Digital transformation strategy: 6 ways to keep your project on track

What's the key to digital transformation success? We ask six experts.
Written by Mark Samuels, Contributor
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Digital transformation is a pretty broad concept, stretching from the implementation of cloud-based services to the introduction of emerging technologies and new ways of working to support a shift in business models. Seven digital leaders give us their tips for delivering tech-led change.

1. Identify business requirements

Any digital leader who doesn't work with other IT and business executives to identify key requirements first is setting themselves up for digital transformation failure.

Adam Miller, group head of IT at Markerstudy Group, says delivering great digital projects is all about maintaining strong relationships with other C-suite executives.

"Make sure you get airtime with each other. You need to put the effort in to make sure you get that regular contact and remain aligned," he says.

"My role is very much about making sure I'm delivering what my organisation needs to be successful across finance, HR, marketing, our broking division, and brands like Auto Windscreens – it's quite a broad group. I need to make sure I've got those relationships maintained and we're delivering what the business units require."

2. Prepare to experiment

Mia Sorgi, director of digital product and experience at food and drink giant PepsiCo Europe, says business leaders who want to get the most from digitisation will need to experiment.

Her digital organisations partners with external specialists to find innovative solutions to business challenges across a range of areas, including connected coolers, dispensing systems, and other machinery that relies on technology. 

Sorgi says continuing to explore innovations is very important to PepsiCo. Her team ran a gesture-based project recently that allowed customers in a KFC restaurant to be served by moving their hands. 

"What we've learned about experimentation is how necessary it is," she says. "It's not an experiment if you know how it's going to work. You don't always know the end of the story before it's written. And so you have to commit to that kind of innovation and that kind of risk in a measured way to arrive at something new." 

3. Put your people first

If you want to turn great ideas into tech-led business change, then people are critical to your success, says Stephen Booth, CIO at Coventry University.

"You've got to start with culture," he says. "One of the mantras we have is to build the team first and then bring the work to the team. Don't build the work first and then try and cobble the team together."

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While focusing on developing the right culture among people who will deliver the project is crucial, digital leaders must also look beyond the IT department. Bring the people who will use the technology with you as part of the transformation journey 

"It's all about whether you can meaningfully bring people together and work as teams, so they're side by side with the business in one team, rather than just seeing people every three months for a project update. If you don't use that culture to change the way you operate, you will just end up with shiny tech, rather than a business transformation," says Booth.

4. Manage the change process

Daniel Smith, head of analytics at fashion house PANGAIA, is another digital leader who stresses the importance of culture to transformation success. 

Most crucially of all, he says organisations must focus on how they will reach their end state as part of this cultural transformation: "I think the change management side is probably the most forgotten piece and it's the area that actually causes the most pain." 

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Smith is an advocate for best-practice techniques, such as process mapping – which defines how success will be achieved – and fit-gap analysis, which helps identify the business goal and the gaps in provision that need to be filled.

"You have to understand what you're doing today, and what the 'to-be state' is," he says. "You need to focus on the systematic process change and what that means in terms of people actually understanding what they're going to do differently and how."

5. Prove you can be trusted

Craig York, CTO at Milton Keynes University Hospital, says building a high level of trust is crucial for leaders who want to deliver effective digital transformation.

"I've been here a long time and – while there's a balance of keeping everybody informed, going to board meetings and telling them what we're doing – there's the ability in our organisation to sit down with some enthusiastic people in IT, who really care about what they want to deliver to this organisation and the population of Milton Keynes," he says. 

Once a technology team has a reputation for delivering effective digitisation, they will be benefit from a level of trust across the business for more change.

"Allowing people in IT time to work safely and securely, knowing that there's going to be no repercussions, is key. We've demonstrated that moving forward in that direction reaps rewards."

6. Concentrate on user experiences

Spencer Clarkson, CTO at business services specialist Verastar, says technology is just the starting point of digital transformation. His company's change programme is all about finding ways to use systems and services to meet new customer demands.

"It's about making sure people understand that you can provide some technology, but actually think about the customer – think about the user experience and make sure that that digital transformation delivers the outcome that they were looking for," he says. 

Clarkson says effective digital transformation doesn't have to involve massive business change. Successful transformation might just be as simple bringing information together, so that people in the business have a 360-degree view of key customer metrics, such as service requirements and satisfaction levels.

"Once you've provided something like that, it has a massive benefit for everybody," he says. "What we're started here is a change process that never really ends. Digital transformation is just a methodology to bring us a platform that supports change, and then hook up the art of the possible of what can happen from here."

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