3 Reasons Why Digital Transformation Projects Don't Work

Early in my career, when social media was first becoming a “thing”, I lost count of the number of times a well-meaning executive, fresh off a half day training course, would drop by the marketing department to proclaim, “we need to be doing something on Twitter/Facebook/YouTube/the Interweb.” It would then be left to our team to assess whether he was serious, what that “something” should be and get it live and working before another marketing buzzword would enter his lexicon ---and our workflow.

In much the same spirit, today there is the “digital transformation project” touted as being the new “must do” for organisations in the customer experience age. This unicorn of a project, once completed, promises to eliminate all the problems within the company. Just as that well-meaning executive thought retweeting customers would magically make us "social." 

The best digital transformation projects will require significant input from marketing and close collaboration with IT and technology teams. This is because marketers -- more than most -- tend to take a full customer lifecycle view, across business touchpoints.

Technology has become much more prevalent as marketing moves to primarily digital channels. As such, marketers are the ones deploying technology in their everyday tasks. However, most aren’t geared up to create the platforms that can support future innovation and can be built on seamlessly.

CMOs need to have the courage to invest both financially and emotionally in technology -- for true digital transformation, IT cannot just be the guys you call when you forget your password but true partners across all levels of the organisations.

The problem with most digital transformation projects is that they often begin from the old siloed, top-down approach like that executive tossing out the phrase "be social" like its a magic bullet, not just a bullet point from a training presentation.

Key to achieving a successful transformation is knowing at the outset what that transformation will look like and what it will deliver for your business.

Three common pitfalls are:

  • Too much focus on "digital"

Digital transformation is actually a business transformation given a sexier, more futuristic name. Technology is simply the means to achieve this. Without a clear idea from the outset of how your business will fundamentally change how it works and what you want to achieve in your customer relationships, nothing will change once it is implemented.

You may see an incremental improvement on the efficiency of old methods using newer tools, but you are unlikely to maximise the return on your investment and deliver the best customer experience.

  • Too much focus on the "project"

Digital transformation is for life, not just for Christmas. Unlike many business projects, digital transformation has no end date; it’s a continuous and iterative process. It will also, more often than not, require a fundamental redesign of the operating model. This often strikes fear into the hearts of marketers, used to discrete campaign cycles with clear and quick return on investment. However, a brave CMO who has the foresight to look at long-term investment can affect real and lasting change with a resultant uplift to results. This “Realise” stage is where rather than "thinking digital," you "become digital" and weave this into the company DNA.

  • Not enough focus on "transformation"

Not every transformation means revolution and requires radical change, but the fact that your business has recognised the need to transform probably means you’re doing so for fundamental reasons. Usually this is to take an opportunity to increase revenues, exploit market openings, disrupt competitors, deliver more customer value or achieve a different price point -- or in response to pressure from competitors or new entrants that are revolutionising business models in the industry

Real transformative thinking comes with the freedom to consider how to leverage your investment through new ways of working and applying this to new products, markets or business models. We call this the "multiply" stage -- it’s where you take the new business model and its capabilities and apply them to new areas.

A fantastic example of this is Amazon, where what started as a book retailer now dominates the e-commerce world. It’s this thinking that gives your transformation project context and a future vision. The multiply stage sets out a vision of the future that galvanises the company into action.

Just as setting up a hashtag doesn’t make you a social business, going skin deep on digital will not affect real digital transformation.

Breaking down chokepoints and siloed teams at the outset will go a long way to helping you become the smooth sailing, agile, customer-focused business you dream of. This will enable the full range of technology, deployed through marketing, to engage and offer value to the consumer across a unified platform, delivering a consistent experience wherever you join the customer journey.



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