Twenty years ago I started working in IT, and for the last five years I’ve worked with businesses supporting their journeys to go digital. Hundreds of businesses!
For some it's been straightforward, but for others it has been complex and relentless. I want to share with you the lessons I've learnt and why I think going digital is still the number one business issue for 2021.
What is going digital (digital transformation)?
As a business ‘going digital’ is the process by which your business integrates digital technology into the whole of the business, from the very front shop window right through to the back office processes and systems, for example, supplier ordering and accounts. This transformation results in a fundamental shift in the business’ operations and delivery of customer value.
In other words, it's about becoming a digital business, about stopping thinking of 'IT as a sideline' issue and addressing the core issue of being a digital business.
Successful businesses born in recent times view Cloud computing, the use of technology to enable staff mobility and exploitation of data, as commonplace. We sometimes call them “Cloud native” or “born in the Cloud”. They intrinsically know how to capture new customers through digital marketing, selling to, and servicing customers through digital channels.
Even more so, because their business model is digital, they know how to leverage income through business models that are low-cost to administer. They use their digital footprint to develop income streams beyond their geography, that become replicable or scalable often with a significantly lower fixed cost base.
The key question for those of us considering digitising their business, is how can we fully embrace this transformation without losing our human touch, our customer service, or our empowered staff?
Transforming your business into the digital world is a key consideration for every size of business, though in my experience the larger or older the business the longer the journey. Maybe that’s because for more established businesses it has to start with a change in mindset.
The last twelve months of Covid-19, lockdown and restrictions have accelerated the process of digitisation for many businesses and forced others to begin it. In fact, the businesses that have survived and thrived are the ones that have developed a digital response to the situation. Enabling staff to work from home, servicing customers via digital channels and offering fast-tracked digital solutions have all been winning strategies.
So how can we start this journey?
How can we develop an easy plan for digitisation? Well one thing is for certain, you don’t need to become a coder or an IT geek in order to digitise your business. But it is important that you see the value in the time and energy you will spend on the process, and consider the commitment you’re making before you start on this journey!
To make transformation simple, we suggest three key stages or plans
- Technology Plan
- Process Plan
- People Plan
The Technology Plan needs to review the technology “stack”, or layers, that serve the business and make some key, often uncomfortable decisions about technology investment. New technologies are emerging at an incredibly fast rate, and for us to adopt these swiftly we need to have a technology architecture that is fit for purpose.
It is important to develop plans that focus on the mobility of your staff and therefore we should consider pushing the reliance on digital infrastructure support out to Cloud service providers and Application suppliers. This decision often is in conflict with your IT Manager’s or Director’s desire to control and contain services in-house. I have witnessed many businesses during lockdown that have struggled with adaption at pace due to this critical issue, which businesses of all sizes struggle with!
It’s also a critical time to evaluate your collection, storage and exploitation of the data you own. Understanding that your data is a critical asset and not simply a by-product of the business processes, will help you to see the full potential of the data gold mine that exists under your nose.
The Process Plan is more of an internal review of the systems and processes that are used in the business. It’s an opportunity to streamline activities and use digital to its full advantage to create efficiencies. It is also a chance to review your customer interactions and re-imagine how to prioritise good customer service in this digital world. It may be a time to review technologies that may help service customer loyalty and support too.
It is also a key chance to create new ways of working in the business, improving processes that free up staff to become more agile and mobile. By improving processes in an iterative and incremental way, it supports innovation and empowers staff to use their knowledge and experience to create the business processes of the future.
The People Plan is about examining the culture of the business and taking a close look at the capabilities of staff. It is a chance to look at what new skills are needed in the business and where and how those are acquired, through training, outsourcing or recruiting. It is also a key opportunity to review structures and to re-evaluate the silos in the business (places where resources lack connection to the other parts), to spot chances for cross-pollination or hidden talent that might have not been observed in the business before.
What are the challenges?
There are some key challenges to implementing a good digital transformation strategy, but the most frequent one I come across is the lack of impetus in driving transformation.
This is often driven by complexities that arise because of a legacy (as in hard to change) piece of software that is locked into the business. For example, a business that cannot upgrade their systems as they run an Accounts or ERP system that has been used by the business for many years, which only runs on an old Operating Software such as Windows 7. This stops the business progressing to update any other system in the business and halts the progress of change.
However digging deeper into these situations, I have found that it is often not the software that is holding the business back, but the unwillingness of the staff that use the software to change. They can hold a disproportionate amount of influence in the business and creates a power-base that undermines the transformation process of the business.
During this series of webinars, we will explore these issues as described and reveal the key tips and best practice to support your progress to become a digital business. Attending all three webinars will help you to understand the key recipe that underpins digital transformation; In equal parts technology, processes and people.