Covid-19 threw us all a few curve balls, for me it gave me an unplanned gap in my schedule after a project was postponed. For many companies it presented enormous logistical, operational and cultural challenges. Those that found a way to adapt to the problems have survived and are potentially now in a stronger position to weather major disruption in the future.

I adapted to my unexpected liberty by finally getting round to writing a practical guide to delivering digital business transformation – Successful Digital Transformation is intended as a survival guide for managers and executives. That ‘finally getting round’ to part is important, the book is something I had been planning for years. I’ve always been a believer in sharing knowledge not hoarding it,but client work had taken priority and there was always another assignment to push the book down my to do list.

This is much the same way as many organisations, particularly those who are more mature, view digital business transformation. They know what they want to achieve and why but they can become so overwhelmed by the thought of actually getting started that they never quite manage to get the process underway. 

Adapt to survive

Covid-19 accelerated the rate of digital transformation by seven years. Now it feels hard to remember a time when we weren’t using Zoom or Teams to meet clients and colleagues screen-to-screen wherever in the world they are based. Remote working, once the privilege of more senior staff has become something that even the most junior member of the team is entitled to and entire processes such as recruitment, can take place online.

Transforming business isn’t just about the way we communicate though. Nor is it a case of buying an expensive new IT system and announcing that your transformation is complete.

Much like writing my book, digital transformation takes planning, groundwork and more than a few rounds of editing.  

Three phases and five breakthroughs

It’s so tempting to jump to the exciting bit of any task – the one that delivers the results. But that’s just not possible with the process of digital transformation. For a start, you can’t pinpoint an endpoint and declare your business or organisation digitally transformed – it’s an ongoing, constantly evolving process where it’s the journey rather than the finish that you are aiming for.

It’s also not possible as without putting in the groundwork and really understanding your organisation – and making some big, no regrets, decisions you won’t be able to transform your business.

My 30-years of experience helping clients navigate their way through business transformation has resulted in my three phase and five breakthrough approach.

The three phases that represent the stages of business development

The phases represent the stages of business development. From the product-focused, task-orientated business with departments operating in silos that we can recognise from the past through to the increasingly customer orientated, IT integrated, mission-driven organisations of the present through to the entrepreneurial, customer-centric and digitally native organisations we associate with the most dynamic and future-leaning of companies.

In order to transition from one phase to another, organisations must achieve five digital breakthroughs:

  1. Data-driven organisation
  2. Smart, digital processes
  3. Brilliant customer service
  4. Agile and resilient organisation
  5. New digital business models

Without focusing on each of these and deciding how each of these breakthroughs can be met by your organisation you cannot make meaningful, and lasting, progress through the phases.

Making sure you don’t finish

Putting the groundwork in is essential but so too is introducing the concept and theory of digital transformation so that it becomes embedded within company culture. This might sound strange coming from a consultant, but you can’t just buy in a third party to deliver your digital transformation. Consultants can guide, advise and facilitate but there must be understanding and enthusiasm for the process at all levels in an organisation if it’s to succeed.

In order to ensure a state of constant incremental improvements in the way systems operate, top management must be the driving force behind the process. C-level ownership ensures that the hard choices can be made, if necessary, obstacles removed, and the process escalated or adjusted as required. This is not to say that digital transformation can be imposed by a top-down management approach just that without commitment at the highest levels, efforts to reform legacy processes or systems will founder.

As well as a big picture commitment from those at the top, successful digital transformation requires that everybody involved in the process or who might be affect by the changes has a comprehensive understanding of both the theory and the practical side of the process. Without grasping the ultimate ambition of digital transformation those tasked with delivering it won’t fully commit to the process – and without practical ‘how to’ guidance even the most enthusiastic advocate might struggle to take the first step.

By ensuring buy in at all levels, a solid understanding of both the theory and the practical side of the business transformation process, organisations can lay the foundations for a long-term cultural shift. So that next time the world stops, their data-driven business is ready.

Marc Beijen is the founder of and partner in Novius, a company of Royal HaskoningDHV. He’s also the author of new book: Successful Digital Transformation, A Survival Guide for Managers and Executives.

To find out how Marc can help with your digital transformation get in touch via the form below. 

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