their DX journey, but examples of established companies that found success in navigating the digital waters include DBS Bank, LEGO, Philips, Schneider Electric, and USAA.
1) Your business needs a digital design
“Instead of trying to be Amazon, your organization should be figuring out how to continue to do what it does well and add digital products that enhance its products and services,” explains Ross.
To figure out what makes sense for the organization, you need a design for your business, Carr elaborates. That means better distribution. As the book explains, “The accountability framework for digital devolves many decision rights to autonomous teams while creating the context to help these teams make the right decisions.”
2) IT architecture is important, but not the point
Frequently overstated by marketing experts is that digital transformation is more about business strategy than the technology.
“The point is not to design an elegant digital system that will impress other IT architects but to use technology to create business opportunities,” Carr summarized.
3) A robust operational backbone is necessary but not sufficient:
An important distinction Ross and her fellow authors make is between the operational backbone and the digital platform.
The former means the systems at the heart of operational efficiency, like ERP, supply chain, and CRM systems. “If your organization has been around a few decades, your operational backbone includes all the things you were supposed to have been integrating and optimizing all along.”
The digital platform, however, involves the new technologies your organization needs to create digital products. This platform will be a custom creation, due to the diverse needs of business design.
A major reason organizations have for not reaching digital innovation is that their operational systems are holding them back, which pivots to the next takeaway observed by Carr.
4) Pivot to digital ASAP
“The need for a robust operational backbone may mean your organization needs to devote more energy to boring but important backend systems before it can do the cool new digital stuff,” explains Carr. “On the other hand, be alert for the point where it makes sense to declare your operational backbone ‘good enough.’”
An example used in the book is of Schneider Electric, a multinational headquartered in France that makes electrical distribution and management products for utilities and industry. Management recognized the wasted potential of divergent IoT and cloud efforts, gathering them into a coherent cloud platform.
5) Create a digital platform, not an isolated app
While a series of apps might be the “cooler” approach, a digital platform offers reusable components with support for all digital products — both now and future ones — ingrained in its design.
A perfect, flexible, and scalable platform isn’t going to happen immediately, so evolution is a necessity once the work is started. As the book explains, “Digital companies will be tempted to simply code the functionality for any given offering in a one-off, monolithic fashion.” This strategy could work in the early stages, but will culminate in a rework when customer demands create opportunity for adaptation.
Digital transformation will generate significant growth in Latin America in 2020
Over the last few months, headlines out of Latin America have been primarily related to socioeconomic instability and poor economic growth.
According to IDC, however, that could change as digital transformation initiatives could generate as much as $48 billion in 2020.
In 2019, growth in the region’s hardware, software, and services market reached 1.3%, but analysts predict an upturn.
Ricardo Villate, IDC Latin America VP, explained that the biggest areas of IT investment within Latin America will be around the “pillars for the third platform” — cloud, big data and analytics, mobility and social enterprise. These will represent 58 percent of all investments in 2020.
“The world is approaching digital supremacy — the moment when the digital economy outweighs the size of the non-digital economy, ” Villate told ZDNet.
What’s on the horizon for the region? As part of their FutureScape 2020 series, IDC’s further predictions for IT trends of Latin America, over the coming years, include:
- More than 40% of all ICT spend in the region will go directly to DX and innovation, growing by 22% annually. By comparison, 2018 saw 20% growth.
- Within a couple years, more than half of Latam countries will integrate cloud management through public and private clouds, through hybrid or multi-cloud management technologies.
- More than half of new business applications will incorporate AI.
- By 2024, more than 35% of user interface interactions will feature AI.
- AI spending will continue growing — up to 44.2% in 2020.
- By 2023, the five largest public cloud platforms will make up more than 80% of the Latam market.
- In three years, 30% of Latin America’s top 2,000 companies will appoint a Chief Trust Officer.
“In the digital economy, every business has the potential to become a platform,” added Villate, “with a community of outside developers around it to extend its value beyond its own direct reach.”
Related Reading: AI and biometrics could boost e-commerce confidence in LatAm
Four steps for CIOs undertaking DX
CIOs are in a unique spot in any organization’s digital transformation (DX) journey.
With one foot on the business side and the other firmly planted as a technical leader, CIOs are a vital piece of the puzzle, especially with the many challenges and constant management required on the road to digital.
As Gustavo Gomez, founder and CEO of intelligent process automation software provider Bizagi, explained in The Enterprisers Project, “Only CIOs have the broad perspective to ensure that transformation deployments can reach both deeply into organizational silos and broadly across lines of business.”
How can CIOs put their organizations onto a digital transformation path that’ll lead to a better likelihood of success? Gomez outlines four essential steps:
1.) Embrace different perspectives
CIOs aren’t always the catalyst for digital transformation. Frequently, leadership from many parts of the organization will “have a “wouldn’t it be great if we could…” epiphany,” as Gomez explains.
“As the bridge between technical implementation and business objectives, the CIO needs to recognize and address this divergence before it undercuts the actual transformation,” he says.
How? Clear and steady communication between the transformation teams and stakeholders, with a goal of understanding what transformation will accomplish.
2.) Focus on incremental wins
According to Gomez, organizations will encounter two competing narratives: “Start immediately on disparate pilot programs (risking control and scalability) or meticulously craft the perfect comprehensive transformation (risking months or years of delay with limited return).”
A clear, goals-driven strategy is key, but feasible milestones that are regularly achieved can go a long way in showing steady results to stakeholders or the board.
3.) Win hearts and minds
Organizational change of any kind is often met with resistance, and it’s no different when it comes to digital transformation. But given that DX is a key part of ensuring long-term success, Gomez explains, employee participation is “a matter of survival.”
The trick to getting everyone on board? Departmental management. By on-board these leaders to the larger vision, their role within it, and bigger-picture business objectives, “CIOs can help evangelize the change, ensuring it trickles down to all levels of the organization.”
4.) Identify a scalable solution
As Gomez explains, it’s one thing to complete a successful trial transformation in a small team, and another to turn around and roll that change out across an entire organization.
He identifies two considerations: First, it’s possible to achieve micro-scale DX wins that end up siloed in a single part of the organization. Two, transformations that work in controlled, smaller settings but fail when scaled up for broad release.
“A key indicator can be a heavy reliance on IT involvement in modifications,” says Gomez. “Digital transformation must evolve to meet changing business realities, and anything that leans too heavily on IT for those adjustments will quickly stall.”
All digital transformation journeys have hurdles, but through the unique position of CIOs as both business and technology leaders, success is more likely when they actively work to effectively hear from all sides, embrace smaller-yet-frequent milestones, win over stakeholders, and ensure that the DX journey goes where it’s needed.
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