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a Digital Transformation

Digital Transformation.” It sounds innovative and cutting-edge. But what the heck does it actually mean? Simply put, it means deploying and updating digital platforms and tech to unlock greater value from business processes which may be years or decades old, to get your entire business humming along as a single integrated machine.

Digital platforms have exploded in the past decade to cover almost every aspect of a business. The biggest benefits are operational efficiency, improved customer experience, and enhanced analytics. Think about it. Sales data feeds into a marketing strategy to quantify the best approach with each market segment and into customer management systems to help both account reps and customer service. Myriad performance metrics aggregate to inform predictive analytics impacting everything from customer experience to supply chain.

Your organization isn’t a hodgepodge of departments or functions. If they’re not all working in concert, they’re not really working. The people in your organization need to work together, but effective digital transformation dramatically facilitates that cooperation and unlocks incredible value.

Endeavor Management’s approach to Digital Transformation separates your systems from your processes, to start from the foundation of your business objectives. We don’t just advise which systems to sunset and which new systems to deploy—we advise how to meaningfully transform your entire digital ecosystem to better accomplish your business objectives.

Charting the Course from
Point A to Point B

The first, and possibly most critical, thing to do is to actually define what your objectives are. It’s incredible how many organizations overlook this simple thing. It should follow the S.M.A.R.T. principle: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound. Setting an objective like, “We want to streamline our business” is a good aspiration, but it’s not an objective. Something like, “We want to increase operational efficiency by at least 25% within 18 months” is much better. It’s fine to have more than one objective, but not too many, or too nuanced or you’ll lose focus. I’d recommend no more than five.

Once you’ve defined your objectives, make sure all of your investments in the program are aligned to furthering those objectives. Otherwise, you’re diluting your effectiveness.

A Current State Analysis should be performed evaluating all existing systems and the purpose of each. More importantly, all of your business processes should be evaluated. Very often, business processes are created or modified as workarounds to systems limitations. Ironically, when a new system is implemented, it’s often configured to accommodate those same workaround business processes! Instead of unleashing the power of the new system, it’s artificially hobbled so it functions more like the old system it was meant to replace—all in the name of maintaining the business processes meant to mitigate the limitations of the old system to begin with. Oh, the humanity!

Lastly, we need to define the desired results of the future state model. This should be function-by-function, not system-by-system, and should be more specific and detailed than the overarching objectives of the Digital Transformation itself. The reason we don’t want to define objectives by system is because the system is simply a means to an end. We care far more about enabling the business functions, than the underlying systems. This will give us clear direction in the implementation of any digital platform in the overarching transformation.

Planning and Research

Planning and research go hand-in-hand because they’ll enable a fluid execution of your digital transformation. The most important part of planning is Change Management.

The number one reason most IT projects fail is resistance to change. The solution to this is more complex than simply extolling the benefits of the change to everyone. There are numerous and complex reasons that people resist change, including comfort with the way things are, to fear for job security, to lack of understanding of or misalignment with business objectives.

This is best done as laid out in The Toyota Way in the principle of Nemawashi: to gather consensus and consider all options. Talk to the folks who are going to be impacted by the change. Don’t give them the hard sell on how this will benefit them. Listen first. Genuinely consider their input, concerns, and ideas. This should inform how the digital transformation is undertaken and how the systems are implemented and configured. When people see that they have had input, then they have a stake in the success of the initiative—then they’ll make it successful.

As for the systems themselves, you don’t necessarily need to replace every system in your organization. Maybe it would be beneficial, but unless you have unlimited resources, systems should be prioritized that will enable the best result. The tradeoffs between cost, time, and efficiency gains should be considered. That new CRM might help things, but if it drives a 10 percent gain in sales at the cost of 50 percent of your annual revenue, it isn’t likely worth it.

Lastly, when planning, plan for the future, not just for the present. You’re undertaking the digital transformation to begin with so your business will improve. Assume the future state of that improved business and equip yourself with the systems and processes for that future business. Ideally, you want to make incremental improvements over time rather than doing all of this again in five years.

