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Why so many digital transformation projects fail

Steven Karachinsky, CEO
November 5, 2020

There is an old lyric that proclaims “The road to Three Mile Island was paved with good intentions”—an apt sentiment especially when it comes to the modern-day dilemma of tackling digital transformation initiatives.

And even through all the hype (sorry, Marketing) and the perceived want and need (sorry, C-suite), so-called digital projects seem to fail in one way or another on a more-than-frequent basis.

Why is that?

First and foremost, digital transformation is rarely if ever defined. The term itself resides in a nebulous state where it could mean anything digitally related—but in the 21st century, isn’t everything digitally related? So to ensure clarity, let’s first define the term so we can set the basis for what comes next.

Simply put, digital transformation is the need for a world where all systems are connected. That need in turn is driven solely by the demands of end-users and customers for a more connected experience—regardless of vertical market. And here is where projects set themselves up for failure.

The idea of constant connectivity to everything is unto itself a difficult hurdle. By its own nature, it means that any true digital transformation project is grandiose in scale and impacts every facet of the organization. If not properly planned out, the scope and scale can lead to everything from project creep, to unexpected and negative outcomes, and everything in-between.

The secret here is to plan, plan, and plan again. Creating your vision of the future and all that it entails is the first step to success. And, for obvious reasons, capturing every detail of what that experience will be is what will set the roadmap for all other attributes.

Next, technology and systems. So many times I’ve seen companies try to “make do” with what they have, but they soon realize that their technology systems are not compatible with their desired experience. This disconnect is often the result of having used systems and processes for so long, without making an effort toward any meaningful change. Moreover, many of these organizations haven’t taken a hard, brutally honest look at their current spend. It’s here where many of the critical resources required to facilitate a digital transformation will need to be put in place. More so, infrastructure must be designed to run at peak-performance and analyzed for added functionality, cost savings and ROI; and, most importantly, be viewed through the lens of mission-critical business continuity.

The next crucial step—one that again can derail a project if not done properly—is mapping new business processes. Again, I go back to the definition of ubiquitous connectivity. The minute business systems begin to speak to one another is the same point at which they can start to fail.

Digital transformation is not just about applying new equipment to a business: it’s about creating new business models with technology as the foundation. Often, that can mean moving away from original business processes the company has been using since its founding. The ability to identify what works—and being willing to jettison what’s holding you back—is a hallmark of every successful company. The key is to put the user and the customer front-and-center.

Yet another key factor that can either lead to success or failure is that of talent. IT teams are superheroes by nature—they accomplish the impossible on an almost daily basis. This is also why they tend to get punished for their own good work. Tackling digital transformation projects are huge undertakings—IT has a day job, and teams must continue that without being mired in the minutia of yet another company-wide transformation project.

Having the right externally sourced skill sets will help drive transformation and keep it moving forward. The level of expertise required and the need to stay on top of emerging technologies is generally too steep a hill for most companies to climb without the right partner in place to alleviate the strain and stress from IT.

Lastly, let’s not forget that human nature, by definition, dislikes change. Preparing your workforce, your partners and your customers for all the new things that will ultimately benefit them is where organizations must spend their time. Otherwise, the lack of adoption will be its downfall. However, through well-defended outreach and communications efforts paired with the evolved experience, all will be delighted with this new way of connecting to everyone.

Whether we like it or not, digital transformation is very real (you’re welcome, Marketing), and is sorely needed to compete in the modern world (you’re welcome, C-suite). If there is one positive that has come out of COVID-19, it’s that people are more likely than ever to embrace and be willing to work towards digital transformation. By ensuring that plans are in place, technology is up-to-date, processes are mapped, partners are at the ready, and everyone is prepped for change—everyone wins.

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