The technology for a successful digital transformation is broadly present and available for everybody these days. In the marketing technology landscape alone there are at least 5,000 different software providers and platforms available, covering digitization through workflows, customer database management, and automation. That’s FIVE THOUSAND unique products intended to speed innovation and make life easier.
Even so, there are some digital transformations that fail, or that don’t even get off the ground in the first place. You could heavily invest in a new IT system easy to come by, but it simply wouldn’t work out. If it’s not the technology that causes the failure of a digital transformation, then what is it?
Innovation is human’s work
A recent study by Harvey Nash and KPMG finds that 43% of CIOs see that protest is the biggest obstacle in the implementation of a digital strategy.
Every transformation means change, and every human reacts differently to change. One person gets excited by new possibilities, and another steps on the brake completely. “But this is the way we always did it,” is their battle cry. The problem is that the people protesting are the people who have to work with the change, in this case a new technology. But the decision-making process comes from the top.
A transformation can start in two ways: Because it can, or because it has to happen. Undergoing a transformation is a far-reaching event that can call up friction. Especially when this happens in an organization where the current strategy has been successful for years.
There’s a fundamental difference between transforming because you can and transforming because you have to. And in that difference lies the deciding factor for a successful transformation.
Transforming because you can
Transforming because you can means that you’ve run into an opportunity that is up for the taking. Taking this opportunity brings a lot of positives with it: Innovations can be implemented step-by-step, the organization has time to get used to it and can think along about adjustments. It’s an especially important process for that 43% of people who turn against change.
By transforming in this way you create a buffer (well, 2 actually): A buffer for technology and a buffer for people. It creates a safety margin where there’s room for friction, setbacks and changes. It’s gradual, and it’s practical.
Transforming because you have to
Transforming because you have to comes with a completely different user manual. When transformation happens out of necessity, it’s because the alternative is quitting, or failure. The work pressure is too high, the competition is miles ahead, and the systems are so old that they aren’t even functioning anymore. It’s a situation similar to a drowning man clutching to a straw for support.
Instead of being busy with innovation and improvement, the focus is on survival. The stakes are high, and so are tensions. The transformation goes too fast and the culture doesn’t have time to adjust. The buffer that makes transformation possible is lacking. The result is a failing transformation, with all its fallout.
How to determine the speed limit?
The truth is that we don’t always have control over the speed at which something like a digital transformation needs to take place. There are circumstances beyond our control and we don’t always have the luxury of choosing to transform rather than doing so out of necessity.
When you don’t have the safety net of a buffer zone, just remember that while technology can carry out a digital transformation at the speed of light, success is ultimately determined by the people who have to work with it. So work with them to meet them where they’re at.
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