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Is 2021 the Year of Digital Transformation?

While all large and successful organizations have already gone through significant digital transformation, 2021 may be the year that small and medium-sized businesses dive in headfirst. Are you ready to join the fold by embracing the next iteration of the business world?

What is Digital Transformation?

Digital transformation has been called a lot of things over the years. And while some would argue that it’s nothing more than a buzzword, those who are involved with it know that it’s more than conceptual. When executed with vision and precision, it can revolutionize a business from the inside out.

In the simplest form, digital transformation can be described as the process of leveraging the correct blend of digital technologies to modify existing business processes and/or create new ones. The objective of digital transformation is to enhance the customer experience and establish simpler, more cost-effective systems that streamline every aspect of value creation.

As industry thought leaders often say, digital transformation begins and ends with the customer. When businesses recognize and follow through on this idea, they can expect to yield an array of benefits, including:

  • Greater efficiency. Think about the bottlenecks in your business – the things that slow down processes, frustrate employees, and prevent you from reaching your full potential. In many cases, technology is involved. And if we dig a layer deeper, we’ll find that these technologies are outdated and/or being improperly leveraged. The beauty of digital transformation is that it allows you to fight through these bottlenecks and speed up your business through greater efficiency and output.
  • Better decision-making. It’s not enough to have data. You need to know what to do with that data. Digital transformation ensures you’re collecting and interpreting data correctly, which allows you to improve decision-making and guide your company in a better direction.
  • Enhanced customer satisfaction. Research from Gartner shows that more than 81 percent of companies are competing primarily on customer experience. And as we said on the front end of this piece, digital transformation is ultimately about the customer. By enhancing customer satisfaction, businesses can cultivate loyalty and squash the competition.
  • Increased profitability. An impressive 56 percent of CEOs say digital improvements have helped them increase revenue in the past. And as we move forward into a world where digital transformation becomes even more integral to the health and well-being of organizations, we’ll see this number grow even more.
  • Superior company culture. While customers may be the focal point, digital transformation has a positive impact on employees as well. Over time, this emphasis on digital transformation fosters a superior company culture that reduces turnover by elevating retention.

Identifying and understanding these benefits provides some context as to the value that digital transformation provides. The only question is, are you doing what it takes to yield these advantages?

6 Strategies for Seamless Digital Transformation

Digital transformation doesn’t happen overnight. It takes months and years of proper planning and careful execution. However, you can begin experiencing positive results almost immediately. Here are a few tips to help you do just that:

1. Gain Top-Down Buy-In

There is no digital transformation without comprehensive buy-in from all organizational stakeholders. And more specifically, you must begin the process with buy-in from the C-suite.

Research from McKinsey & Company finds that companies who engage the chief digital officer (CDO) at the beginning of the process are 1.6 times more likely to report successful digital transformation on the back end.

Achieving buy-in requires you to be knowledgeable and articulate in your messaging, but it shouldn’t be difficult. If you do a decent job explaining the benefits of digital transformation, the C-suite will have every reason to support the strategy.

The bigger challenge, per se, is that you’ll have to reaffirm the buy-in continually. In most C-suites, approval is not a one-and-done idea. You’ll need to show momentum and progress through objective data. Be prepared to document the results every step of the way.

2. Assign a Point Person

Don’t be fooled into thinking you can roll out an entire digital transformation strategy with a hodgepodge team of people who already have their hands in a dozen other duties and responsibilities. If you want to be successful with your approach, you should find someone who can lead the way. This may look like hiring a new person for the job or reassigning someone. Whatever the case, be sure to practice discernment.

There are a few key characteristics to look for, including a comprehensive understanding of the digital marketplace, as well as a personality that’s conducive to building rapport and moving others to action.

“For business leaders driving digital transformation, they must be able to lead change and communicate a vision to superiors, peers, direct reports, and users,” mentions Box, a leader in the digital transformation space. “They must understand the impact of a new business model. At the same time, They have to be adept at working with IT managers — explaining the big picture and negotiating specific requirements from IT.”

This person won’t be in charge of executing every element of the strategy, but they will be the ones championing the cause. Everything flows from this person, so get it right!

3. Establish Clear Vision

Your “point person” will be in charge of helping to clarify and communicate the vision for your digital transformation strategy. It’s more important that your vision is comprehensive than catchy. It should be a holistic yet specific idea that considers every aspect of the organization. This includes:

  • Branding
  • Marketing
  • Sales
  • Tech stack
  • Performance
  • HR
  • Budget and operational costs
  • Expected Outcomes
  • Stakeholder impact
  • Etc.

Your vision essentially amounts to a digital roadmap for the future. It explains where you’re going and which aspects of your organization the strategy will touch. (Which should end up being every department, element, and asset.)

4. Evaluate Current Gaps

Take a look at your current technology stack/processes and contrast this with where you want to be in six months, a year, or three years from now. Consider where there are opportunities to pivot and improve, as well as where you’re coming up short. These are your gaps.

Technological and process-based gaps are where the opportunities for significant digital transformation exist. It’s not just about replacing legacy systems and doing away with obsolete processes that no longer produce the results you need. You need to rethink your approach to certain areas of your strategy – like marketing and sales – and imagine what these areas could look like in a perfect world.

As always, think about these gaps through the eyes of the ideal customer. Every digital initiative should support the customer in specific ways. If an “improvement” happens at the customer’s expense, it’s not true digital transformation. It should start by enhancing the customer experience, then (and only then) should you consider the internal impact.

5. Set the Appropriate KPIs

Every organization goes into a digital transformation strategy with the hope that it’ll work out, but there’s a difference in hoping and knowing what’s actually happening. The best way to evaluate the success of your strategy is to set objective measurements ahead of time. Well-developed key performance indicators (KPIs) with pre-defined benchmarks give you something to measure against.

Setting KPIs begins with figuring out what you want to measure and then building from there. If, for example, you’re trying to measure the success of a new application that you’re introducing to your user base, good KPIs would include: daily active users, ratio of repeat to new users, conversion rates, abandon rates, and average time spent on the app.

Is the goal to evaluate customer experience based on a new onboarding process or customer loyalty program? Metrics like customer satisfaction (CSAT), customer effort score (CES), customer loyalty index (CLI), and sentiment analytics are insightful.

User engagement is a fun one to track. You have options such as net promoter score (NPS), traffic sources, customer satisfaction index, bounce rate, and exit rate.

If it’s the reliability of IT systems that you’re interested in measuring, you may keep an eye on specific metrics like uptime, mean time to failure (MTTF), mean time to resolve (MTTR), and mean time before failure (MTBF).

Other large-scale KPIs that touch various aspects include employee performance, innovation, operational performance, and financial performance.

6. Beware of the Shine

It’s tempting to become mesmerized by the shine of new tech and innovation. And with so many different tools and applications being released on a regular basis, it’s difficult to differentiate between the ones that have the potential to be useful and the ones that are a waste of your energy and resources. Be diplomatic in your decision-making!

Where is Your Focus?

Every digital transformation strategy will have a unique flavor. And while it’ll look a bit different in execution and application, many of the same underlying principles are present across the board. For best results, study what others are doing and view their approaches through the lens of your customer and your business. Your roadmap lies somewhere inside these lines.

Frank Landman

Frank is a freelance journalist who has worked in various editorial capacities for over 10 years. He covers trends in technology as they relate to business.

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