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If you're initiating a digital transformation this year, there is a high likelihood you may fail. Business transformations of this magnitude are complex, with academic studies showing an average 87.5% of these transformations fail to meet original objectives.

While that statistic may be discouraging and the phrase 'digital transformation strategy' may sound overwhelming, it doesn’t have to be. Digital transformation is a business outcome that simply requires a people-centric approach. It requires a strategic vision centered around short and long-term business objectives, not technology.

My name is Mohammed Abukar and I currently lead the sales technology strategy at TELUS. In this article, I’ll share 9 people-centric steps that I have used to implement transformative digital strategies. Incorporate these steps in your own strategy and you'll maximize your return on investment and realize your organization’s full potential.

What Is Digital Transformation?

Before we get into our steps, let’s talk about what digital transformation is. According to Gartner, “Digital transformation can refer to anything from IT modernization (for example, cloud computing), to digital optimization, to the invention of new digital business models.”

To sum this up, you can think of a digital transformation strategy as a business strategy outlining how to incorporate digital technology and business processes together to ultimately deliver value for both employees and customers.

Why Now?

We live in a completely digitized world today. “Old school” or “traditional” industries are also going through massive technological transformations. The rise of globalization has also played a big role in transforming the way we use digital solutions to solve problems and communicate with one another.

The term digital transformation has caught a lot of attention over the past few years. It is evident that the Covid 19 pandemic pulled forward years of digital demand. In a survey conducted at the height of the pandemic, 70% of executives surveyed believed that the pandemic would accelerate digital transformation.

But before Covid 19 and the tech boom of the past decade, digital transformation was discussed as far back as the late 90s when we started to use computers to initiate automated business procedures and workflows.

Fast forward to today where the term has become ubiquitous and is at the center of all technological change in business. CIOs and IT leaders are both prioritizing this more than ever. Whether you are using digital technology to secure your organization from cyber threats or using artificial intelligence for automation in business processes, a successful digital transformation requires a comprehensive strategy.

How Does A Digital Transformation Strategy Impact Business?

When implementing a transformation strategy, there are really two core areas of impact to build metrics and KPIs around:

  1. How does this strategic shift improve agility and innovation
  2. What value are we creating for our customers

There are a number of other business impacts to keep in mind like creating a competitive advantage, improving decision-making abilities, or driving operational efficiency. In my view, nothing matters more than the impact on customers and employees.

From a customer experience perspective, implementing a comprehensive and sustainable strategy can help improve the customer experience. Transformation centered around faster decision-making and becoming a data-driven organization is critical in order to meet your customers where they are.

The bottom line - keep your customer experience in mind when drawing out the right strategy for your organization. Keep this as part of your business goals during your transformation process.

Agility and innovation are also critical for any growing business. It is what allows businesses to stay ahead in competitive markets. Companies that create a culture around technological innovation will adapt in rapidly changing markets and will come out ahead.

The bottom line - creating a digital transformation strategy is not a short-term objective. In order to maximize your investment here, ensure you are creating an organizational culture of innovation and agility that will have a compounding effect on your strategy.

Who Is Involved In The Digital Transformation Strategy?

Let’s talk about who is who when it comes to digital transformation strategies. When you think about the number or types of stakeholders you need to engage when implementing a comprehensive strategy, it varies from company to company.

If you are a rapidly growing startup your strategy team will look a lot leaner than what a global enterprise business might require. But for the sake of simplicity, I want to call out three very specific groups that should exist at every organization and briefly share what their roles will look like in creating this strategy.

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Business Leaders

These are the people responsible for helping set the vision and strategy for the transformation that is about to occur. Think about your CIOs, CTOs, and CEOs that play a critical role in any transformational change. Beyond just setting the strategy these folks might also be your executive sponsors.

Maintaining a strong partnership with this group will be critical to your success. If they are also your executive sponsors, make sure that they remain visible as a sponsor at all times and understand their role. Without the right buy-in and commitment from this group, you’ll have an uphill challenge that will be hard to overcome.

IT Professionals

This is the team that has their hands on the keyboards and makes sure that the technical solution and strategy being implemented is a good one. You want to ensure that these folks have a seat at the table when coming up with your transformational strategy as they will typically be the team designing, implementing, and managing the infrastructure once it’s deployed.

Change Management Practitioners

This is one that undoubtedly gets missed most of the time. In larger organizations, you may have a change management office but in smaller organizations, you’ll typically see project managers wear the hat of change management professionals as well.

This group is arguably the most important of the three. From conducting change impact assessments to formalizing a communication plan, this group needs to be front and center in any digital transformation strategy. 

Steps For Your Digital Transformation Journey

1. Assess Your Current State

Just like beginning any journey, it’s important to take a deep look in the mirror and assess your organization’s current state. Take stock of the systems, process, and technology that currently exists. Try to understand how this transformational change fits into the bigger picture.

2. Identify Potential Roadblocks and Opportunities

Once you have assessed your current state you should have a better picture of the potential roadblocks and opportunities that exist. This might include outdated systems, lack of technical expertise, and resistance to change just to name a few.

3. Define Purpose, Vision, and Prioritized Goals

Get extremely clear on your purpose and vision. Make sure that all stakeholders are in agreement about the business outcomes and the prioritization of initiatives. This should be front and center of your project plan. Do not proceed forward without this!

4. Prepare for Culture Change

Any organizational change can be hard to implement. Understanding the social climate and culture that exists in your own organization will ultimately help determine how much change management is required. If your current culture is resistant to change, double down on your change management plan and make sure to bring everyone on board for the ride together.

5. Start Small but Be Strategic

Look for quick wins and low-hanging fruit when you start. Be sure to celebrate these wins publicly as well as this will undoubtedly help build momentum in your favor.

6. Create an Implementation Roadmap

Get really clear here! Once you have defined your goals and business objectives, create a roadmap that outlines steps, milestones, and timelines in your transformation journey.

7. Seek Out Stakeholders

Ensuring you have the right stakeholders is a little bit of a no-brainer here. What is often missed is making sure every stakeholder has a clearly defined role and understanding of what their own objective is. If you need to, go as far as getting written sign-off from your stakeholder group to ensure everyone knows what their role is. This helps maintain a level of accountability that can often be missing.

8. Gather Feedback and Refine

Feedback loops, feedback loops, feedback loops! Ensure that you are gathering feedback at every stage of your transformation from people at all levels within your organization. Once you know what is working and what is not, be quick to act on this information and refine your transformational journey.

9. Scale and Transform

As you start to count the wins and start seeing success, scale and transform your digital transformation efforts across the organization. It is all about driving sustainable growth that will achieve your long-term business objectives.

Why You Should Care

Companies that are intentional and laser-focused on their transformation strategy will have a leg up today. New business models and modernization is forcing technology to evolve at a rate we have never seen before. In order to maintain a competitive edge, companies will be forced to adopt new technology to help drive business transformation and keep up.

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By Mohammed Abukar

Meet Mohammed Abukar. He currently leads the Sales Technology strategy at TELUS, one of Canada’s flagship telecom and technology companies. With a broad range of experience in Revenue Operations, Mohammed brings a unique lens to the conversations around process, technology, data, and people. When he is not knee deep in software implementations and integrations you can catch him outdoors enjoying time with family and friends.

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