by Isaac Sacolick

5 ways to kill your digital transformation program

Nov 15, 2017
CIODigital TransformationIT Leadership

Leaders of transformation programs have the challenge of getting the right business and IT people involved and collaboration practices in place.

digital transformation competitive
Credit: Thinkstock

Think your organization can beat the odds? I have talked to many CIO and business leaders about their digital strategy and digital transformation programs. With so many CEO lagging in digital transformation and many CIO feeling the pressure to innovate and execute, it’s very easy for leaders to ignore some of the best practices that make transformations successful.

For those that have started digital transformation programs, it’s easy to drive digital too fast and miss many best practices. So here are some common pitfalls that can kill a digital transformation program.

1. Believe developing your digital strategy is a one-time effort

There’s is too much change happening across industries, markets, and technologies so digital strategies have to evolve and get updated with some frequency. If you developed a digital strategy two or three years ago, it probably focused on customer experience, cloud transformation, big data, social selling, and mobile workforce enablement. Today, you’d have to add the impact of new regulation, cybersecurity investments, artificial intelligence experimentation, products with IoT capabilities, blockchain driven supply chain, or workforce enablement with lowcode or nocode platforms. Strategies need to be updated once or twice per year to reflect new opportunities and changes in the competitive and technical landscape.

2. Isolate execution to a small innovation team

One common approach to manage digital transformation programs is to assign the strategic initiatives to a small innovation team that has little or no operational responsibilities. That works for a time, but successful transformation programs must enable core businesses to evolve with digital capabilities. To pull this off, transformation programs will eventually impact everyone in the business from sales and marketing to operations. Businesses that don’t invest in organizational change programs fail to engage employees and likely limit the transformational impacts

3. Continue running legacy businesses without challenging assumptions

While businesses can look to create new digital products and services, many cannot afford to operate these in isolation and in parallel to legacy businesses indefinitely. Businesses trying to operate legacy and new businesses in parallel for too long are likely to run into resource and cultural barriers, especially if the separation creates a morale issue for those working on legacy businesses. 

4. Run agile as an IT process

Many transformations begin their execution with IT work around underlying capabilities. So, you might have teams developing mobile applications, others piloting AI experiments, and a third group integrating datasets from multiple enterprise systems. Many CIOs are now leveraging agile and scrum to manage development processes, but have yet to create multidisciplinary teams that include non-IT participants. That’s one reason why so many IT shops fail to achieve business and IT alignment. CIO should take steps to educate business leaders on how to develop the product owner skill set and encourage getting participants from marketing, finance, and other departments to take on business related tasks on agile programs.

5. Invest in analytics without data governance

CIOs that have successful analytics programs and are taking steps to enable a data driven organization must back these efforts with a data governance program. Some leaders look at data governance as steps toward compliance and adhering to regulations, but it is also a key step to drive more significant participation from business teams and ensure that leaders interpret analytics appropriately. CIOs should be looking to develop data catalogs, dictionaries, data quality practices and other data services to aid business teams on how to participate in creating analytics and to leverage the insights and results toward appropriate decision making.

Digital transformation requires business and IT collaboration

You can see here that digital transformation requires many parallel efforts. It requires fast experimentation and innovation from smart teams but also requires engaging employees working on legacy businesses and identifying appropriate integration points. Getting technology teams agile is hard enough, but agile IT will have difficulty achieving transformation objectives if business leaders and employees are not taking roles in the process.  Leaders of transformation programs have the challenge of getting the right business and IT people involved and collaboration practices in place.