Digital Transformation Doesn’t Start With Technology

Modern cityscape and communication network concept.

By Jason Yeomans

Digital transformation is often misunderstood, overused or feared, but actually, it is a very suitable title to an easily understood topic. Its application, when objectively planned, transforms business and changes people’s lives. In its implementation however, true success is rare and that is all because one key component is overlooked.

 

Digital transformation appears to create much apprehension and even strike fear into the hearts of many. It has even been referred to as a Trojan Horse; a term paraded by management, when what is actually desired is a much broader business transformation, including talent, organisational structure, operating model, products and services and so on. This may be true if you are, for example, a legacy IT business looking to transform your entire business from on-premise, asset-based capex service-provider to a much more dynamic organisation that offers mainly cloud solutions. That is not what I refer to here.

What is “Digital Transformation” then? Digital transformation is the implementation of new digital technologies designed to initially enhance and streamline business workflows, processes, and operations. Freeing employees from administrative process shackles, resulting in a highly-collaborative environment, defined by trust, where information flows freely and securely between the people that rely on it.  In today’s world, and as a direct result of the proliferation of cloud technologies, digital transformation occurs both at far greater pace, and at reduced cost than it ever has previously. 

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Having been passionate about how technology can positively shape and eventually change our business lives for many years now, I have been fortunate to be in positions where I was free to make rapid decisions and trial many new ideas both internally, and also in our portfolio of solutions provided to our customer base – at first-hand experiencing what worked well, and what didn’t. I eventually left my first real success story behind when I became distracted by what could really be achieved with a blank canvas and disillusioned by other shareholders greed and frankly, dishonesty. For me, innovation had to occur at our expense, not that of our customers. 

Unless you have honesty and trust, pretty much any of your new and seemingly radical ideas will fail to gain the ground you expect.

Enter ISAAC, a company born in the cloud, a blank canvas on which to bring to life our ideas of how the future of business operations and information management might look. We believe that our solutions, backed by our vision and experience, positively encourage digital transformation, but at a pace that suits our customers; because every one of them is different. Ninety-nine percent of the time we don’t even begin to refer to what we do as anything close to digital transformation. The thought is just too much of a step for some to stomach; yet the outcome is what they visualise, even dream of – an almost utopian environment where employees are happy, processes work slickly, there is no downtime, or rather, wasted time, and business bounces positively from one day to the next (or is that just my utopian dream?), but the journey often looks bumpy, unclear and in most instances, non-existent. So where to start?

First and foremost, you need to understand your audience – and I mean this from the perspective of management, not vendor to customer, although that’s a given. You also need to work out why you are apprehensive. In most cases, it looks something like this:

“new tech is always so much more time-consuming than first promised”

“people fear change”

“the success (of this project) is based on user adoption – if our users don’t adopt it, it fails, and we lose time, money and credibility”

All familiar objections, and ones I am sure the majority of you have experienced. But break it down: (1) they are not all about technology, in fact they are more about people than tech and (2) these objections are based on opinion and/or experience; probably as a result of previously incomplete or insufficient due-diligence, a lack of appreciation of your company’s position in its lifecycle, lack of senior stakeholder sponsorship and, worst of all, lack of diverse end-user engagement.

Digital transformation, or renovation, like anything new, permeates the market following the Diffusion of Innovation Theory.

For anyone unfamiliar with the theory, it sets out to explain how, over time, an idea or product gains momentum and diffuses (or spreads) through a specific population or social system. The end result of this diffusion is that people, as part of a social system, adopt a new idea, behaviour, or product. In the context of this column, then this next point is key: “Adoption means that a person does something differently than what they had previously (i.e., purchase or use a new product, acquire and perform a new behaviour, etc.). The key to adoption is that the person must perceive the idea, behaviour, or product as new or innovative. It is through this that diffusion is possible.”1

 

 

As‭ ‬true as this is in the wider marketplace, it is also very true within your organisation. Like it or not, your team is made up of a combination of innovators, early adopters, and even laggards. This is normal, and it’s what makes human beings wonderful in the first place.

However, this is not a column on how to lead the vagaries of your individual team members, I am pretty sure you know how to do that already. But, it is vital that you pay much, much more attention to what these people say and feel when you are NOT asking them a direct question. One of my many challenges as I attempted to diversify and broaden the solution portfolio of my previous company, was filtering the many answers people thought I wanted to hear, to find the ones that actually mattered; that were honest. The majority of our sizeable sales team would nod in vehement agreement in our open discussions around how to sell our new value proposition to our customer base, only to turn around and do exactly what they had always done previously. Result? Failure to penetrate our base as we had forecast, slower ROI, distraction, unrest, increased stress, disruption and so on in an ever-decreasing downward spiral. Resolution? That’s a topic for another column on another day, but it involved a much wider restructure, and some pretty harsh conversations and decisions. Here’s the thing, unless you have honesty and trust, pretty much any of your new and seemingly radical ideas will fail to gain the ground you expect.

The point is; accept that people are different and will adopt new tech at their own pace but involve them – “fear of change” is actually just “fear of the unknown” – and the late majority and laggards, by definition, suffer more than their innovating, early adopting counterparts. Focus groups with key stakeholders from diverse roles with your business will create a very accurate picture of your reality much quicker than a group solely led by the Board or Management. You may not like how it reads or sounds, but it will be scarily close to perfect and much closer to the truth than you will get to yourself.

