We spoke with Craig Larson, Partner, and Senior Director of Client Solutions & Success at Incloud Business Solutions, an ADvendio partner, and specialists in digital transformation (DX). Craig spoke about his experience of digital transformation projects over the years, including common pitfalls, the most important aspects of any project, the effects of COVID-19, and most importantly, top tips for successfully undertaking any digital transformation project of your own.
How would you define digital transformation (DX)?
Awesome question. I think this is an important question that people need to first ask themselves to properly understand and open up what truly can be achieved.
It depends on where we are coming from. What level of digital maturity is the organization at? In this case, the organization can be a department, a function, or even the role that a specific position plays within a process.
“Digital transformation” itself has transformed over the years. It used to mean simply getting out of paper, notebooks, and post-it notes into using technology to help capture this information.
Nowadays, this means how easily and effectively you are leveraging the data that you are capturing digitally to elevate the experience organizations are providing to their customers, employees, and partners seamlessly. Whether it be B2B, B2C, or B2B2C, when we talk about digital transformation, it focuses on what is now required to accelerate the ability to adjust to customers’ demands and expectations. How does a company tie in its interactions with customers, employees, and partners to transform the journey, across Sales, Customer Service, Marketing, HR, etc., and do it with a quick time to market with value?
What advice would you give to a business considering a digital transformation project?
Ensure leadership buy-in
Before starting any type of DX initiative, you need to make sure you have the buy-in from the leadership team, better yet, they are the ones initiating it. You also need to take into consideration the HR implications, how this change will impact employees, and look into the state of your organization’s readiness for change all while fostering a customer-centric culture.
Define the purpose
Ensure to truly understand the purpose behind the DX – your WHY. Also, make sure to understand that it’s not a question of ‘do we need it?’ or ‘can we afford it?’, but about ‘when can we do it?’ and ‘can we afford not to?’.
Remember data is the fuel
Take a look at the governance you have and the quality of your data; this is the core element to any DX and will help prepare you to migrate any required information.
Customer journey mapping
Plan your DX over a period of years and not months. Note: this does not mean that it will take years to get results, it’s more like a marathon consisting of many sprints.
Put the customers first. By looking at your processes through a customer lens, you will begin to clearly identify the internal impacts and requirements to support that experience. Once that journey is mapped out, then look at the technology available to support and allow your employees and partners to deliver the defined experience for your customers. All too often companies first choose the technology and then try to fit their process into it.
Don’t start with the technology
As highlighted in the previous point, don’t go looking for band-aid fixes because of something that is now being raised as urgent. You need to have more of an end-to-end vision. To be successful and truly deliver the ROI that organizations can drive from a DX, it needs to be properly planned out.
Don’t take adoption for granted
Having a roadmap is really the key to success. You need to look at where you want to go and who the key players can help you get there to drive a true impact. Just because you transformed something, whether it be a process or a different way of doing things, the users’ ability and desire to adapt and adopt will be a driving force of determining if your DX initiative will be successful or not. Value drives adoption. If a new process, tool, or experience provides value, people will naturally want to be part of it. Assuming that it does, is the blind spot that many companies face in their DX journey.
Think of digital transformation as an evolution
Many of the people in your organization are hyperstimulated in their personal lives from a technology perspective – the speed at which new value gets introduced into our own personal technology lives. Whether it’s just watching TV, being able to turn your lights on or off from your phone, or me being able to set my alarm or see who is delivering a package at my house door in Montreal while being in Mexico. All of that technological evolution keeps us very productive and moving forward in our personal lives – why can’t it be like that with the tools we use at work?
Some businesses have a bad habit of thinking that transformation is a “build it and they will come” solution, such as I will put chat on my website and it’s done, but it’s only the first step of the constant evolution. What are the next steps that you can take to add to the chat, maybe you can add AI to avoid having a support person interrogating to understand what each customer is looking for, their account number, where they’re located, who they need to be routed to in regards to customer service?
What are some of the common pitfalls for businesses attempting digital transformation?
Ignoring the end-users
Not planning for the impact of the change on the people that will be leveraging the new process and technology.
People don’t believe that their data is a problem. They’ve been used to manipulating data in various sources for years before consolidating it and they’ve been able to work the way they needed to based on where the data was coming from. When you move into a more digital environment and go to migrate all that data, you realize everything is a mess. For example, state codes and phone numbers aren’t standardized.
We often hear that in marketing, content is KING, but in DX, data is KING
You need to look at data as a prerequisite to a successful DX
Letting go of responsibilities
Assuming that your implementation or your consulting partner will guide you through everything and you can let go of certain responsibilities. It is a partnership, just like a relationship there is a certain YIN and YANG or give and take. It should be the same thing for the partner and the client going through this. They need to have clear rules of engagement and roles and responsibilities and sometimes that is taken for granted.
