How to successfully fail Digital Transformation

It is nearly impossible not coming across an article or a post about digital transformation on any given day. I can at least guarantee you have seen one today.

Considering the profundity of digital, the abundance of content on digital transformation must be expected. I think all industries, governments and even the society are still in the process of comprehending what digital truly means. Everyone who has seen that mm-hmm moment would have definitely developed second thoughts about the opportunities as well as the threads that come with digital. To me, it is somewhat akin to discovering plastics; the scientific wonder of the early 1900s, now an environmental curse. It is for that reason now we are talking about everything digital; digital economy, digital culture, digital government, digital thinking and so on.

As with every new technology evolution, there is also an abundance of content on how some large organisations tried digital transformation and failed spectacularly. Some even take the bar higher by predicting that 90% of digital transformation projects will fail. McKinsey also draws the attention to digital strategies organisations have today and signals that they are likely to fail if they don’t fully understand the digital economy and its demands.

One, who reads these downhearted articles and listens to failure stories, might for a second think there is a demand for failure in digital transformation. This article is inspired by that fictitious demand, but I trust you appreciate what is the actual point here.

Without further ado, here are my tips for successfully failing digital transformation.

1. It is all about mobile apps and web pages.

Chances are your company already has web and mobile applications. You might become “digital” by refacing those apps and adding some new cool features without actually thinking about the overall customer experience. If your company has no mobile apps, you should definitely take that as a golden opportunity and create as many mobile apps as you can. There may be functional overlaps, your customers may have to install 20 different apps and end up calling the customer centre but that’s OK. Digital is speed and you certainly don’t have time to understand the digital economy and its dynamics. Similarly, creating a digital mobile strategy is simply not agile.

Bonus: Ask IT guys to build a few APIs and organise a hackathon to rubber-stamp your digitality (yes, it’s totally a word).

2. Digitise the present.

Digital means automating existing processes and make them available through online channels. Your digital transformation is done once you replace your paper forms with web applications. Don’t make the mistake of mapping out customer journeys, or re-imagining your interactions and relationships with your customers and the rest of the digital players. Others may be busy with creating new digital business models or building new digital ecosystems, but don’t let them distract you, you can always let them disrupt you later.

3. New technology, traditional thinking.

Digital is the cloud, AI, machine learning, the blockchain, IOT and all the other technologies in Gartner’s hype cycle. Embed these technologies in your projects as much as you can. Use machine learning to generate random numbers, use chatbots to let your customers know of your call centre number. However new the technology is, stick with the existing, tried and tested processes. Being able to stand up a new cloud instance in a matter of minutes shouldn’t mean you can access those instances without going through weeks of governance and approval processes. It is also a good practice to ineffectively deliver such technologies through a tennis game between operational silos.

4. Do it once, and do it right. Don’t experiment.

Experimenting with new solutions and business models or prototyping ideas are unnecessary risks. You cannot foresee the feature and certainly, you do not have the luxury to test and fail. Think of how your peers or execs would see it if your experiment fails. Don’t forget, culture eats strategy for breakfast; don’t be a pancake. Follow the leading company in your industry, wait for them to be successful first before you copy what they did. If you happen to be the leader, just follow this digital transformation methodology until you no longer have to carry that burden.

5. It’s a transformation project, not a cultural shift.

And just to reemphasise all that has been discussed in previous paragraphs: treat digital transformation as a project, not as a cultural and business shift. You cannot kick off any transformation without a deadline and a defined ROI. No doubt you will hear voices in the industry saying digital transformation is a continuous effort, a mindset change for the whole organisation. Simply ignore those romantics and enjoy your half-baked digital transformation or analog stagnation.

This last item concludes my methodology for successfully failing digital transformation. On a serious note, the boundaries and the impact of digital are hard to define, and, digital transformation is easier said than done. IDC predicts digital transformation spending to reach $1.7 trillion worldwide in 2018, a 42% increase from 2017. Interestingly, that is the same amount of money globally spent on the military in 2017. Yet, IDC also predicts 75% of the organisations will fail to meet their digital transformation objectives – even without the help of my successfully failing digital transformation methodology. Nevertheless, digital transformation is bound to happen in one way or another. As Greg Verdino cleverly defined in his article, “digital transformation closes the gap between what digital customers already expect and what analog businesses actually deliver”.