By Josh Caid, Chief Evangelist at Cherwell Software
Digital transformation has established an almost universal presence in the boardroom in recent years. As with many tech trends, the term has become overused to the extent that it has started to become somewhat vague and ill-defined, with many companies devising their own ideas of what digital transformation means and how it should be implemented.
Whatever approach is taken, at its heart digital transformation is all about using technology to implement a fundamental change in the way businesses operate. When implemented successfully, a digital transformation project can deliver powerful benefits to an organisation, including improving efficiency, reducing costs, enhancing user experience, and even establishing entirely new working practices and revenue streams.
These potential benefits mean that digital transformation has become firmly established as a top business priority. Gartner’s 2018 CIO Agenda Industry Insights report surveyed more than 3,000 CIOs around the world and found that all respondents ranked digital business as one of their top 10 objectives. While some industries have more to gain than others, any business sector is able to reap the rewards of going digital. 11 of the 15 industries participating went as far as to rank digital transformation as one of their top three priorities.
Digital transformation is the go-to top-line strategy for any organisation looking to demonstrate innovation in its field. However, in the race to gain a reputation as digital trend-setter, many companies make the mistake of rushing in and throwing budget at new technologies promising to deliver a digital solution to long-entrenched problems.
Less digital, more transformation
Real digital transformation cannot be achieved by simply buying in the latest shiny tech solutions. A successful transformation strategy comes not just from product, but from process and – the most overlooked aspect of all – people. A company needs to start its digitalisation project armed with a thorough understanding of the relationship between people, process and, finally, product. This takes a level of insight and patience that many firms unfortunately do not feel they can spare in the breakneck race to stay ahead of the competition.
Attempting to implement a quick-fix approach to digital transformation without going through a process approach will often result in a poorly established and disjointed system full of automation siloes. Users will often end up simply bypassing these solutions, leading to them reverting to older inefficient working practices – or even creating new ones.
Bill Gates once summed the issue up perfectly: “The first rule of any technology used in a business is that automation applied to an efficient operation will magnify the efficiency. The second is that automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency.”
Incoming IT headaches
While everyone in an organisation is likely to suffer a headache under the issues caused by a failed transformation project, it is the IT service team that will be forced to endure the real blackeye.
Many IT teams have historically had their hands full fighting fires – helping to resolve issues around technology not functioning correctly or fulfilling time sensitive user requests such as password resets. Digital transformation has the potential to change this status quo both by creating a more efficient and reliable IT environment, and by implementing new processes that will enable them to respond much more quickly and efficiently. In this scenario, the time spent fighting fires is drastically reduced and IT personnel are able to devote more energy and resources to long-term strategic improvements instead.
However, this IT nirvana is only possible when a transformation project has been completed successfully. When the project is rushed or overlooks fundamental elements around processes and user experience, the IT support team will instead be forced to fight more fires than ever. Indeed, in the worst-case scenario, these fires can turn into a full-fledged conflagration that must be tackled at the expense of all other priorities.
Breaking down silo walls
While most companies are rushing to demonstrate what cutting-edge digital innovators they are, many will focus on the digital aspect and forget about the transformation. Unless there has been a fundamental shift in the way the company operates, it cannot be said to have genuinely achieved digital transformation.
One of the biggest barriers to digital transformation is the siloed structure that most organisations are built around, with departments such as IT, facilities management, human resources (HR) and finance generally having their own distinct processes and software solutions. In most cases, these working practices have been developed with little regard to interoperability with other departments – despite the fact that many processes and user requests require cross-departmental support. As a result, users must often endure a tedious process that involves them being passed between different departments, each of which is hindered by their working practices not meshing with the others. Attempting to implement new digitally driven processes without removing all existing silo walls will generally do little to fix these issues.
Most companies have made strides in implementing improved processes under the guidance of ITIL and other standards to make the IT operations service desk more productive. However, these efforts rarely go beyond the siloed walls of the IT department. Organisations that are able to apply these same digitalisation efforts in a universal, cross-departmental way will be able to achieve new levels of efficiency and vastly improve the user experience.
Employee onboarding provides a good case for how departments can be unified under new digital processes. Onboarding is driven primarily by HR, but requires involvement from IT, finance, facilities and security among others. All these workflows can be automated into a single value stream, saving a great deal of time and effort for each department involved.
From ITSM to ESM
Applying the concepts and technology behind IT service management (ITSM) to the broader organisation will see the company moving towards enterprise service management (ESM). This approach holds great potential for both automating key functions in different departments and, more importantly, for establishing set of automated workflows that integrate across business functions. A huge number of work processes can then be united under a single ESM platform, enabling users to access any kind of service and support they need from a single location. Alongside the improved efficiency and user experience, uniting most of the organisation’s processes under a single digital system will also provide an unparalleled strategic overview that can be used to assess progress and inform future decisions.
In isolation, going digital will do little to transform an organisation. But by properly assessing their current working practices and being bold enough to tear down silo walls and build from the ground up, organisations can unlock the true potential of digital transformation.