Most new businesses have the benefit of starting from scratch with fully digital processes. They’ll lay the groundwork for the business with critical apps and other technology that can heighten productivity, save on costs, and maintain environmental sustainability.
But for businesses that have operated for years, or even decades with paper records and manual processes, the idea of converting to a digital environment can be intimidating. Many digital transformation attempts go wrong, so if you want to be successful, you need to understand exactly what it takes to make such a program work.
What Is a Digital Transformation?
First, you need to understand what it means to “digitize” your work, or digitally transform your organization. This can mean different things to different people, but digital transformation occurs whenever you take a formerly manual or paper-based process and upgrade it so it can be done with digital tools.
For example, you might convert your paper records in filing cabinets into digital records, stored in an online database. You might turn a manual, paper-based inventorying process into something completed with digital scanners.
In some cases, a business may attempt to fully digitally transform itself; every operation, from the top down, must change in some way. These large-scale efforts are often intensive and expensive, but they have the power to save an organization a ton of money and improve productivity indefinitely.
Keys to Success in Digital Transformation
There are several important fundamentals to ensure your digital transformation is a success, including:
- A clear vision. First, you need to have a clear vision of what you’re trying to achieve. Merely adopting the “digital is better” mentality isn’t enough. You have to know which products and services are currently available, and understand exactly how they’re going to make your organization “better.” You can dig into specifics later, but you should have a clear overarching vision of how your organization will improve from the start.
- Documented goals, tasks, and subtasks. From there, you’ll need to formally document as much of your plan as possible. You’ll need high-level goals and sub-goals to achieve, complete with a timeline on when to achieve them. You’ll also need to break this digital transformation project down in terms of tasks and subtasks. Who will be responsible for achieving these? When must they be complete?
- Leadership and accountability. It’s important for your digital transformation to have a clear leader and accountability throughout the team. Ideally, one point person will be in charge of executing the full digital transformation; it’s their job to assign tasks and ensure deadlines get met. Along the way, various individuals will be assigned responsibilities and tasks, and it’s important to instill accountability in them so they’re motivated to finish their work.
- Access to the right tools. It should go without saying that your digital transformation success is largely dependent on the types of tools you’re using for the transformation. With bad hardware, bad software, or an incomplete set of tools, your digital transformation simply won’t work. It’s on you to research what types of tools your organization needs, which specific products are the best in each category, and how those products can all work together.
- Employee unity. Employees often resist change, for the same reasons we all resist change in various areas of our lives. However, if your digital transformation is going to be successful, your employees all need to be on board. Spend some time educating your employees on the importance of digital transformation, and assuage the concerns of people who are reluctant to adapt.
- Appropriate timing. It’s not a good idea to start a digital transformation in the middle of your busiest season. Timing your transformation will be challenging, but it’s an important consideration to bear in mind.
- Coordinated changeovers. Similarly, it’s important to coordinate changeovers from old systems to new systems. If some of your team members start using a digital system on Monday, but others are still using a paper-based or manual method on Wednesday, you’ll struggle to reconcile the differences. Make sure all your official “launch” dates are clear and understood—and set a firm expiration date for now-obsolete processes.
- Room for flexibility. Having a solid, consistent plan for how you’re going to operate digitally in the future is good, but you also need room for flexibility. Your best-laid plans aren’t always going to work out as intended, and new ideas for improvement will constantly emerge. Prepare to adapt as you roll out your new systems.
Planning and executing a digital transformation is harder than it first seems, especially for a large organization. But with the right goals, plenty of proactive critical thinking, and a supportive team to help you along the way, you can greatly improve your organization with minimal downtime or obstacles.