Data and Process Migration

This is the sexy part… said no one ever. In full transparency, it’s not the sexy part, but it’s still extremely important. You have to keep your organization running, and that means taking care to migrate to your new systems or configurations in an organized fashion that minimizes disruption.

We plan how every system migrates, identify all business functions impacted, and what they need to keep operating. They see to their needs. Recognize that many things will require a phased approach. It won’t all be as easy as flipping a switch, then things start working under the New Way. Plan as many phases as makes sense to minimize disruption to the business while maximizing the efficiency of implementation and the areas of the business the transformation is meant to help.

Pay particular attention to data models. Just like business processes, the data models in legacy systems may be relics of the limitations of those systems, or even older systems. Here is the opportunity to redefine how you intake and use your data. This will entail extra work. If it’s determined that restructuring your data models is worth the effort, it is usually far better to plan and design this before the transformation rather than trying to retrofit it after. The decision should be made based on your unique circumstances.

Whether you’re modifying your data models or simply migrating from system to system, it’s crucial to ensure data integrity at every step. Data migration is seldom as simple as a copy-and-paste exercise. Make sure the data and its structure are preserved and test the data in the new system before calling it a day and congratulating one another on a data migration well done.

Change and Training

You’ve planned for the change. You’ve gathered consensus. Everyone is on board. They don’t know what to do. Don’t wait until the transformation is complete, or even underway, to tell them. Part of minimizing disruption to your organization is making sure the people in your organization know how to use the new systems you’ve invested in. This can, and should, start early. After all, you know what the new systems are going to do and (mostly) how they’ll work the moment you select them.

Start training your people then. Yes, there will be certain configurations and customizations you’re not yet ready to train them on but teach them to drive a car before you know which car they’ll be driving for the long haul. Once they know how to drive, it will be fairly simple for them to figure out where the hazard lights are and how to adjust the seat in the finished product.

Likewise, before you determine your platforms and configurations and define all of your parameters, let your target audience take it for a test drive. They’ll almost always reveal that you’re missing something.

When it comes to training, don’t try to force-fit a one-size-fits-all approach. Balance self-paced training, FAQs, group training, 1-on-1 coaching, train-the-trainer sessions, and on-demand assistance. People learn differently and have different needs at different times in different circumstances. Understanding and respecting that early on will pay dividends.

Act, Learn, and Adjust

Things will not go as planned. Circumstances will change necessitating revisions to your plan and your newly transformed organization. Accept that now. Find a Digital Transformation support group and lean on one another for comfort.

Life and the market will throw punches your way. To roll with them, you’ll need to set up robust monitoring, KPIs, and feedback mechanisms. Remember, your systems are only there to help facilitate the business processes, so measuring the systems themselves is only part of the equation. It’s important to understand how the systems and your processes and operations work together to best measure and adjust to changing conditions, both externally and from within your organization.

Resolve to genuinely learn from the transformation and be prepared to acknowledge that you may yet make improvements. Back to the objective-setting, planning, and research, by laying the foundation not just for the present, but for the future, you can roll with those punches and make adjustments and modifications without incurring the pain of total change.

By implementing a formal process for evaluating performance in the new state, and gathering information and feedback you’ll be well-equipped to maximize the return on your investment in the digital transformation and put it to best use for your organization.

Getting Moving

If it sounds like there’s a lot to a Digital Transformation initiative, well, that’s because there is. But it’s entirely manageable, and careful planning can allow the various pitfalls to be circumnavigated or mitigated.

Just remember the greatest reason for failure: resistance to change. You can’t prepare for that too much. But also remember the flip-side of that issue: the greatest driver of your success will be your people’s buy-in. Again, the best way to secure their buy-in is to genuinely listen to them and allow them to feel their ownership in the initiative and its success.

A thoughtfully-planned and carefully-executed digital transformation will allow you to reap numerous benefits which actually feed one another. A streamlined path for order processing improves customer experience, but so does the advanced analytics which allow you to better understand your customer’s needs. An investment in the transformation can yield many times that in operational efficiencies or increased revenue or both.

If you’re ready to see what value is untapped in your organization, get in touch with us.


Shelby Williams MBA

Senior Advisor

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