Why successful digital transformation begins with people and process

October 17, 2019

digital transformation

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There’s no doubt digital transformation will change the way we operate. Successful transformations offer competitive advantages, and innovative organisations have already begun their journey. But there are no clear rules and we’re seeing an assortment of approaches – from a focus on the latest technology advances, to prioritising cultural shifts, or shifting to the process of engaging with partners in order to deliver on transformation goals.

It’s common to dive in “tech-first”, exploring opportunities from the perspective of technology outputs alone, and handing control over to IT without consulting the broader business. But in order to drive success across the whole organisation, it’s important to take a much wider view. 

Rather than focusing on technology alone as a change driver, you must understand how digital transformation will impact on your biggest asset: people – your staff, customers and partners. Taking on a consultant mindset, collaborating with partners and gathering insights from customers will drive improved strategic outcomes for your digital transformation strategy.

Begin with a consulting mindset

Architecture, design and engineering company Arcadis is an example of taking a ‘people-first’ approach to transformation – aiming to centre all digital decisions around collaboration and customer experience.

The company’s IT team took on a consulting role within the organisation to support its digital transformation objectives, which resulted in a major mindset shift. The team moved from a go-to response of “sorry, that’s not our policy,” to a more considered approach: “let me figure out how to help you.” This change in approach is set to provide Arcadis with better opportunities for success.

Another example of a people-first digital transformation strategy comes from SAP after identifying a need to “adopt a hands-on approach”. The company has succeeded in prioritising its people by implemented an employee training program that is comprehensively focussed on enhancing individual digital skills sets.

James Bilefield, a senior advisor to McKinsey also notes that businesses should focus on the power of words when introducing change. He points out the importance language plays when it comes to motivating people and within the business, and in turn, how it will be interpreted outside of the organisation will have a significant impact on success.

Creating a digitally ready culture

Our own research, Telstra’s Disruptive Decision-Making report, supports a people-first approach. Our survey showed that organisations which rated highly their decision-making ability for digital transformation – in terms of people and processes – are more likely to be digitally mature. 

Creating a business culture that is ready for digital transformation requires the right leadership, communication and strategy. Our study found that a majority of effective digital transformation projects are those driven by a clear vision that has been cascaded down the organisation, so that employees understand the objectives and deliverables.

Innovative businesses are also increasingly moving towards new ways of working that feature agile cross-functional teams. Organisations can support these new ways of working by focusing their technology strategies on adopting tools that empower people and enable better internal processes. 

For example, we’re seeing traditional manufacturers that had previously relied on their supply chain for sales, now focussing on creating better connections with the end customer through digital transformation. These businesses can enhance their eCommerce capabilities and alter marketing strategies with technology supporting these changes. Data analytic enables retailers to improve their digital marketing strategies and product development outcomes, while also allowing the retailer to have better conversations with their customers and improve the overall brand experience.  

Internationally, we can see a disparity between markets in terms of focus in digital transformation. Regions such as mainland China, Philippines and Malaysia are more focused on people, while others such as Hong Kong and Japan prioritising organisational processes.

For example, Malaysian low-cost airline AirAsia uses technology to improve employee engagement, embracing a digital platform that improves communication across the organisation. Employees can communicate critical flight information, translate between languages, and access vital company information through mobile devices. This new way of working has improved the company’s efficiency levels, and created a more engaged and informed team.

Implementing a behavioural based approach

So, what steps can you start taking to build a digital transformation strategy that focuses on behaviour within your company?

The first step – talk to your people. Sit down with a wide group of people within your organisation and empower them to make decisions that will impact the business transformation. A consultancy approach will engage more people within the organisation, and will deliver deeper insights to build a strategy.

Secondly, create new processes, or make changes to existing ones. This can include breaking down internal silos and integrating digital transformation more deeply throughout business opportunities.

Taking these first steps will give you a more holistic view of what it takes for successful digital transformation – and a vantage to choose the best partners and technology to achieve this outcome.