Digital Transformation has existed as a mainstream term in the IT sector for a long time and even before that, the phrase used was ‘channel-shift’.
Digital Transformation is a term for a project or strategy taken on by an organisation to change the way either it provides services to customers or how the staff interact into a new, more efficient medium using technology.
That’s taken many iterations over the years including moving paperwork to CRM systems, remote working, encouraging customers to use web chat instead of phone calls and to many more to count.
I worked in the Housing sector for over twelve years and have seen IT make a big difference to the quality of service delivered to tenants through numerous new approaches.
However, this hasn’t always been the outcome with every project. I saw first-hand, projects that have gone awry despite best intentions.
Sometimes a project just doesn’t land well with users. It’s either too complicated, too steep a learning curve or such a big change that it becomes a white elephant and users have to end up working around the solution using ‘Shadow IT’ or simply going back to what they always did before.
In a modern world, where people use technology in new ways all the time in their personal lives, this simply shouldn’t be happening with enterprise-level investments in transformational technology.
In my opinion, most Digital Transformations come down to mindset, attitude and approach.
By labelling strategies and projects with ‘transformation’ or ‘channel-shift’ it’s too easy to view them as an end-goal or destination that can be reached liked any other milestone in a project.
Back when I was in the Housing sector we had to pick and choose where we spent budgets and we simply didn’t have the resources to go after ‘transformation’ as an end goal in of itself… and nor should we have.
Transformation implies a total re-imagining of an organisation, from the top to the bottom, with new ways of working throughout… an approach that risks ‘throwing the baby out with the bath water’.
We of course wanted to continue to support our tenants in well maintained, safe properties and ensure organisation were paid on time, through universal credit or otherwise.
Whilst what we delivered may look totally different in ten years’ time, it’s through Continuous Improvement and incremental changes that transformation must be led… not pursuing it through one project alone.
Since moving from the Housing Sector to software development and Microsoft Dynamics 365 Gold partner cloudThing, I’ve seen projects delivered through truly agile methodologies.
I believe this is an approach still not mastered by most and whilst individual projects may be ‘labelled’ as agile, the true benefits of the approach come from an entire organisation adopting agile to achieve quick wins and incremental steps towards an overall transformation.
I’ve been lucky enough to be involved with customers across multiple sectors in recent years and I’ve seen first-hand how a different approach to transformation and IT projects in general can make a dramatic difference to success.
Our work with the Institute of Chartered Accounts in England of Wales, as well as the south African Institute of Charted Accountants are big transformational deals, lasting multiple years but have been split up into disparate project phases, each with measurable success factors.
This granular approach to the big picture as well as the small means that every feature of each solution must be delivering today, whilst also building for tomorrow.
This means that if priorities or resources change, we can shift what will be delivered when, whilst still moving towards the organisation’s overall goals.
Treating Digital Transformation as a project managed with a ‘waterfall’ approach is simply never going to achieve the required result.
Waterfall relies on agreed and locked-down success factors from top to bottom and working back from there, which can work with software development but not when applied to a business strategy involving technologies which can change in as little as twelve months.
Proclaiming that to transform an organisation must have 90% of customers interacting with themselves through digital methods makes sense as an overall goal but digital can take so many forms it’s in the steps to achieving it that we arrive at genuine business value.
Siloed projects that deliver these expensive new technologies or services which don’t integrate with existing infrastructures often lead to simpler, more cost-effective solutions being missed all together.
Through modular, incremental improvements, creative SME’s can really make a difference.
Instead of committing budget to a huge transformational project; starting small and building on each success will ensure user buy-in and a transition to digital that is manageable and built on processes that are familiar to staff involved.
What I’ve seen over the years is that the success of any project is dependent on an ability to quickly prove its business value to the wider organisation.
By taking the approach of building incrementally on existing infrastructure through various pieces of software and integration means that the sector can shift away from reliance on large, inflexible outsourcing agreements and software to instead deliver fixed-cost, manageable investments with clear goals and minimal risks on the journey to transformation.
By lowering the risk to innovation through smaller ongoing investments both SME’s and enterprise level organisations are free to test what works and what doesn’t quickly, without the worry that jobs are on the line if something fails.
Through cloud technology, we’re free to spin up and test solutions which were in the realms of science fiction only a decade ago.
These projects need no added hardware investment, only some integration work to build into existing systems, meaning there’s no added screens for users, no skill gaps for supporting the new hardware… just room to test and see what makes an impact to improving services.
This, for me, is the best approach to deal with IT projects going wrong.
We must accept that when trying new ‘things’ sometimes they’ll fail.
Lowering the risk, pushing forward and searching for the projects that truly work is how we’ll best transform over time.
Working with innovative SME’s and their creativity whilst combining it with familiar, off-the-shelf solutions whilst not being afraid to make mistakes along the way is the real route to Digital Transformation.
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