Breaking down physical barriers for digital transformation

  • Posted on August 21, 2019
  • Estimated reading time 4 minutes
digital transformation

This article was originally published in Forbes.

Many organizations are somewhere on the digital transformation spectrum. Ideally, shifting to a tech-driven business model boosts efficiency, security, productivity and profits. However, there’s a strong correlation between taking steps toward digital transformation and exhibiting signs of digital fatigue.

Intelligent technology is important to the growth and/or survival of nearly every small to large business, but many struggle to integrate it effectively. There are a number of frequently overlooked physical, organizational and logistical barriers to digital transformation that prevent many companies from being successful. Organizations need to think iteratively and start small.

Reengineering workflow and environment is crucial when implementing new technology, especially artificial intelligence (AI). As the vice president of a digital and cloud services solutions company, I often see organizations attempt to implement AI with the expectation that it will be a self-managing quick fix. However, AI is actually best viewed as augmented intelligence, because its practical applications still require a lot of human decision making. In this view, AI doesn’t replace humans – it only makes humans more efficient.

When implementing AI, it’s important to understand the value case upfront, while setting realistic expectations and moving through a pre-established plan. Here are some strategies for clearing the biggest structural hurdles organizations encounter when making digital transformations.

Hire/train the right team with the right transformational skillset
Many companies underestimate how big of an impact new technology will have on their team. When you have a field of long-term employees, it’s not always feasible to simply flip the digital switch. Your entire team must be trained to utilize new technology before it’s incorporated into the workflow, or else you might incur so much cost and time debt that you’ll be forced to throw in the towel.

It’s entirely possible to train your existing employees to utilize new technology, so long as they’re still the right passion and interest fit. There will always be some folks who resist new technology. But it’s advantageous to have a team that’s a mix of tech-savvy millennials and legacy employees, so there’s balance and perspective when taking on major transformational work.

Because technology is growing and becoming more niche at such an exponential rate, the relative knowledge gap between generations is dwindling. Ingenuity, adaptability and leadership are key team qualities when on-boarding new technology that should ultimately free employees to focus on more creative and strategic tasks.

Modernize legacy systems on a case-by-case basis
Modernizing legacy systems can be a huge obstacle because it involves finding the right blend of resources. Many organizations try to make these updates themselves without outsourcing any talent and end up spinning in circles.

Pacing is an important consideration. How fast you should modernize isn’t one-size-fits-all and depends on multiple variables, such as company culture, work environment and appetite for change. Some companies have the incentive and resources to rip off the bandaid and shift quickly; others need to carefully roll out metered changes in order to move forward without significant setbacks.

Collect and organize data to glean the most actionable insights
So many organizations struggle to make the most of their data by converting it into something that truly benefits their business. Frequently, the sheer volume of data can be crippling because it’s more difficult to package in a way that consistently delivers value. Companies that do make good use of their data often aren’t making the best use of their data by leveraging all of their technology to maximize their investments. Data can be intimidating, and business leaders who solicit guidance and sometimes even a bit of hand holding may find the process much more feasible and lucrative in the long run.

Prioritize the customer and employee experience
Some companies on the cutting edge can’t afford a slow digital transformation, so they dive in head first and sacrifice those employees who can’t or don’t want to keep up. Pioneering digital transformation can increase a company’s attractiveness to potential hires who are a better fit, however. Creating a culture around the excitement of innovation is extremely important to those organizations making rapid digital shifts.

Other companies sustain and grow their operations by putting employees first. They take longer to make digital transformations because they are constantly taking stock of their employees’ appetite and how their employees’ experience impacts their customers’ experience.

Ultimately, every organization making a digital transformation needs to establish upfront how and which parts of the process will touch their customers, then work backwards to devise the appropriate strategy. In an increasingly competitive job market, your employees are your customers, too, so the goal should always be to optimize technology synergistically with the human experience.

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