Are you ready for a digital future? In a recent study from MIT’s Sloan Institute, 90% of global managers and executives expected “moderate” or “great” industry disruption through technological advantages, but only 40% of those same executives said their organizations were prepared for the disruptions. The reality is that although most companies believe a digital transformation would offer their organization a significant competitive advantage and increase operational efficiency, the barriers to implementing a digital transformation can seem daunting.
That’s why so many organizations are only beginning to take even basic steps toward digital transformation. With technology accelerating so rapidly ahead of them, many of these slow-moving organizations are just now considering migration to cloud infrastructures and the implementation of SaaS solutions, which have the potential to dismantle dedicated private infrastructures and proprietary software development teams and necessitate the restructuring of the entire organization’s teams, business processes, and business models.
If you’re one of those organizations considering taking the leap and implementing a particular new technology or a specific new platform, or if you are already in the middle of a messy and disjointed digital transformation, you need to reframe your perspective. To successfully adopt a digital transformation, your organization must have a holistic mindset toward technological progress.
Viewing technology holistically creates an integrated approach to digital transformation. Just like holistic medicine emphasizes wellness and functionality for the entire body, a holistic approach to technology considers any digital transformation in terms of its overall impact on the organization. Its ultimate goal is a digital transformation that is aligned with organizational purpose, embraced across the organization, and deeply integrated into the daily work and thoughts of all organization team members.
Approaching Digital Transformations Holistically
Align Digital Transformation with Organizational Purpose
A truly holistic approach is technologically agnostic. In other words, it doesn’t start by assuming that X platform or Y tool needs to be an integral part of a digital transformation. Instead, the approach begins with the core of any organization: its purpose. Organizational purpose then drives every aspect of the digital transformation. Available technology that clearly enhances the organization’s ability to achieve its purpose is targeted for implementation, and technology that doesn’t is discarded.
Identify and Empower Internal and External Change Agents
Just like in any other form of organizational change, digital transformations are typically driven by change agents who understand both the organization’s purpose and the power of available technologies. Change agents actively seek out useful new technologies. Identify the internal technology change agents in your organization and empower them to implement technology, educate colleagues, and inspire additional team members to become change agents.
While internal change agents are often sufficient to implement ongoing small digital updates, larger digital transformations often require an external change agent. External change agents come from outside the organization and typically have extensive experience with both specific technologies and organizational change. These external change agents help hone the organization’s vision for digital transformation, implement the more technical aspects of the transformation, on-board key internal change agents across the organization, and (often) provide one-time organizational onboarding or ongoing managed support for the new technology.
Build Executive Cohesion and Cross-Departmental Collaboration
Any successful digital transformation requires collaboration between leadership from across the organization. The organization’s attitude toward the digital transformation will often mirror that of the executive team, so it is vital that the team shares a clear vision and has carefully planned for the articulation of that vision to the organization as a whole. Often, an external change agent can be useful in this process, serving as a catalyst for the kinds of collaborative discussion and decision making that encourages positive organizational change.
The holistic approach also emphasizes the importance of having leadership from the technology department of the organization integrate with leadership from other departments. The same holds for CIOs and other organizational strategists. The greatest transformation occurs when these leaders connect with the organization as a whole and blend understanding and perspectives from a variety of disciplines.
A classic example is Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft. He has an undergraduate degree in engineering and two masters: one in computer sciences and the other in business. He also served in a variety of departments within Microsoft before becoming CEO: the server and tools division (President), the research and development department (VP), and the cloud and enterprise group (VP). His cross-organization understanding has enabled Microsoft to engage departments and adopt technology innovations across the organization.
Identify Concrete Elements of the Digital Transformation
Once an organization has aligned its overall digital transformation goals with the core mission of its organization, it needs to identify very specific transformation targets and timelines. Especially for organizations relying exclusively on internal change agents, we recommend first using a holistic approach and cross-organizational collaboration to implement a simple digital solution and then progressively targeting increasingly complex systems. For corporations using an experienced external change agent like Vander Group to catalyze transformation, we recommend jumping right into moderate or major implementations to achieve more rapid and integrated digital transformation.
Potential Cross-Organizational Implementations by Size and Relative Complexity
Minor (1-4 Weeks Implementation)
- Chat / Collaboration App
- Improved Online Meeting App
Moderate (2-6 Months)
- eCommerce Replatform
- Cloud CRM
Major (6-12 Months)
- Migration to Cloud Infrastructures
- Cloud ERP
Engage the Entire Organization in Digital Transformation
Engaging the entire organization in technological updates removes silos and inspire innovations that actually work. This results in lasting organizational change from the inside out, and gives a massive edge in efficiency compared to purely top-down digital mandates that are poorly received by individual organizational members. It’s not enough for the CIO and CTO to understand and embrace digital solutions. Every member of the team that is using a new digital tool must recognize its importance and feel invested in its implementation.
Achieving this kind of engagement depends heavily on establishing a collaborative and respectful company culture. Any kind of change, especially digital transformation, which often requires team members to learn new skills and change work habits, will be better received if members feel that their input contributed to the change and that their concerns during implementation are being addressed seriously by company leadership. In practical terms, this means offering personalized and systematic support during roll-outs, enabling and embracing team feedback after implementation, and offering direct and respectful feedback to team members about the effectiveness of their use of new tools.
Bolster Required “Hard” Skills
One of the major obstacles to digital transformation is a lack of hard skills among team members and leadership. While today’s digital solutions are more user friendly and responsive than ever, there are still some hard skills required, and team members must master these skills. It’s also useful if these skills go beyond just everyday use of the most common digital tools. Empowering team members to expand their technology hard skills will improve their value to the organization and understanding of technology. Team members with a greater technical understanding are more likely to envision more efficient and creative uses of the technology that is made available to them, and their added understanding can drive innovation across the organization.
Because of this, every organization should consider all available options for increasing team member technical know-how. Formal education and training programs are great, as are specific talent acquisition strategies that center on bringing in new team members with hard technical skills. Crash course classes, online courses, certification programs, and hands-on training are also very effective at boosting the skill of existing team members and ensuring the organization has the collective skill base to execute ongoing digital transformation.
Develop Sustainable Organizational Digital Transformation
Technology is constantly evolving and being applied. Today’s digital transformations must be built on the understanding that today’s technology will be progressively replaced with digital solutions that are currently non-existent. Rather than intimidate organizations, this fact should inspire team members to create and recommend new technology solutions, knowing that their organization is interested in constantly adapting to new tools that further its mission.
To sustain ongoing digital transformation, organizations should build structures that provide for the progressive adoption and holistic integration of new technologies as they become available. While organizational roles like chief information officer and chief technology officer carry much of the responsibility for this process, company leadership across departments needs to create processes that foster consistent re-assessment of the available technological tools in light of the company’s primary mission. To do this, organizations of the future must create a culture that embraces a holistic technology mindset and empowers team members to live and work with a mindset that consciously assesses the potential of new technologies and implements new solutions in transformational ways.