Technology tends to creep up on you. We add new gadgets and apps to our workplaces every month, often with little forethought. But without strategy and coordination, these apps can cause as many problems as they solve.
Many businesses have an extensive arsenal of robust digital solutions but struggle to integrate them into the bigger picture. Others rely on a couple of apps and use the wrong software to tackle different tasks (such as using Excel as a database). Neither way is truly “digitized,” and both could benefit from combining business and technology strategy, together known as digital business transformation.
What is business transformation?
Business transformation happens when you make strategic changes to the way your company works. Your business transformation strategy starts with a close look at how you do things such as communication and decision-making. You might aim to:
- Speed up processes
- Reduce costs
- Boost productivity
- Improve accountability and transparency
These may be goals in themselves. They may be the foundation of a bigger transformation such as business expansion, restructuring or moving to new premises. Or you may want to figure out how your company can improve operations in the aftermath of 2020.
For many, that latter point means figuring out what went on with your company’s digital infrastructure during lockdown and how to capitalize and improve on new digital processes now that there’s time to reflect.
Leading business consultancy Gartner found that 91% of organizations are in the process of digitizing on some level. But not all these efforts count as digital business transformation. You need to be analytical and strategic to flourish. Gartner also reports that only 40% of companies have “reached scale” for their digital transformation.
What is digital transformation?
Let’s continue the theme of what isn’t. Digital transformation isn’t about what your business does. It doesn’t mean changing what your products, services and values are. Nor is it solely about equipping your business with fancy new machines and apps.
Digital business transformation is about how your business works. You will transform the operations of your company and integrate new digital tools into your way of working.
In the fallout from the pandemic, companies are using digital transformation to smooth the transition to permanent remote work.
But many companies pursue digital business transformation to achieve other goals. They want to improve the way their teams collaborate. They wish to power up their marketing game and utilize valuable data. They want to meet customers where they are—increasingly, this is not just digital but mobile.
Management consultant McKinsey found that 11% of executives reckon their business model will no longer be viable by 2023 without change, but what does that look like? The answer will not be the same for any two companies.
- Introduce a suite of internal communication tools
- Start keeping files in the cloud
- Integrate digital collaboration tools in your company workflow and think about getting these different apps to talk to one another
- Provide training for colleagues and automate processes where possible
- Develop a mobile app for your customers alongside a strategy to analyze the data you receive
This could involve creating new job roles, marketing methods and delivery options to capitalize on the insights that the digital aspect of your transformation provides.
In each case, technological solutions and business strategy walk hand-in-hand.
Why is it important?
Your colleagues and your customers speak the language of digital, and millennials have formed the largest part of the American workforce since 2016. This means that employees expect first-rate digital tools that complement one another, and they want data to inform their decisions. They also long for a company culture that gives them a voice and promotes collaboration and transparency. Such an engaged team is well-positioned to grow revenue and profitability.
Whether your company is presently successful or not, digital transformation will keep you nimble and adaptable. The next big trend is not always predictable. But the increasing presence of connected smart objects in our lives (and the looming metaverse) suggests the value in being digitally attuned.
Major success stories include Walmart, whose move to the cloud and machine-learning software powered a new checkout system, connecting it to a “data lake.” This data is used to optimize store operations and the customer experience, regulate stock flow and streamline automatable processes for staff.
How to build a digital transformation strategy
Your digital strategy starts with analysis. First, figure out where you’re at.
- What do your colleagues and clients have to say about your process?
- What are the benefits of your current process?
- What are the problems?
- Which tasks could you automate with the right tools?
Once you know where you’re at, you can figure out where you want to be.
- What do you want to do?
- What and when are the goals?
- How will you measure the success of your strategy?
You’re going to need the team with you on this. Form a task squad with clear tasks and responsibilities. Bring in outside help if you need it, but don’t neglect colleagues who should be part of the transformation.
And as you roll things out, don’t forget to allow for evolution. Digital doesn’t look back: You need to regularly assess, tweak and develop your digital business strategy.
4 critical tips and tools for successful digital transformation
Choose digital tools that work together. There are tons of excellent integrations available to automate processes among programs. This gives you the advantage of multiple tools without the disadvantage of incompatibility.
Why not take Slack as an example? Our communication platform sits at the core of many digitally transformed businesses, with colleagues and clients pinging ideas, files and emoji to one another all day long. Crucially, Slack is built to connect with other popular and niche digital tools, including Google Drive, project management wiki Notion and video conferencing software such as Zoom and Around.
2. Put people first
Apps, computers and artificial intelligence are powerful tools, but they mean nothing without people.
Speak to your customers before designing a new customer experience. Figure out what they want, acknowledge their fears about data and make sure you’re using technology to enhance their experience, not just to answer your own needs.
3. Listen to your team
Nobody knows the way your business functions quite like your team. They’ll have some good ideas on tweaks you can make to optimize workflows and delight customers.
This is particularly true with digital solutions. In fact, your team may already be using apps you didn’t know about (and didn’t approve!) to complete their daily tasks. Don’t resist. Listen. Figure out digital strategies that will make work easier, more pleasant and more fulfilling.
4. Never stop transforming
Digital operations make your company more nimble. But this puts the onus on you to seek feedback and stay abreast of developments. Check in regularly with colleagues to see what’s working and what’s not, and keep your ear to the ground for ways to take your digital transformation to the next level.
No corner of your business will go untouched by your digital transformation. But every decision you make should support your end goals for both your product or service and your company culture. What do you want your business to look like when your transformation is complete and as it evolves into the future?