Digital transformation projects have been placed on hold as businesses have focused on the immediate challenge of keeping the lights on during the Covid-19 outbreak. However, for many businesses it has also demonstrated the imperative of digital transformation - businesses that have strong digital capabilities have been able to adapt more quickly; and are also likely to emerge stronger and revive faster.
Businesses are playing catch-up. The crisis has seen digital transformation projects set back by three to six months. However, senior management increasingly recognise that without digital transformation, their businesses won’t recover with the vigour they need. Against this backdrop, digital transformation projects are grabbing the attention of senior management, becoming a partnership between business leaders and IT leaders, rather than being led by the Chief Information Officer or Chief Technology Officer.
With digital transformation now commanding the attention of the CFO or CEO, the IT department has a window in getting their voice heard on the shape and timeline for digital projects. The crisis has, in general, significantly improved the perception of IT departments: As one technology head commented: "Having gone through Covid, our department’s credibility has gone through the roof. Now, everyone thinks everything is possible.”
Customer and employee experience
With senior decisionmakers on board, the biggest area of change is in the employee and customer experience. The business rationale for improving the employee experience is clear: with an indefinite period of social distancing ahead, employees need to be able to perform day to day tasks effectively wherever they are. Security is also a major concern for businesses and their customers. The virus has brought increased risks and corporations cannot afford to take their eye off the ball.
Organisations increasingly recognise that there will be no rapid return to normality. Some have started to look at hybrid working models – in the office three days, working at home for the remainder, for example. Some are contemplating even more radical options: do they need permanent workspaces at all: could they work with pop-up sites? The crisis has allowed business leaders to contemplate radical ideas and options.
In an increasingly competitive market with more companies vying for a shrinking consumer spending pot, delivering a better customer journey using technology is also a priority for many companies. This means devising a compelling API (application programming interface) strategy. Areas such as chatbots have been key development areas, as companies have seen their competitors adopting them.
Whatever form it takes, digital transformation is seen as giving organisations operational resilience at a time when weaknesses have been ruthlessly exposed. Business leaders have found there is ‘no way out’ of digitisation.
Delivery of transformation projects
The crisis presents challenges in the delivery of digital transformation. With a significant number of people working from home, can the journey be delivered remotely? Can leaders energise their workforces for the road ahead while not being in the same room? It is clear that many businesses will need to revisit the way they approach digital transformation projects to accommodate this new reality.
Digital projects tend to fail because the goals are not clear from the outset; there is insufficient buy-in from key business heads and/or explicit or implicit disagreement about the purpose of transformation. With this in mind, it is worth revisiting existing plans to make sure they still make sense in a post-Covid 19 world. The goals may have changed. In many cases, the business case for digital transformation will be stronger, but business heads need to fully engaged with the changes being made.
Another problem is who pays for digital transformation amid constrained budgets. While digitisation may save costs in the long term, its upfront costs can be significant. This is a particular problem in the public sector, where budgets are likely to be cut as the cost of dealing with the pandemic becomes clear.
Certainly, redirecting transformation budgets from physical to digital initiatives is one solution. The attention of senior leaders is also helping push budgets towards digital transformation. Instead of asking whether they can afford it, many are asking whether they can afford not to implement these initiatives. That said, many CTOs and CIOs say there is no substitute for having clear project workflow that is seen and understood across the business. This ensures that requests can be properly prioritised and expectations managed, creating less pressure to undertake low priority work and freeing up resources for digital transformation projects.
A transparent, cross-functional approach
Open and transparent decision-making is important in the overall success of delivery projects. One digital leader encourages his team to share their ideas and progress on Slack rather than through email: “We needed to stop it being a siloed conversation. We have monthly architecture forums where key decisions and tool selections are discussed.”
There is still a skills gap. Hiring is frozen and yet many companies lack in-house people who know how to build in the Cloud or design APIs. The solution has generally been to lean on strategic partners, while skills are built up internally.
The final piece of the puzzle is culture. Can technology leaders change an organisation’s core attitudes and help them embrace digital change? Digitising in silos seldom brings the hoped-for rewards. Successful transformation requires a cross-functional approach.
I’m Xavier, I am a Development Consultant at La Fosse. To learn more, attend my next event or get in touch, please do reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 02079322789. A huge thank you to Amit Jeswani for his contributions.