A Digital Transformation Program has to transform something

The four most valuable things I learned from working long hours on Digital Transformation Programs

A Digital Transformation Program (DTP) is supposed to be designed to create a robust framework that should enable the organisation to transition its processes and customer interactions onto more cost-effective and efficient digital platforms.

DTPs seem to be all the rage. Over the last 6 years, I have been involved in three of them. These were major projects whose combined budgets may have eliminated poverty in a number of smaller countries.

Here are the most common issues that I’ve seen:

1: Avoid the lift and shift

DTPs are always based on significant technology overhauls. They aim to: “get rid of the old”, “consolidate disparate systems”, “replace processes that involve lots of manual workarounds”.

This is all very sound thinking. However, to avoid what is perceived will be massive disruption, the organisation usually chooses to do a “lift and shift”. That means, that the processes and flows that are known and used at the moment will be transitioned over to the new system for Phase One.

The reason organisations so desperately desire a DTP is to upgrade many of these processes. Such a program can take up to 2-5 years to complete. At the end of this program, the organisation is now a further 2-5 years behind. One organisation I worked at found that at the end of its DTP, there were over 700 change requests.

2: Make sure your vision is clear and understandable

Don’t base a vision on terms like “world’s best practice”, “best in class”, “industry-leading digital experience”.

These terms mean nothing and can be interpreted in a million different ways. A vision should allow you to understand your boundaries. Here are my two favourite vision statements:

… this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth (JFK)

John F. Kennedy, President of the USA, made this statement on 25 May 1961. The constraint is very obvious. There is the moon, and we have 9 years to get a man onto it AND back.

The other is by Soichiro Honda (founder of the car company that took his name) who in the December 1951 edition of the Honda Monthly he wrote:

I am presenting “The Three Joys” as the motto for our company. These are, namely, the joy of producing, the joy of selling, and the joy of driving (a Honda motor car).

Again a very simple and understandable quest. The idea is to bring happiness to every process of the organisation. A very noble desire.

3: Own the IP, bring in the grunt

All DTPs I have been involved in included considerable external resources who were then let go once the project was complete. In each case, much of the intellectual capital and thought leadership walked out the door as well.

The intellectual rigour and architectural framework being developed have to be developed and managed by people in the organisation. You bring in external resources to do the grunt work like development, system set up and configuration, etc.

4: Plan for the ongoing management

A Digital Transformation Program is a lot of hard work. It involves every major stakeholder in the business and directly or indirectly it eventually will touch every staff member.

The end of a DTP is actually just the beginning. You’re putting in new systems that have cost millions. Make sure they are used by the best people who have been properly trained to get the most out of them.

I have seen multi-million dollar instances of Content Management Systems being used as if they were a WordPress installation. I have seen new systems actually create more manual processes so that they can better mirror “how we are used to doing it”.

A DTP is designed to transform a company and prepare them to be more competitive. Our aim is to ensure they don’t turn into SOBs.