Digitalize to Survive

backpack leaning against a wall

Welcome to the new (business) world order, in which atoms are progressively being replaced by bits, and seemingly the only real limitation to how far companies can reach is their leaders’ imagination. You may agree or disagree with that statement but you can’t deny these really are exciting times for business. Technological developments take place at a head-spinning rate, which in turn fuels how society – and organizations, in response – go about doing business, which further stimulates advancements. 

In this new socio-economic-and-technological landscape that has businesses genuinely scrambling to keep up, digitalization is imperative. Some companies know this of course, while others don’t. Those that do, if they’re keen on surviving the wave of change and thriving in the digital economy, would do well to express that desire by developing a clear digital transformation strategy. It’s simply a matter of learning to swim when you see the waters are rising. Do you want to act on the threat at hand, or remain complacent? The alternative is falling behind for good. 

So how should a business that wants to prosper in today and tomorrow’s marketplace go about ensuring they have a (proper) digital transformation plan in place?  

Step one is acknowledging they need one. Management needs to be on board from day one and ensure the key stakeholders in charge of carrying this through have the resources and support they need to be successful. Too often digital transformation initiatives are scrapped because of a lack of consensus between high-level stakeholders with regard to a project’s worthiness or the best way to execute it. Now, since this blog is called Evaluating EA I can’t possibly go ahead without briefly tipping my hat to enterprise architecture. EA can provide invaluable contributions to these types of initiatives – either by strengthening a proposal, for instance, or advancing an already live project with strategic insights.  

Step two is clarifying some fundamental questions. There should be no doubt as to what the program’s goal is, the motivation behind it, the viability of the paths deemed as desirable. The answers to these questions should be short and simple. That’s because the case for change should be clear and calculated. When this is successfully achieved, it means you have boiled down all stakeholders’ ideas, desires and visions, and you may move forward. 

Step three is actually designating someone to run the show. Most often, the person spearheading this type of enterprise-wide program is the CIO, or perhaps a chief digital officer. Technology, after all, is the major enabler in the digital transformation mix, so having someone with an extensive background in IT management and implementation is mandatory.  

Still, because of the scope of a digitalization program, the leading figure also needs to have a good business understanding, as well as the capacity to liaise with business stakeholders. This is because every little victory will be a hard-earned one, so they will need to be adept at bringing other stakeholders to their side and pull the occasional string to get over obstacles. A CIO/CDO who is ready to listen to all the various business units that answer to him, and leverage the intelligence they bring to the table (yes, I’m looking at you mister chief enterprise architect) will have a considerably better chance of delivering good results. 

Lastly, step four is establishing a strong governance practice. Any digital transformation program is bound to cause at least a little bit of confusion and frustration. This is understandable, after all it’s not easy to have the playing field redrawn while you’re still playing. Now, what is important to keep in mind about digital is that it can easily impact people not just in your immediate vicinity, but maybe across the world too. There are no silos to contain it – nor should there be, you are trying to modernize, unify and standardize – and so it permeates the entire enterprise. This global nature of digital means organizations who are transitioning towards it need to pay more attention to effort coordination. This is no easy task, especially for multinational corporations. It’s at this point that past decisions may not seem so clear cut anymore. Some team members may find themselves questioning certain aspects of the process, maybe the entire initiative altogether. 

Establishing solid governance principles for data, processes and people will remove the risk of losing crucial controls, or the company becoming uncompliant. Elements of digital governance can take the form of joint digital capabilities, enterprise-wide boards (responsible for finding technical solutions to problems, making investment decisions etc.) and even new role creation. Such measures will ensure efficient use of money, time, and human capital, which will keep the program going at a good pace but also keep morale high.  

So there you have it, a short overview of what kicking off a digitalization program might involve for your company. Obviously, every business is unique and as such each has its own specific requirements but you can think of these as high-level steps. One thing is certain, the changing marketplace is generating ever-new challenges for organizations. However, with the right digitalization program in place, they have the best shot at leveraging technological advancements and remaining relevant in the future.