Unlike the past where organisations used to fight more than embrace technological changes, many progressive enterprises today have begun to appreciate the digital era. Of particular note, many are deliberately investing in understanding digital transformation as a strategy to improving productivity, processes and production. That said, one huge pitfall still stands; only a fraction of those digitally aware organisations have realised significant business growth through this route.
Is it a case of digitalisation’s failure to deliver of much hyped promises? The stronger case is, no, it is not! The case, rather, is one of ineffective management of change.
It is not enough just to prescribe digital transformation as an organisation and expect instant business success. Effectively absorbing it into daily business processes has to be a very deliberate initiative driven by all stakeholders – be it the board, executive, management and operational staff.
Right at its DNA, digital transformation comprises of five elements, namely customer experience, multi-channel delivery, cultural shift, business models, and the digital cloud. The nature of digital transformation, implies changes to the existing organisational structure, systems, processes and job roles to dramatically transform the office. In some instances, the changes are small and subtle…but in many, they become divergent from the norm. For instance, a manufacturing company that previously used a manual system for inventory record keeping, when it’s fully transformed, gets into a new modus operandi where inventory count is automatically accounted for throughout the production cycle with no intervention – and new procedures are defined systematically in order to authorise inventory release.
Radical changes which are completely different from the old methods imply automating people’s roles in order to align them with these changes. But this process does not automatically happen – employees can easily resist this change for many reasons. It’s not easy to attain and retain the benefits of digital transformation, if change is not well managed.
It’s not enough to survive – it’s time to adapt
This draws us to the key concept of “change management”, a systematic approach to dealing with change both from the perspective of an organization and the individual. Management needs to understand how the journey to digital transformation, ultimately impacts on people, processes, systems and organisational structure. Before, embarking on digital transformation, management needs to ensure that there is a sufficient “foundation” to support digital transformation tactics, for effective implementation. Organisations have to work on changing employee mind-sets, beliefs, and behaviours, before and during the implementation process to guarantee the success of the organisation to digitalise.
Bold as it sounds (and I suppose, also controversially put), the most important part of digital transformation is arguably the people. Why? Systems are built for people – and not the other way round. When the ‘person factor’ is not tuned to the right wavelength in preparation for digital transformation, the effort usually amounts to very little, or nothing at all. Embarking on company wide digital transformation exercises, in many cases, can e equated to not implementing systems at all because zero benefits are possible. What’s more, in addition to systems which are unwanted and under resistance-siege can worsen matters through process convolution. Whatever the case, the downturn can usually be blamed on a lack of effective change management strategies – and there are many reasons why people will resist new systems and processes: lack of ownership, feelings of exclusion, inadequate skilling, communication inadequacy, just to mention but a few.
Digital transformation success is highly achievable
Information is vital to every aspect of the organisation that is affected by digital transformation, especially people. Organisational leadership has to make sure that employees are informed about the drivers of digital transformation in advance and how the nature of work changes. The biggest question that needs to be addressed in order to achieve this is “Why?” Why is there a change in processes? Why is new technology being introduced? Why and how does digital transformation benefit everyone in the organisation? Once those question are answered, resistance stands less tall against business logic and rationalisation.
Employees not only have to be informed, they must also understand their key responsibilities in the implementation process. Understanding is fundamental for the success of digital transformation. It helps in creating interest to support and promote the ideal of change, which is critical for successful implementation.
In addition, management should also emphasize on the importance of processes not silos. Employees and departments in the same organisation, adapt to change differently. Some people adapt quickly, while others adapt slowly. Management should encourage departments that perform well to assist others to perform better for successful implementation, as success is mainly dependent on the organisations performance as a whole.
In the words of Charles Darwin, “It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change”, and manages change more effectively. The case couldn’t be more truer for digital transformation – and as a part of the wider implementation strategy, change management remains one of the critical factors impacting success.