Growing a digital business is essential for virtually every enterprise across every industry. Large enterprises and small businesses alike are digitizing their internal and customer-facing processes and services to increase efficiency, scale their businesses, and collect meaningful data. Yet, while many companies have launched digital services to collect data, we haven’t fully tapped into the potential of data analytics—even though studies suggest that digital will be a top differentiator in years to come. Curious how you can get a better handle on digital transformation? Read on to learn why it’s so crucial, plus discover six key ways to digitize your business.
Why Digital Transformation Is Such a Big Deal
A recent survey of 573 senior executives from North and Latin America, Europe, and the Asia-Pacific region conducted by Forbes Insight and Hitachi shows that less than half of executives see themselves as advanced or leaders in data and analytics. The survey drew responses from executives across a wide range of industries, from technology and services to finances, telecommunications, and healthcare.
Even though the vast majority of companies—91 percent—that use data and analytics have experienced increases in revenue, only a third see themselves as leaders in customer experience. This gap highlights how underutilized data and analytics continue to be in the business world.
Researchers from the MIT Center for Digital Business define digital transformation as “the use of technology to radically improve performance or reach of enterprises.” In a 2014 survey of 157 executives at 50 companies, researchers found the best-performing companies combined digital activity with strong leadership to leverage technology for transformation. According to the researchers, these companies had reached digital maturity—a differentiator that led them to outperform their competition.
The key areas where the MIT Center for Digital Business saw executives digitally transforming their processes were customer experience, operational processes, and business models. Additionally, as Forbes and Hitachi’s survey shows, these are also areas where IT leadership can lead the way. To be successful with digital transformation, CIOs need to steer their companies in two seemingly opposed directions. IT leaders need to take a bigger, long-term vision while executing on outstanding operational delivery within the organization. In order to fully transform their company digitally and ensure success, CIOs need to take these six steps.
1. Make data and analytics a top company priority
The majority of companies are already putting digital transformation at the forefront. Forbes Insights and Hitachi’s research shows that digital transformation is a priority for 50 percent of respondents. This focus is especially notable when it comes to how executives make investments that will benefit their organizations in the long term. The study found that, in addition to increasing their data and analytics capabilities, new technologies are the top investment priority of 51 percent of respondents for the next two years.
However, a not-so-small subset (49 percent) of companies still lags behind. In the years to come, this will be a huge differentiator between these organizations and their competitors as they rush to play catch up. This is because data, like a fine wine, improves in value over time. The more data an organization is able to collect and analyze over a longer period of time, the sharper their insights.
2. Design digital transformation around business goals
Forbes and Hitachi’s research also found that a changing business model was the top reason that 41 percent of respondents had begun the process of digital transformation. The availability of new technologies came second, driving 40 percent of respondents to digitize their businesses. This is likely due to the impact that digital disruption has made on a number of industries. Companies, such as Uber and Airbnb, seemingly transformed their industries overnight by leveraging cloud and mobile technologies to gain access to customers.
Savvy leaders are turning to digital transformation to modernize—before their industries are turned upside down. For instance, the ability to innovate was listed by 46 percent of survey respondents as the top metric used to measure the success of digital transformation, closely followed by revenue growth (46 percent) and cost reduction (43 percent).
3. Take an enterprise-wide approach
Digital transformation can’t be accomplished in a silo. Currently, the bulk of the work is carried out by IT teams—without the involvement of cross-function teams within the company. The focus on IT is partially because they were cited by 53 percent of Forbes and Hitachi’s survey respondents as the most prepared for digital transformation. Only a third of the survey respondents viewed other company functions as ready.
Instead of focusing solely on IT for digital transformation, companies should empower IT teams to collaborate with other departments on ways to digitize their systems. By partnering with other departments, IT teams can make an efficiency and revenue impact across the organization. If digital transformation continues to live in a silo, its effectiveness will remain limited.
4. Expand the role of IT
CIOs have a unique opportunity to grow and expand their influence within the organization. A survey from Gartner shows that 75 percent of executives expect digital to help double revenue. Digital transformation can give IT leaders an opportunity to expand their roles and oversee technology across the organization. To make this change, CIOs need to shift away from focusing just on operations and infrastructure to embracing a more consultative and collaborative role.
Much of IT spending happens outside of the IT department. When IT leadership oversees all technology spending, they gain a holistic view of what technology the company uses the most as well as redundancies and opportunities to innovate. IT leaders need to both manage traditional IT while also act as an advisor and guide for the rest of the company on what technologies and digital projects they should research and experiment.
The recruiting process at many organizations is one clear area where digital transformation and collaboration with IT can make a big difference for companies. Companies are constantly searching for the best talent, and it’s a challenge to find people with the right skill sets, especially when it comes to tech roles such as data science and DevOps. What’s more, the technology landscape constantly changes and there’s a high likelihood that this time next year, companies will seek people with an entirely different set of skills.
The right digital tools can help make the process of finding and connecting with candidates much easier. Solutions such as videoconferencing for interviews, sharing job openings on social media, and leveraging LinkedIn make recruiting and interviewing much more efficient—and not just for the IT department. Teams across the company can hire top talent more easily and efficiently by digitizing their recruiting process.
6. Prioritize employee-friendly processes
Just as digital transformation can’t flourish in a silo, new procedures and technologies that aren’t employee friendly will also fall flat. Busy employees will only be frustrated by technologies they don’t know how to use or those that need constant troubleshooting. When this occurs, they simply return to the old way of doing things. Instead, IT leaders have to think like user-experience professionals and HR teams. They need to assess new technologies based on user-friendliness, as well as educate, train, and support employees when new technologies are implemented.
Digital disruption brings change, which can be uncomfortable for employees—especially team members who are used to the old system. It’s important to be understanding and patient. Setting the right tone is crucial. For instance, let employees know that a dip in productivity is expected while everyone adjusts to the new system. There are also many ways to make learning new technology more enjoyable for everyone. Holding new tech trainings with snacks, games, and prizes, and allowing for some time to let everyone socialize can help the team relax and have fun.
The growing interest and adoption of digital transformation by the business world has created new opportunities for IT leadership to evolve their roles within their organizations. This gives companies more access to tech leaders who can steer their business toward higher levels of productivity and efficiency, which can increase revenue and decrease costs. To do this, CIOs and IT professionals have to make a shift toward developing more strategic and consultative roles for themselves. This is the only way they can effectively partner with departments across the company to enact change and drive digital transformation.