The 8 Failures of Digital Transformation, and How to Beat Them

While businesses all over the world consider digital transformation as the way to help drive them forward, a range of issues quickly emerges. For those who make the jump outright, it quickly becomes clear that, if not done correctly, digital transformation can be the start of a disastrous string of failures that wastes time and resources and hurts a business going forward. Several of these failures are relevant for mid-market businesses. These eight points are some of the most frequently-spotted failures when it comes to digital transformation.

1. Lack of customer focus. 

Digital transformation's ultimate purpose is to improve your business's customer-centric approach, so it is relatively worthless if its effects don't focus on the customer experience. Many businesses go into a digital transformation looking at how it can improve operations internally but do not pay enough attention to how it will improve the customer experience. Digital transformation is not just to benefit your operations – it is to benefit your customers.

How to beat it: Examine all of your customer-facing processes and consider them for digital transformation. Additionally, consider the impact of the customer in your internal operations. Granted, not everything is customer-focused, but if you take a high-level approach to your digital transformation projects as a whole to look at how they will impact the customer, you'll be well on your way to successful digital transformation.

2. Unclear goals.

“Digital transformation” encompasses one basic concept: moving away from physical practices to digital ones. Within this concept, however, is a panoply of execution methods. It can be small-scale or a complete evolution of business operations. It can be done all at once, or it can be done piecemeal.Failures and solutions in digital transformation.

How to beat it: Here, planning is the key. Know what's desired out of a digital transformation before actually engaging in it. By knowing what is expected of a digital transformation, it's easier to tell what the scope needs to be and how to achieve the desired goals in question.

3. Expecting instant transformation.

Perhaps one of the biggest failure points for a digital transformation comes from the expectations involved. The term “digital transformation” has the term “transformation” right in it. Anyone who watched television cartoons in the 1980s knows that a transformation is comparatively quick. Robots become cars in eyeblinks, not in years. When reality steps in, some companies find they don't have the stomach to see it through to the end.

How to beat it: Throw out any expectation of immediacy, and know going in that a full-scale digital transformation is a process that will take anywhere from three to seven years. In fact, “digital transformation” is perhaps best regarded as a journey rather than a destination because technology itself is evolving and providing its users with new options.

4. Top-down organization style.

Authoritarian organizations have some of the worst times in a digital transformation because they tend to ignore input. They establish the principles of a digital transformation at the top of the organization and instruct the underlings in what to do from there. It's extremely difficult, if not impossible, to stage a full digital transformation without involving everyone who will be affected by the transformation itself.

How to beat it: Accept input from the lower-ranked employees. Better, actively solicit that input. It provides the feeling that the employees are cared about – which is good for morale and productivity in general – and it also gets the most direct information from those who are most likely to actually use the tools involved in a digital transformation.

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5. The culture resists.

While a top-down authoritarian style can be a problem, so too can a problem emerge from the corporate culture itself. If the rank-and-file resists a digital transformation sufficiently, then the transformation largely can't take place. If the employees are constantly working around digital elements they consider too “difficult” or “different” to work with, then the transformation is meaningless.Failures and solutions in digital transformation.

How to beat it: Begin a cultural transformation before a digital one. Gathering information about what to do and how to fix problems is important, but also work to improve employees' acceptance of change. Gathering information will actually work well toward fixing cultural problems; it gets buy-in from the employees and makes them feel like part of the process, opening up their own ability to change.

6. Strange orthodoxy.

Sometimes, companies try to stage a digital transformation in an unusual fashion, by taking the term so literally that it's a wonder they're not trying to implant digital technology directly into the employees. Manufacturing operations, for example, slap sensors on everything and anything, sometimes even the employees themselves. Some collect enormous quantities of data and attempt to analyze it. Some even manage to get through the data only to realize the conclusions are hit-or-miss at best and try to pursue avenues that kind of make sense.

How to beat it: Here again, the value of a plan is vital. Know what results are desired, and collect the data related to that outcome. Then, follow the actionable insights that relate to that goal. Repeat the process until there are no more desirable results left, which should be never if changes in technology are accounted for.

7. Sluggish decision making.

While being deliberate and making plans are important, it's actually possible to be overly deliberate and cause just as much damage to a digital transformation as a lack of a plan would. It's another problem of the authoritarian model, but only some authoritarians fall prey to this issue. Making changes too slowly is sure to cause waste because by the time the decisions are actually made, an inevitable technology shift in the industry renders all the previous planning moot.

How to beat it: Move faster. There's nothing else to it here; Amazon, for example, turns to “high-velocity decision making,” which doesn't stick to a standard process and produces faster results. Failures and solutions in digital transformation.Sometimes these results may be failures, but by seeing what went wrong, it becomes that much easier to alter the plan and address the shortfalls later.

8. Expecting too much.

Making a plan is vital, but sometimes, the plan actually goes too far and expects too much. Beleaguered retail brand Sears, for example, made a fairly substantial play for digital transformation by bringing in analytics tools to figure out what its customers wanted. What its customers wanted, as it turned out, was improvements to facilities and service, a point that needed little if any digital transformation at all.

How to beat it: Managing expectations from the earliest point will help you come out ahead here. If the stated goal of a digital transformation is “save our business,” it will likely fail. Remember, this is an ongoing process that will take years to conclude. Expecting immediate results or major, business-saving results will likely torpedo the process before it can begin as desperation quickly sets in.

When You're Ready for a Digital Transformation Without the Failures

Failures and solutions in digital transformation.Staging a digital transformation that has the least chance of failure possible is every company's goal. With that comes a clear demand for experts to help carry out the digital transformation in question, and that's when you turn to us at UTG. Our background in network operations—both infrastructure and engineering—along with our managed IT services helps ensure a digital transformation that means value for your operations. So when you're ready to make sure your digital transformation goes according to plan, just get in touch with us to get started.

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