Technology is capable of transforming businesses with operational efficiency, increased productivity, effective communication and collaboration, and more, yet many IT implementations fail because of unclear processes and objectives. Digital transformation seeks to remedy this by clearly integrating technological improvements into every aspect of an organization.
Although the term digital transformation is better known in enterprise-level organizations, the concept can be successfully applied in small-to medium-sized businesses. As covered in our previous article on digital transformation and why it matters, the methodology identifies and prioritizes areas for improvement and provides a consistent framework to maintain those improvements.
We firmly believe that all businesses are better served by taking the proactive approach to digital transformation, before they are forced to by competitors or regulators. To develop a successful digital transformation strategy, address the following three essential pillars.
Investing in new technologies is pointless if no one is capable of utilizing them. That’s why people should be central to any digital transformation strategy. To ensure the successful adoption of technology, follow these steps:
Get the right people in the right roles
Before investing in new technologies or processes, it is important to ensure there are staff available to manage them.
Each tool/system and process should have an owner responsible for training others and updating procedures. The owner should be defined by role rather than name, so that the responsibility passes on if the employee changes positions or leaves the company. We call these process owners ‘business process leads’.
By assigning business process leads with the right skill sets, not only is someone accountable for and capable of implementing the procedure, they also train other team members. This ensures that all team members are more likely to be trained properly and adopt the process successfully.
All employees who are expected to use specific tools and processes must be given adequate training on how they work and how they are used within the organization.
Each job role should have a set of procedures assigned to it that are introduced during new employee onboarding. Training should be standardized across departments to ensure consistency, and should be carried out or overseen by the relevant business process lead.
When training a new employee, the business process lead should follow documented company procedures. Not only does this maintain consistency, it allows them to alter the procedure documents in real time if current practices have changed or clarifications are required. This keeps processes alive and relevant.
Training should not be a set-and-forget process. As technologies change or get replaced, training needs to be updated. Employees should revisit training on a regular basis to stay fresh.
To establish the effectiveness of a tool or process, employee output should be measured regularly. This requires setting KPIs for critical business processes. KPI success/failure rates enable inefficiencies to be quickly identified and addressed, ensuring continual improvement. For example, if a service, product, or workflow is under-performing, the reason can be investigated to determine if it’s from lack of training, lack of process, or lack of usefulness.
The digital transformation framework provides new, improved ways of doing things. These could be digital tools that help people collaborate, give insights into client/customer behavior, automate marketing and sales, or improve nearly any other business function that used to depend on manual processes. For people to utilize these tools effectively, the processes need to be established and communicated effectively. To achieve this:
To train their employees, many organizations rely on verbal communication or written documents that are hard to find or follow. Providing unambiguous procedure documents, training tools, and checklists not only improves consistency across the organization, but saves time by streamlining training and facilitating the delegation of repetitive tasks.
These documents should be clearly titled and made easily accessible to everyone who needs to reference them, for example by storing them in a dedicated shared folder in Sharepoint. They should also follow a set naming convention that includes the business process area, a simple description, and a version number; this makes it easier for employees to locate the relevant documents.
Update processes regularly
As well as introducing new employees to process documents, existing employees should be reminded of procedures regularly through ongoing training and updates. This ensures that processes remain fresh.
As new needs arise, processes will inevitably change. To ensure training procedures, process documents, and checklists remain current and accurate, they should be continually refreshed. Processes should be regularly revisited in team meetings and adjusted on the fly when inaccuracies or inefficiencies are noticed. This ensures that processes and documents are always improving and becoming more streamlined.
To promote consistency, standardized process documents should be shared and implemented organization-wide. When changes are made to documents and procedures, they should be communicated to the relevant teams. A change log will ensure documents are updated accordingly and clarifications can be made when necessary.
As well as assigning an owner to each process, as mentioned above, the roles and business areas impacted by the procedure should be listed in the documentation. This enables standardization across multiple departments. When updates are made, it ensures the relevant people are notified.
As we have seen, new digital tools are not the only element of digital transformation, but they still form an integral part of it. The challenge here is to successfully bridge the gap between new and existing technologies to produce the best results. To do this:
Fully utilize existing tools
Most organizations do not use their existing technology investments to their full potential. Digital transformation should start with creating an inventory of existing software and hardware and analyzing whether they are being fully utilized.
For example, Microsoft 365 features dozens of applications, yet many businesses only use a few of these, such as Excel and Outlook. For organizations seeking digital transformation capabilities, their existing Microsoft subscriptions will contain many untapped resources. Examples include the collaboration and remote-work potential of Sharepoint, Onedrive, and Teams.
Select the right technology
Too often, companies invest in the latest technologies without considering how these tools fit with their existing infrastructure, how they will improve their operations, or how they will be implemented using people and processes.
To avoid this, it is important to start by establishing the priorities of the business. Tools should then be selected based on real business needs, such as hitting goals and resolving pain points. Again, setting and reviewing KPIs is extremely useful.
For example, if improving customer experience is a priority, then a CRM system such as Salesforce or Hubspot is a wise investment. A CRM not only helps to understand and address customer needs, it can shorten sales cycles, automate repetitive tasks, improve marketing strategies, and increase retention.
Establish expected ROI
Every investment should start with ROI goals, and this is no different for technology. Business owners must take a holistic approach to assessing the ROI of new tools. This should encompass a tool’s potential time and cost saving benefits, productivity gains, compatibility with existing tools and processes, and the amount of training it will require.
As an example, the initial cost to implement artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies may be high, but the benefits can be far reaching: The ability to automate processes will not only save valuable employee time, it could negate the need for costly new hires. AI can also be used to gain actionable insights into business data, which can result in improved performance by identifying inefficiencies and opportunities that would not otherwise be recognized.
Start your technology transformation today
As we have shown, digital transformation provides a methodology for businesses to achieve consistent improvement through technology. By constantly evaluating the intersection between people, processes, software and hardware tools, and business goals, business leaders can develop a framework to achieve ongoing success and positive ROI.
At Leverage IT, we are fanatical about improving business processes to fuel growth. Our founder, Eric Baryol, is a founding member of Digital Maturity Group, an online organization dedicated to educating business leaders on how to undergo a successful digital transformation. To learn more, head to the website.