Is digital transformation on your 2021 agenda?

digital transformation

Last year disrupted every aspect of life as we knew it. We moved from our desks to home offices, held imperative company meetings over Zoom, rethought our business structures and overhauled our services.

At the core of 2020’s disruption was digital transformation. Although it had long been touted as the only logical path forward for businesses to remain relevant and competitive, the past year forced many companies dancing on the outskirts to fully embrace the revolution.

While the circumstances were less than ideal, companies are seeing for themselves the benefits of digital transformation and asking why they hadn’t undertaken it a long time ago.

It’s revolutionised the way we work, opened up new business opportunities and relieved us of mundane tasks, leaving us free to dedicate time unhindered to growth and progress.

Among many other benefits, digital transformation has been proven to:

  • Optimise data collection for enhanced business and consumer insights
  • Facilitate in-depth understanding of your customer and deliver a superior customer experience
  • Encourages a culture of collaboration and employee engagement
  • Increase business revenue and improve your bottom line
  • Drive productivity through a streamlined workflow and task automation

While 2020 may have pushed businesses to jump headfirst into innovation, we now have the opportunity to take a step back, acknowledge what we’ve achieved and plan a path towards consolidated, end-to-end transformation.

What is digital transformation and why should you do it?

Digital transformation (DX) is the process of using the latest technology to comprehensively improve and expand the performance of your business.

You can adapt the scale and speed of the transformation to suit your organisation. The technology you choose to introduce could include any, or all, of:

  • Automation of repetitive processes to increase efficiency and enhance employee value and experience
  • Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) to integrate financials, operations, Customer Relationship Management (CRM), supply chain, forecasting, reporting, human resources
  • Cloud for data storage and Software as a Service (SaaS)
  • Edge computing for when you need to work nearer the data source
  • AI and Machine Learning to assist automation, detect data patterns, provide virtual customer support
  • Data analytics for deeper insights, to understand and guide customer behaviour, product development and strategic decision-making
  • Internet of Things (IoT) to deliver data insights from previously non-communicating objects
  • Autonomous vehicles and machinery, drones and robotics, in manufacturing, mining and agriculture, for greater productivity and safety
  • Mobile tools for remote working including laptops, tablets, smartphone apps, remote access to software systems, networking tools, and 5G
  • Social media to add to customer services and provide digital marketing
  • Cybersecurity upgrade to accommodate off-site networks and devices

Rather than aiming for an immediate end-to-end business transformation, you may want to focus at first on a specific objective, such as improving customer connections and relationships. After you reap the benefits from your first steps, you can consider accelerating into a more systematic approach, funded by the increased revenue and resource efficiencies you have generated.

In a 2020 survey conducted by digital marketing firm OneAffiniti, covering businesses of all sizes in Australia, New Zealand and the US, 59% of respondents reported that they were still in the experimenting and escalating phase of their digital transformation journey. But, despite the impact of COVID-19, 40% of surveyed companies expected to move on to their next stage in the coming 12 months.

Overcoming barriers to DX

Surmounting obstacles goes hand-in-hand with implementing change. The three major hurdles faced by DX are lack of budget, resistance to change and increased security concerns. But these can be overcome.

  • Lack of budget can be mitigated not only by subscription-based SaaS, but also PCaaS (PCs as a Service, including mobile devices), instead of purchasing hardware outright.
  • Resistance to change from employees can be reduced by giving them a voice, encouraging collaboration and communication, fostering early adopters and providing appropriate training.
  • Increased security concerns can be allayed by storing sensitive data in the Cloud rather than in localised hardware, by devices with advanced biometric security features, by hardware-based credential storage, and by a PCaaS that covers data backup, disaster recovery and remote wiping in the event of mobile device theft.

DX doesn’t have to take years

You don’t need to spend years, or even months, on transforming your operations. You can start small, and then accelerate. Taking it one step at a time can yield big results.

Family business Earthtrack, the provider of lighting solutions for the resources industry, saw an instant improvement when they implemented a CRM system with a central digital database, to replace their paper-based customer lead sheets, quoting and order processing. Delighted with the results, they went on to install a warehouse management system, marketing automation software and a B2B eCommerce platform, achieving revenue growth of 20% even in the early stages of implementation.

DX doesn’t need to come at a premium

By focusing on the resulting revenue growth and increased efficiency rather than the implementation cost, you can accomplish a business transformation that funds itself.

An article published by Forbes cites an airport’s digital transformation which increased revenue enough to cover the cost of digitisation several times over. And a private hospital not only increased revenue but also achieved significant process cost savings.

DX doesn’t need to happen at your employees’ expense

Leadership, communication and collaboration are the keys to getting team buy-in for your project.

  • Leadership. When you show a willingness to learn and embrace new technology yourself, your employees are more likely to be infected by your enthusiasm. Explain your vision and the benefits, demystify the buzzwords and make a compelling case for innovation.
  • Communication. Encourage and answer questions about the transformation in regular short meetings. Settle any concerns about job security by emphasising the resulting growth potential.
  • Outline the new opportunities and job satisfaction they will have by decreasing repetitive processes and replacing them with innovation and strategic initiatives. Offer training to close any knowledge gaps.
  • Collaboration. Allow employees to try out new software and devices, so that they can experience the productivity improvements first hand. Ask them to suggest solutions and improvements, based on their firsthand experience. Let them own the transformation.

With everyone on board, DX is certain to be a smoother process.

What happens if you don’t make time for DX?

Charles Darwin never actually said “The species that survives is the one that is able best to adapt and adjust to the changing environment in which it finds itself” – in fact it’s a quote from a 1960s business journal. But this ‘adapt or die’ warning is appropriate in the context of DX.

If you shun digital transformation you will miss out on growth opportunities and lose market share. Sticking to your clunky legacy systems may damage the way you are perceived by customers, and you may lose their business to more digitally agile competitors. The products and services you offer will fail to keep pace with rapidly evolving customer needs.

Product life cycles have shortened dramatically in recent times (the ‘vinyl records → cassette tapes → CDs → MP3 → streaming’ timeline is the oft-cited classic example) and an organisation not open to continuous change and innovation risks being consigned to history.

If you don’t make time now for digital transformation, you’ll soon have plenty of time on your hands, as you contemplate your digitally-advanced competitors’ success from your silent premises.

What happens after DX?

Actually, there is no defined moment when ‘next’ happens, because there is no ‘after DX.’ Instead, it’s a never-ending process of development, and it’s been given several names: ‘Continuous Next’, ‘the post-digital era’, ‘the cognitive, self-driving enterprise.’

Take your pick, but accept the fact that for a truly successful business there is no final DX destination, only unceasing innovation and the competitive advantages that come with it.

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