If you want to achieve Digital Transformation think beyond the tech

Digital Transformation

Prompted by the restrictions on movement & opening times, many organisations are struggling to achieve digital transformation more urgently than ever. What once felt like an ideal optional extra or something for the future, has become essential to economic survival for many teams in no time at all.

During such challenging times there have been encouraging success stories. Like the speed with which organisations have adapted to video conference meetings, collaboration software & agile working. From the rapid set-up of Nightingale hospitals to workforces of thousands moving fully online within weeks.

But, for all that success there have been many frustrations. Most leaders have discovered the limitations of both traditional ways of management and their existing IT systems. The time previously taken to pull together teams or deliver projects no longer meets the needs of a changing organisation.

For all those reasons, organisations from businesses to hospitals & government departments are looking afresh at how they can transform. Much of that attention has been on how to adopt more digital ways of working, with all the enabling systems.

Digital Transformation requires more than technology

Given all that demand, Big Tech companies have responded with enthusiasm. From limited time offers to initial ‘freemium’ availability, they have enabled teams to use a wider range of digital tools. They have also been active with encouraging technology teams to invest in revamping their infrastructure. Improving networking, hardware and software to enable new collaborative applications.

As has been seen before (with past hype around CRM & later e-commerce), technology is rarely all that is needed. Quite often it is not even the most challenging or important part of a change.

Having seen many different organizations both succeed & fail at making this transition, in a series of masterclasses for University of South Wales, I will be sharing some lessons learnt. These form part of the Change Makers series. Each is designed to enable leaders to avoid pitfalls and prepare better for a new way of working post-pandemic.

Digital Transformation requires good quality data

All too often the raw material of data is neglected when designing new systems or processes for organisations. Yet it will be the lifeblood of any new way of operating. Digital systems and processes will not provide personalisation or optimal results by magic. Such improvements will rely upon the quality and completeness of data available for those systems.

A great place to start for many organisations is to ensure you have an accurate catalog of the data you currently hold and process. Such an information audit should already have been produced by most organisations to comply with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). Now you can look at that anew from the perspective of innovation.

Consider what you know from your research (including employee and citizen/service user feedback). Have you converged this evidence with behavioural analysis of how your services are used and the outcomes achieved? What does that tell you about what people need or want to achieve? Work to create such citizen insight has perhaps never been more important.

Once you have clarity as to both your current data & the purposes to be achieved, you should identify gaps. Is your existing data of sufficient quality (considering how quickly it degrades these days)? Are you missing crucial data that would enable a different way of working? Such questions should drive you to focus first on your data foundation. The quality of this determines the stability of everything else you build upon it. So, one of my masterclasses will focus here.

Digital Transformation requires Data Visualisation

This may not be so obvious at first. Two aspects drive the importance of Data Visualisation & Design for the success of Digital Transformation projects. The first is the need for everyone to clearly understand their own progress, relevant issues, progress of others and current goals. Both the likely complexity of such projects and the faster pace of agile working to deliver them require this. Too many still fail due to communication issues. 

The other aspect is the need for effective communication of data in a way that works for end users. New digital processes do not just mean working from anywhere and communicating by video conferencing. They also require the replacement of what was often previously explained in longer letters or in person, with a digital screen or message. Any data within that needs to be easily understood & the average numeracy level of the UK population is primary school level. 

Data Visualisation is needed because of the volume of data that needs to be considered and our limited human ability to understand and act upon such data when presented in tables of figures. Fortunately this field has been very active in recent years with plenty of advice, training & best practice available to help teams improve their graphs and present data visually. 

One side effect of the COVID-19 pandemic has been the increased media coverage for statistics and graphs. Those presented at government briefings gradually improved. The Office of National Statistics has done some great work in publishing more intuitive graphs to help the population understand complex data. Even the idea of talking about “the shape of the curve” has entered national parlance. I encourage leaders to not neglect how this can improve your digital transformation journey. One of my masterclasses will focus on this topic.

Digital Transformation will not succeed within a silo

It appears to be human nature that all organisations create silos. Little fiefdoms of power where knowledge is hoarded and decisions are made for the benefit of ‘us’ not ‘them’. But such isolated thinking is often fatal for Digital Transformation projects. Two of our masterclasses focus on two aspects of this essential culture change.

One of the key pieces of work needed for Digital Transformation is process redesign. So that new processes are designed to achieve the outcomes needed, not simply automating the old way of doing things. To avoid the latter requires the wisdom of different functional teams across an organisation. Done in isolation it will result in processes and applications that cannot be implemented or create problems elsewhere in the organisation.

Another reason to not be myopic is the need to keep a weather eye on other organisations. During these challenging times, positive examples and salutary warnings are happening all the time. Wise leaders learn from them. All organisations are needing to transition to different ways of working. How did that organisation deliver such a project so quickly? Why is that organisation getting such positive feedback for their new digital service? Stay curious and ask questions.

So, these are my suggestions:

  1. Audit your data, understand what you need, identify your gaps & quality issues.
  2. Use the power of Data Visualisation to improve experiences & communication.
  3. Break down silos by collaborating & having the humility to learn from others.

I wish you well. Paul Laughlin, USW Facilitator, Change Maker Programme (Digital Transformation)

This blog is part of the Change Maker series. The Change Maker programme is a series of blogs, podcasts and virtual learning sessions to help people and organisations to navigate through a time of unprecedented change. To find out how the Change Maker programme can help re-engage your teams, enquire now.

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