Digital transformation is a term that was gaining traction back in the 1990s with a resurgence in the mid- 2000s. Depending on who you ask, it’s likely you will get a different answer when you ask “what is digital transformation?” It’s a very broad and sometimes vague topic. In its simplest terms, it’s how enterprises use digital technology to improve people and processes to further their business. But with emergence of new digital platforms, especially business automation, the answer becomes less clear. So, in this article, we answer the fundamental questions surrounding digital transformation.

What does digital transformation mean for business?

Technology has proven to disrupt every type of business, across all industries.  According to IDC, spending for digital transformation initiatives will continue to grow and by 2024, “over 50% of all IT spending will be directly for digital transformation and innovation (up from 31% in 2018).” So, what kind of IT investments will businesses make? By 2025 at least 90% of new enterprise apps will embed AI, according to CIO. Companies will rush to purchase technology that can automate business operations that rely on heavy manual, paper-based work, such as finance and accounting and HR.

Spending and investment in technology comes with great expectations, but so far it’s had mixed results.  In 2019,  the Wall Street Journal predicted digital transformation to be the biggest risk factor for businesses. Harvard Business Review reported that 70% of all digital transformation programmes didn’t meet business goals and resulted in about US$900 billion going to waste. IBM reports that digital transformation takes about four years and 85% of these digital transformations fail. 

Why are Businesses Increasingly Adopting Digital Transformation?

Short answer: because the technology is now more readily available. With the enticing promise of being able to do things faster and more efficiently. It’s changed not only the way we do business, but the speed in which its conducted. Companies listed in the S&P 500 Index have decreased by more than 67 years during the 1920s to 15 years today. Consulting firm McKinsey predicts by 2027, 75% of companies listed on the S&P will have disappeared. They cite larger organisations aren’t able to adapt to industry and business changes the way smaller companies can. So, the smaller, more agile organisations are better positioned for digital transformation. 

What does a digital transformation strategy look like?

Based on people, process and technology, according to Forbes a successful digital transformation strategy requires several considerations such as:

Change Management

  • Change management should be at the centre of any digital transformation strategy

  • Identify key stakeholders and change agents

  • Create or align a Centre of Excellence / dedicated team to manage digital transformation efforts

  • Have clear, frequent, transparent communications

Planning

  • Identify the driver behind automation initiatives at your organisation

  • Initiatives should be led top down and not relegated to a particular function or sub function

  • Should have the larger picture in mind i.e., should be outcome-driven

  • Should align with the larger organisational goals and be driven by Customer Experience at the core

  • Business and IT teams both should be involved from the beginning

Proof of Concept

  • Identify the right department for which the PoC would be carried out

  • Identify the right process. Should be rules based with fewer exceptions

  • Define the success criteria

  • Determine how ROI would be measured

Deployment

  • Build a comprehensive process map and call out the specific tasks which are planned to be automated

  • Keep the affected team members in confidence

  • Iterate the process to check the infrastructure and software

  • Develop a fallback plan

Monitoring

  • Measure against the success criteria (met or not met)

  • Measure if employee efficiency has increased

What determines digital transformation success or failure?

According to Gartner, continuous innovation, metrics and digital business education are key to digital transformation. McKinsey reports three out of four transformations fall short and shares four key indicators of success:

  • Scope matters: Successful efforts across business units and functions and engages a substantial share of the workforce

  • Speed wins: Quick victories fund longer-term ambitions

  • Health rules: Clear and measurable organisational-health target are just as important as your financial goals

  • Stretch targets: Setting transformation targets at 75% percent or higher of earnings improves your chances of gains

Examples of digital transformation success:

Iconic toymaker Hasbro had always targeted their advertising to children. With investments in data, Hasbro tailored its efforts to those who hold the purchasing power—adults. In addition, Hasbro used social media to target specific market channels, expanding reach.

Mortgage provider Indecomm used an integration automation platform to ingest and digitise a variety of business documents and aggregating their operational assets. This integrated approach enables digital transformation.

Pfizer teamed up with IBM to spearhead cutting edge research for Parkinson’s disease. Pfizer plans to deploy a system of sensors and mobile devices providing healthcare professionals with important disease information to discover connections in clinical data.

John Hancock wanted to streamline their insurance claims and used integrated automation to classify, ingest and digitize information. This AI-enabled platform learned their process and integrates with existing systems.

Insurance giant AIG leveraged machine intelligence and automated its IT ticketing system. Over 140,000 tickets are resolved without the need of employee intervention. AIG was also able to redeploy these employees to work on higher value projects.

Digital Transformation: Lessons Learned

Know Your Business Strategy. (Thanks, Captain Obvious) In the rush to adopt a new technology, many organisations forget to build their business strategy first. Chasing the latest technology in the hopes to “fit” within the organisation puts everyone involved at a disadvantage. What do you need to fix within the organisation? What are your actual processes? Which processes do you want to automate?  Of course, we know in hindsight there’s no one single technology or point solution that will address digital transformation.

Use existing knowledge. While centres of excellence are a benchmark for digital transformation, there is untapped resource of employees who live and breathe the process you are wanting to transform or change or create.

Change Your Perspective. With few exceptions, most businesses take an inside-out approach to their market strategy, focussing on perceived strengths and capabilities of the organisation. However, truly successful companies, start with the external market, assess customer trends and needs and then design their strategy around it. This is referred to as an “outside-in” approach to transformation. Take banking for example. Banks provided customers a few ways to conduct banking business outside of brick and mortar branches–like ATMs. Anything beyond a simple transaction required, you needed walk into a branch and speak to someone – during the slim window of available hours. Banks dictated how business was to be done. With a revised focus on customer needs, banks are now working hard to take an outside-in approach by providing more online services such as account opening and loan applications. 

Acknowledge the Fear: Change brings uncertainty and facing (instead of ignoring) it is important. It’s fear of not only thinking they could lose their job, but how technology will change the way they do their job. Outside experts can provide great perspective, asking employees to list their contributions, using an inside-out approach. Asking employees for their ideas and being able to contribute to building the strategy goes a long way to build consensus. Depending on the business objective, this could also be an opportunity for employees to build on their skill set.

Create a start-up culture:  A start-up culture is an agile one. Agile organisations are flat, rapidly building and prototyping and failing–fast. While you can’t transform an entire organisation to become agile overnight, creating a smaller team within the company will have the ability to test technology, people and processes on a smaller scale. This team should be empowered with making decisions and recommendations to the broader organisation and management team.

Set Realistic Expectations: While RPA has been adopted globally as the single solution to automate processes, it’s fallen short of expectations. Relying on a single point solution to transform the organisation is similar to finding the end of the rainbow; it’s just not there. Even if you adhere to every single best practice and execute successfully, it’s not a guarantee. Automation technology may not make mistakes, but as humans deploy technology there’s always a chance the technology will not deliver on its promise. 

You’re never done. As technology changes and evolves, so will businesses. It won’t be enough to develop and implement a digital transformation strategy once and move on. Digital excellence involves ongoing refinement and improvement.

Instead of continuously purchasing various point solutions, an integrated automation solution provides agility, scalability and integration needed to digitally transform your enterprise.