When your digital transformation isn't transformative enough

Most digital transformations will fail. Half of all executives said their organizations are failing to execute on the majority of goals from their digital transformation, and 20% said their entire digital transformation is a waste of time. The internet is rife with articles about why digital transformations underperform, such as lack of executive buy-in, choosing immature technologies, unclear roadmaps or vague definition of goals. What’s less clear is how to get a failing digital transformation back on track. How can companies correct course if their digital transformation is going off the rails?

Get buy-in for organizational change

Changing an organization can be like pushing water uphill, especially in a digital transformation project. That’s because digital transformation is notionally spearheaded by IT experts who are used to technical project management, which is very different from the executive-level project management required by digital transformation.

Organizational change requires enterprise-level buy-in, and when you don’t get it, your project can stall or worse. Ask JetBlue.

Recently, the airline revealed that it’s been automatically checking passengers into its flights using facial recognition software. The airline didn’t tell people up front that it was doing this; there was no clear way to opt out; and it turned out that it was sourcing passenger photos from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

The public-facing details of the story show us exactly who did and did not get a seat at the table. JetBlue must have gotten buy-in from people at Homeland Security to access its database, airport personnel to install facial-recognition cameras, software and hardware developers to create the program, and the CFO to pay for it all. That’s a stunning number of stakeholders to organize.

In the meantime, it’s clear who didn’t have a seat at the table — marketing and public relations. Because the program was so secretive, the only reason most people know about it is because of a conversation between a frontline support staffer and a privacy advocate on Twitter. Because of this lapse, the JetBlue program is going to be colored by a negative association with a controversial technology. Will the ROI of its project make up for the bad public relations?

Even if you successfully implement digital transformation technologies, you need to have other departments on board. Otherwise, the best-case scenario is that no one adopts your new tools. The worst-case scenario is that by implementing your technology, you can actively alienate your customer base, cost your company business or both.

Digital transformation is about more than technology

Although digital transformation is a process that centers on IT, it needs the participation of the whole company. Business leaders often think digital transformation is a process that simply requires the enterprise to adopt a deck of technologies, such as IoT, automation or microservices. That leaves them surprised when these technologies don’t turn out to be magic bullets.

The transformative aspect of digital transformation lies in processes — the way that companies reorganize themselves to connect with the new technologies that they’ve adopted. This means shifting the org chart, bringing in new people and learning new skills. The process of transformation may also require just as much buy-in as the technological adoption aspect.

If you have a project that’s failing, start by looking across your organization for those leaders who might still be on the fence. Working with them, getting them excited about the change that the transformation is aiming for and recognizing that it requires more than installing new technology can get a stalled effort moving again.

Demonstrate the ROI of doing it right

If you believe your digital transformation project is on the wrong course, it can be difficult to persuade people to change their minds. The sunk cost fallacy is a real problem. How do you keep people from throwing good money and committing more effort to failed methods? On the other hand, how do you convince people that a project can be saved, that it isn’t easier and simpler to just pull the plug and return to business as usual?

The good news is that it’s nearly always possible to get your digital transformation back in order. The bad news is that it requires you — “you” usually meaning IT, but possibly meaning another person who sees the project losing its way — to have some kind of executive mindshare. You need people to pay attention to you when you speak.

If you’re in IT, this may represent a problem. Too often, the input and contributions of IT executives come across as wallpaper inside of the boardroom. If you’ve had a stake in the project since the beginning, however, then you may be able to make yourself heard. At the end of the day, money talks. ROI calculations are incredibly persuasive. Demonstrate the cost of doing it wrong, versus the advantage of taking a little more time to do it right.

It’s OK to ask for help

Once again, many digital transformation initiatives deliver lackluster results. There’s a silver lining to this that many overlook, however. Those that have successfully navigated a digital transformation are literally worth their weight in gold. They typically have deep experience in simplifying complex ideas to simple ones and socializing those ideas with key stakeholders. If you think your transformation doesn’t have everyone’s full-throated endorsement, then your best bet is to find someone who’s done it the right way.

The positive influence of another set of eyes and ears — especially experienced ones — on a wavering project can’t be overstated. People who have been through digital transformations before, who have made mistakes and gotten past them to achieve success, have powerful advice for organizations that are in the middle of the process.

Notably, it’s never too early or too late to seek help. If you need help getting buy-in for organizational change or if you need help demonstrating the ROI of doing the right thing, the viewpoint of an experienced outsider may be exactly what you need to shake things up.

All IoT Agenda network contributors are responsible for the content and accuracy of their posts. Opinions are of the writers and do not necessarily convey the thoughts of IoT Agenda.

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