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Five Keys to Success for Digital Transformation

More organizations than ever are working to implement digital transformations, but stepping back to understand the critical steps can be difficult for a busy organization to do. Having an overview of what’s needed will make the change process go more smoothly. The 5 key success factors for digital transformation are:

  1. Digital transformation is a program, not a project—think long term.
  2. Know your who, how, and what
  3. Identify one responsible person for each stage.
  4. Commit time and resources.
  5. Plan for a new normal.

1. Digital transformation is a program, not a project—think long term.

Having the vision for the end state is the “blue sky” part of transformation—knowing the big picture of where you want to go—is essential for a comprehensive digital transformation. Transformation is a long-term program, and you need a good roadmap to get there. But you also need projects over the near term. These are the “crawl-walk-run” projects that operationalize the vision into reality.

2. Know your who, how, and what

The Who is the stakeholders who need to understand the goals and methods of the digital transformation. They need to see the balance between the IT side and the business side, product development vs. marketing, and marketing vs. the customer. The best outcome of this discussion is a RACI chart, which shows who is Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, and Informed. The entities that will be considered to be within the organization after the transformation need to be distinguished from those that are external. 

The How describes the current and future states of the information architecture (IA) and systems. This step involves having everyone understand how they interact with each other, and how information flows across teams and departments. Often when we speak with different parts of the organization, they all have different ideas about how this happens, but a common understanding is essential is essential in order for processes to work well.

The What describes the data and content used throughout the enterprise. Many different departments and teams are involved in creating and consuming information, but organizations may not have a holistic understanding of their content. They are also often burdened by legacy systems that do not readily exchange information with each other.

3. Identify one responsible person for each stage.

For any given activity, there should be only one person at the “R” (Responsible) level. That person should have clear authority and responsibility for carrying out whatever action is needed at a particular stage. If responsibility is unclear, chances are no one will take action. 

4. Commit time and resources.

This is related to the long-term vision. Companies can’t halt operations for digital transformation even though it is a significant undertaking, so investments need to be made beyond the regular workload. There are different ways to work this out, but it takes more than a few extra hours each week from the employees who are involved. Upper management needs to make accommodations for the transformation process or employees will be stretched thin. Getting buy-in for the transformation ideally should be done by consensus. When employees have a sense of what are they going to get out of the process, it is easier to gain cooperation. They need to understand that there will be benefits in terms of more efficient operations, automating some manual tasks, and so on. Some of the extra work can be outsourced, but in many cases the employees may bear the brunt of it, and anticipating some payoff is important.

5. Plan for a new normal.

Think ahead to how information governance will operate post-implementation. How is the organization different? It has likely made a significant investment in time and resources, such as having a new information management platform. Investing in establishing a new governance program to support information management processes should be an integral part of the program. If this is not done at the time, the new system will not be fully supported and more reinvestment will be needed later.

A Customer Story

When EIS was working with a major retailer on a digital transformation project, one of our tasks was to understand and document how information flowed from each department as it made its way to eventually be displayed to the customer. However, there was not a clear consensus about the flow, and in fact many employees had serious misconceptions about it. Only one individual at a fairly low level within the corporate hierarchy had a comprehensive understanding about how information was created, organized, disseminated, and accessed. This information was being tracked in an Excel spreadsheet with thousands of records, which was being mailed around to departments for input. The manual method of updating it was a dangerous way to record information, and presented many avenues for human error.

By working with the retailer we were able to produce a critical report that reflected the many variables that went into determining what was displayed to the customer. For example, was the product shown seasonally or throughout the year? Were size and color attributes present? Was a picture included? Where did the product description originate, and who named the product? Many teams were involved. Addressing these questions not only clarified for the company who the primary stakeholders were at each stage, and how information was moving, but also led to more informed decision on the platform to be used for product information.

Even now that the concept of digital transformation is mainstream, few organizations are truly mature when it comes to having an exhaustive understanding of the overall information flow with all its touchpoints. People on the business side understand certain aspects of it and those in IT understand other portions. Individuals may hold knowledge that is not being captured and therefore can’t be passed on to others. 

Getting Leadership On Board

When organizations do not understand that the transformation requires a lot of extra work, major delays can occur as review processes and other actions are held up. Leadership needs to prioritize activities in a way that takes the time requirements into account. One effective technique is to schedule a workshop in which everyone stops for a day and focuses on issues to be resolved. This is usually has a better outcome than setting a timeframe for accomplishing the review and then moving forward without or without resolution.

One view that can help with the decision-making process is to remember that roadmaps and governance plans are not set in stone. They can be working models that can be adjusted as circumstances and priorities change. The important thing is to keep moving forward.

Need help with your own transformation program? Lay the foundation for your organization’s success with our Digital Transformation Roadmap. With this whitepaper, assess and identify the gaps within your company, then define the actions and resources you need to fill those gaps.

Seth Earley
Seth Earley
Seth Earley is the Founder & CEO of Earley Information Science and the author of the award winning book The AI-Powered Enterprise: Harness the Power of Ontologies to Make Your Business Smarter, Faster, and More Profitable. An expert with 20+ years experience in Knowledge Strategy, Data and Information Architecture, Search-based Applications and Information Findability solutions. He has worked with a diverse roster of Fortune 1000 companies helping them to achieve higher levels of operating performance.

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