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More than 50% of digital transformations have failed – this is how to succeed

Research claims more than half of digital transformations floundered in 2018. Laurence Parkes explores what businesses can do to change this

For nearly a decade, digital transformation has been at the centre of most c-suite conversations. Yet for all their efforts, few B2B firms have moved very far down the road – and even fewer can be accurately described as disruptive. Maybe it’s time to recalibrate our approach.

If there’s one thing that became apparent at Forrester’s recent Digital Transformation and Innovation Summit, it’s that digital transformation has come to mean so many things to so many people that ultimately it can mean nothing anymore. 

Yet the potential remains huge, especially for B2B – reduced costs, improved efficiency, more customer-centric experiences and the like. On paper, it’s a no-brainer. But in reality, digital transformation requires enormous change in the context of your whole organisational ecosystem.

B2B businesses need a clear view of how they want the adoption of new technologies to exponentially grow value. Because transformation needs to be embraced at every level of a business. Which is a means to say, the key to successful digital transformation – and often the reason it fails – is people. 

Planning for change 

Transformation has a huge impact on how B2B businesses operate and grow. Adopting new technologies and business models can deliver your customers the ease and convenience they crave. But it also takes patience.

Businesses need to factor in adjustment and training, establishing solid strategies for transitioning from old legacy systems. It’s about identifying opportunities and seeding investment – where are the quick wins? Where are the blockers? What level of disruption will this cause? 

However strong the appetite for change, it ultimately takes courage and trust in the process. To truly adopt new tech and agile ways of working, businesses need to be comfortable in the discomfort of not knowing where they might get to. 

Leading from the front

Changing mindsets, getting stakeholders on board, selling the bigger picture – all of this requires strong leadership. Understanding and communicating the value of digital transformation is crucial. It’s about nurturing managers who can accept that roles and revenue streams will change. Who can communicate positively with stakeholders, clients and team-members. And be comfortable with losing a little control. In short, you need to inspire your company culture from the top down to be more adaptive.     

Investing in your employees and driving their engagement is key to creating an adaptable organisation. Businesses should nurture the essential soft-skills needed to understand and cope with a shift in direction, and fill knowledge gaps with the right kinds of talent to drive change. 

Find and champion people who are inspired in uncertainty, who can be proactive and self-regulate, who can trust the process and adapt through learning. Keeping employees engaged through regular training and upskilling is a necessity. After all, employee disengagement costs business $7 trillion a year.  

One approach to this is to think less pyramid and more diamond. Working in organisational siloes of any kind – be that skills, discipline, data – will kill any adaptability or agility needed for transformation. You need to encourage people to play different roles in different teams, who can gather and apply diverse knowledge. After all, diversity drives innovation.

Delivering on experience 

Digital transformation should promise a future of experiences that delight and engage customers and employees. Yet so many are failing to deliver digital experiences that truly disrupt. 

We see businesses drowning in a sea of digital sameness because they look at what others are doing rather than the opportunities in front of them. If we look at brands that are true disruptors, it’s because they’re using tech-driven innovation to solve the problems their predecessors failed to see. 

Tapping into the power of enabling technologies can break the binds of legacy systems, siloed data practices, rigid, inflexible process and the like. For example, cloud-based solutions simplify the process of on-boarding, using ‘low-code’, ‘pro-code’ and even ‘no-code’ platforms that can flex for different business requirements. 

New data software platforms are popping up to provide a single point of entry to integrated legacy systems as well as Oracle, SAP and Salesforce. By using emerging technology in the right way – to solve problems, not just for the sake of it – B2B businesses can move towards more collaborative service-based models, finding flexibility in their processes and future-proofing their operations to adapt to whatever may come next. 

Keep going, stay adaptive 

In truth, what digital transformation both needs (and enables) is a business to be adaptive.

It requires a deliberate, pragmatic approach that leverages current advantages. Once there, the key is to keep going. Building on technology, evolving your offering and responding to outside change. 

It’s less about adopting the newest technologies, but more about adapting your people, operations and business models to be future-proof and ready for what’s to come.

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