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Digital Transformation – What You Need To Know

Four things every business should know before embarking on a digital transformation journey, by Nishan Pillay.

A 2019 survey by consultancy group BDO found that digital transformation was the number one digital priority for most business executives. That’s hardly surprising: digitally transformed companies see a wide range of benefits including, but not limited to, an improved bottom line. These include improved product quality and customer satisfaction as well as reduced environmental impact and increased workforce diversity.

But these benefits won’t accrue if digital transformation is undertaken simply for the sake of digital transformation or if it is part of a company strategy that never really sees the light of day. Organisations setting out to digitally transform need to do so with full knowledge of what the process entails and how best to achieve it as well as the people they need to make it happen.

With that in mind, here are four things every business should know before embarking on a digital transformation journey.

It’s not about the technology

Digital transformation is not about technology. Businesses should instead view technology as an enabler of true digital transformation. The really important part is making people feel digitally empowered, which takes time. Look for stakeholders and partners who understand this and will guide your organisation through the whole journey. Perhaps more importantly, avoid the “experts” that offer quick fixes and patches.

It takes a mindset shift

Key to any successful digital transformation journey is guiding a company through a mindset shift which leads to a culture shift. It’s no use transforming systems and processes if the people using them aren’t prepared to make the necessary shifts themselves. So, for example, there’s little use in implementing automation if it isn’t part of a total shift in thinking about the way digital can grow the business and make it more efficient. Unlocking human potential is what digital transformation is all about.

Change management principles are, therefore, crucial to transforming a business. What is also important to consider is whether the organisation has the right competencies and skillsets for effective digital transformation. Leadership cannot expect their organisations to pivot towards a new digital future without equipping employees with the right tools and skills.

Fortunately, there are several online courses and other digital resources that can be used to ensure that employees are fully empowered to engage in the digital transformation journey.

Know which tech to embrace and which to reject

It’s important for companies to invest in tech that will aid their digital transformation efforts rather than hampering them. Digital transformation, much like IT infrastructure, needs to link very closely to a company’s overall business strategy, which is constantly adapting and evolving. Any new technologies implemented must be robust enough to be useful in an evolving strategy and be right for the digital maturity level of that specific company.

Ensure that digital transformation improves the overall customer experience

A properly executed digital transformation strategy can go a long way to improving your organisation’s customer experience, thereby accelerating its benefits. Design thinking and Agile principles are successful because they put the customer at the centre of all processes. Many companies profess to be “customer-centric”, but these are merely words and if stress-tested, these same companies are left wanting. An improved customer experience is a natural result of true digital transformation. Even so, at every stage of the strategy, you should ask yourself how it’ll improve the customer experience and be prepared to make tweaks in that direction if necessary.

Nishan Pillay is executive director: Open Programmes (OP) at the University of Pretoria’s Gordon Institute of Business Science.

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