8 questions to answer before starting a digital transformation overhaul

By Vad Bruns | 12 September 2017

There has been a lot of talk about the high rates of digital transformation failures and a lot of praise to companies that have built their business case entirely on digital networks, such as Deliveroo, Uber, Argos and Amazon just to name a few. The key differentiator is that most of these companies began as digital businesses to begin with. So, although they do face the digital challenge, they do not necessarily face the transformation challenge, and this is where most of the failures originate.

After almost a decade of helping companies succeed in their digital and transformational goals, we have found that planning and understanding are key to successfully starting and, most importantly, continuing on any digital transformation journey. These questions are set to help towards developing this understanding and approach to planning:

What does digital mean for your business and your industry?

Look at your company and the industry with fresh eyes. How is digital changing the way you do business? How are your buyers and suppliers changing the way they do business? Developing this awareness will help understand where your company needs to be to remain competitive.

How far behind (or ahead) in the digital transformation journey is your company compared to the competition?

Understanding where you are in the transformation journey compared to your competitors will give you the level of urgency required going forward. And remember, competition may exist outside of your traditional market. The much discussed case of Airbnb, the world’s largest accommodation provider that doesn’t own a single hotel room, is a classic example of this.

Does top management have a clear understanding of what digital transformation means for the company, the business and the people?

Top management has to be fully aware not only of the objectives behind a digital transformation initiative, but most importantly what needs to be done in order to achieve them and how the company ‘as we know it’ is going to change down at its core: the people, the processes, and the technology that underpin how the organisation actually operates.

What are the obstacles in expanding digital transformation from small-scale projects to a company-wide remodeling?

Digital transformation is not an easy endeavour. Make sure you constantly identify and address existing and potential obstacles. Remember, the greatest obstacles usually come from people and their innate fear of change; As the saying goes, prevention is better than cure so the more causes and sources of resistance you can anticipate, the easier it will be to address them before they escalate.

Is there a blueprint for your digital transformation strategy and plan, with clear goals, milestones and responsibilities?

When we discuss a digital transformation overhaul, we basically mean that the entire business will transform. Without a clear strategy and a 3W plan the chances of success are close to none. Once you have sufficient understanding of where you need to be start putting together a blueprint to guide the transformation. Make sure key stakeholders are involved from the get-go –their buy in is critical to the success of the project.

Is your technology strategy future-proof and aligned with the business strategy?

Although technology is an enabler rather than a driver for digital transformation, it can complicate your digital transformation strategy if not planned carefully, taking into consideration existing systems and processes and the overall business strategy for the ‘next day’. This is especially true in long established businesses with complex, siloed and often legacy infrastructures. 

Is everyone within the company informed and onboard with the plan?

We touched upon it in previous questions, but this is perhaps the most important point. Digital transformation is about changing the company at its core, and if you don’t bring your people onboard with your plans, they will not help you. It is as simple as that.

Are you prepared for tomorrow?

  • What will the company look like after a digital transformation overhaul?
  • How will you operate, sell, compete?
  • How will you ensure that you continue on its new format?

It is all about the vision. If you do not have a vision about where you want to be, how are you going to get there? Moreover, once you get there you will need to maintain the momentum you gained. Your vision needs to be developed at the early stages of your digital transformation journey and act as a beacon for the entire company to embark and succeed in this journey.