Going for the cheapest solution
Not looking at doing a band-aid or a DX as a bunch of band-aids as opposed to what is the roadmap to get there. You can break it out into small mini deployments or bring mini changes but if you constantly look at everything from the cheapest day-1 cost, it may end up being the most expensive day-722 cost.
Not having an internal transformation owner
Expecting existing employees to take on new responsibilities as opposed to investing to have a dedicated resource to own the transformation moving forward.
How do you help clients who want to undertake digital transformation?
We help customers understand the WHY?
What is the purpose of the DX need, because sometimes you can get blinded by certain urgencies that arise in everyday life and that takes away from the overall strategy you should be focused on as opposed to only repairing a short-term pain.
Helping them articulate a roadmap to be able to:
A-Secure funds whether it be from internal investments or external assistance such as grants.
B- Work with the right technology partners that have proven success in the areas of DX. There is a lot out there, so our job is to help companies understand the value and the scalability of that transformation. There is never an end state.
Once we understand the purpose and do a high-level discovery of that purpose, then we facilitate the demonstration of how a DX will provide value. We try to help them visualize and to see a DX in action so it helps them accelerate the results so they can prove the continuity of that journey as opposed to waiting for months or years for that entire project to be completed and crossing your fingers and hoping that everything works. We help our customers through their DX by getting them from point A to point B. We want you to get there safely – so we’ll start you off on a tricycle, then move you up to a bicycle with training wheels, take off the training wheels, then get the car, the helicopter, and then the private jet.
It is a journey from point A to point B in terms of transforming the way you do business or the experience you provide to customers.
The 3 layers to focus on when trying to find an answer to support your WHY is the customer experience you wish to offer, the employee experience, and the technology to successfully support it all.
What is the most difficult aspect of digital transformation in your experience?
The difficulty is getting customers to understand that you will not capture everything in the first round, and being ok with that. It won’t be totally complete or even perfect out of the gate. The data management, getting change management support, and incorporating a new way of working are all other difficult aspects but it all depends on the complexity of the DX.
For example, if we can go from writing on paper, taking notes with a pen and paper, and taking notes on an iPad, that is a DX. The next step would be how to leverage those notes now so that they are digitized to help continue leveraging the information you captured – if you’re not going to use that information, why the notes in the first place?
DX means different things to different people – The difficult aspect of DX is getting an understanding of what that definition is for your company. Take for example, way back when, as we started to speak about ‘the Cloud’… What is the cloud? What is DX? Removing from paper and pen to a note application on an iPad, that’s one level of DX, but when you go in a structured data environment where you’re putting the notes in different blocks, that’s another level of DX. Then being able to use that data to spark other items is another level even higher of DX. Defining the level of DX is important to make sure everyone is talking the same language.
Can digital transformation be successful with a one size fits all strategy?
Absolutely not. That being said there are certain levels based on the DX definition that can be applied to everybody. When we transformed digitally in regards to music. We went from records to mp3 players. That was a one size fits all approach to digital transformation and although they started for music, now there are different flavors of that mp3.
As no 2 people are alike, no 2 companies and no 2 business processes are necessary the same. There are common practices and best practices that can be recommended and applied that could be ‘cookie cutter’ in terms of the approach and methodology for quick wins and general process improvements. We can implement a standard methodology with a customized approach unique to the business challenges of the organization we are dealing with layered on top for best results.
Who should ideally be involved in a digital transformation project?
This needs to start with the top, the execs. It’s good that they would support a DX initiative that one of their directors or managers brings forth, but it makes a world of difference if they truly believe the value that it will drive. You then need to take your best subject matter expert in each of the processes who will be included in the initiative. As one of my former colleagues used to tell us, if it does hurt the business by taking that person away to focus on this project full-time, then it’s not the right person. You need to also get someone that is the expert “cat herder”. These initiatives, especially in small or medium-sized businesses are typically done at the same time as the regular business that keeps going, this makes it super important to have someone to project manage and help keep the tasks on time as well as people moving forward. Finally, it makes a world of difference to include someone from HR to represent the employees affected by the change.
How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected digital transformation?
It increased the awareness of the need for digital transformation. We went from physical locations to a virtual presence. The access to information is now completely different. If you had written a note in a file in your office, you no longer had access to it anymore.
What differences have you noticed between the resilient businesses and the struggling ones during COVID-19?
The companies that I see doing well and continuing to meet their objectives or have a clear path to health are those that are taking action and adjusting, innovating, and seizing the opportunity to go beyond what they know to be the “norm”. But those that are paralyzed and waiting for the “Normal state” to return are the ones that are in trouble.
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