At ISAAC, we are obsessively focussed on our 100% repeat business record, and our 100% end-user engagement record, but these kinds of records are only possible because we encourage (ok, often push) our customers to engage multiple people from throughout their business with our software solution project Discovery sessions. We lead the sessions, and we specifically ask to meet people throughout the business. Without failure, we receive insight that we would never have got just from the managements that designated team. And without failure, management are hugely appreciative of the insight. Testing is completed often by the same groups, with a few fresh faces included to establish user-friendliness and new system intuitiveness – they all then become ambassadors internally amongst their peers, ensuring our solutions stand a heightened chance of success. Once rolled out, the requests for new features come directly from the users – they are of course signed by the necessary people – but the innovation comes directly from the end users. That’s incredible, that’s the very people who are deemed apprehensive to start with, now driving change. Engagement sky-rockets as does morale. Let’s be clear, NOBODY likes doing admin. Implement the right tech and have the admin do it and let your people be people, free them up to talk to one another, to your customers and suppliers and to collaborate. The right tools will achieve this for you without breaking sweat. After all, digital transformation is really all about ridding your environment of silos, creating amore collaborative operational environment by design.

“Teamwork is trusting that everyone is doing what they should be doing without ever having to check up on them.”

Digital transformation is actually very easy, but we’ve lost our way as humans. For so long we have rallied against clunky, expensive and frankly, naff technology, that we have lost sight of the very reason we wanted that new system in the first place – it has become about the tech, when really it’s about people. Time to break free from your fears and embrace the individuals within your business. They know a lot more about what your organisation needs than you think they do.

As impactful as digital transformation can be for your employees, think also about what it can do for you, the owner, shareholders and board. If there is teamwork at the top of the company, there will be teamwork throughout the entire company. In my experience, it’s often here where digital transformation hits its biggest challenge; typically, owners and boards of companies are of the older generations, albeit more and more companies are being started and run by millennials, but the older generations tend to take more convincing (I’m Gen-X by the way).  Years of things going well and working, mean that people are more reluctant to look and consider change. One of my real hates is the saying “if it aint broke why fix it” – that is just so backwards. We live in a world where the only constant is change, where innovation and new ideas positively fuel society more than they ever have. You can be guaranteed of one thing in today’s world – if you aren’t moving forwards, you’re going backwards.

Time to break free from your fears and embrace the individuals within your business. They know a lot more about what your organisation needs than you think they do.

A recent Russell Reynolds survey suggested that only 4 percent of global 500 companies truly have a board that’s digitally ready, even fewer in Asia–Pacific, and under 25 percent in the United States. So there’s still a long, long way to go.

Imagine a world where your board meetings focussed on today’s data, right up to the second accurate data, not last months, weeks or yesterday’s results. Imagine a world where you can share data and collaborate with your fellow board members, shareholders and committee members, and you discuss growth, the future, upcoming challenges, as opposed to review what has happened since your last meeting. A place where the technology that underpins your organisation is always evolving and adapting, ensuring you have exactly the right piece of information at your fingertips when you need it. A place where air travel, or any travel, and associated costs, are no longer a given for every board meeting. Imagine a world where your usually wasted time is now yours to invest as you see fit, rather than travelling or compiling reports, or doing something else which in honesty is no longer needed were you in possession of the right systems. Imagine a world where you can meet face-to-face right now, wherever you are, and “send me the latest report” is never uttered again because you can access and view it, in real-time from your very own dashboard.

No doubt some of you are feeling anxious at that thought; digital transformation is constant, which is why I often refer to it as digital renovation – a continual cycle of improving and enhancing systems – but that is a good thing. Small changes are easier to stomach, they stand more chance of success.

Ask yourself, would you want to work for you in your organisation? Hire the best people you can, create a framework, including technology and infrastructure and set them free. People are hired for their talent, then indoctrinated into an organisation’s (often awful) way of doing things; those individuals then either lose their soul and are classed a “disappointment” (“I really thought they’d achieve more” or “I had high expectations when I interviewed them, and they’ve let me down” – no they haven’t!) or they leave. Sound familiar? Aspire to run your company by ideas and not hierarchies.

Do you remember the day you started out? The excitement, the ambition…the do-whatever-it-takes to be successful and don’t-compromise-attitude you had? Where is it now?

Digital transformation is more mindset than technology. It’s more human than machine. It’s not one big step, it’s just like life: a series of little  steps, interwoven to create your very own journey.

Excuses like “we’re too big to operate like that now” and the other hundred that go along with it are nonsense. Operate like a startup. Devolve decision-making and responsibility. Lead by example and create a culture where trust and daring to be different is celebrated. Take chances, ask questions and answer truthfully. 

So, digital transformation is more mindset than technology. It’s more human than machine. It’s not one big step, it’s just like life: a series of little steps, interwoven to create your very own journey. One thing’s absolutely for sure, it will transform your life and the lives of everyone in and around your organisation. The tech is just part of the journey, and your colleagues are just waiting for you to kick it off.

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About the Author

Jason Yeomans is a serial tech-entrepreneur and former professional sportsman. His previous business was featured in both the 2012 and 2013 Sunday Times Tech-Track 100, showcasing the top 100 fastest growing technology companies in the UK. ISAAC launched to market in mid-2015 and Jason is involved in every aspect of the business on a daily basis. ISAAC creates Digital Workplaces that manage everything from processes to people.

References

1.Credit: E M Rogers, 1962.

2.Source: Steve Jobs

3.Source: James Bilefield for McKinsey https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/digital-mckinsey/our-insights/digital-transformation-the-three-steps-to-success?cid=soc-web

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