CIOs must overcome three key barriers to digital transformation

By Maarten van Montfoort, Vice President Northwest Europe, COMPAREX
Published: 10 October 2017

Every industry is feeling the drive to digitally transform. Research from analysts IDC found two thirds of CEOs in large organisations will place digital transformation at the heart of their corporate strategies by the end of 2017. However, simply moving digital transformation ‘up the agenda’ is easy, delivering it is another matter entirely. CIOs, often in charge of already over-burdened IT departments, must lead the digital revolution – but this a considerable challenge. There is little surprise then, that a significant 84% of digital transformation projects fail. These failures are typically a combination of the following three factors.

1. Digital transformation seen as ‘too complex’
There are no discrete start and end-points to digital transformation. As an ongoing, changeable process, it is daunting to many CIOs. This means that all too often, digital transformation is perceived as too complex, and a project doesn’t even get started in the first place. Take cloud as an example; a business makes the decision it will move some workloads to the cloud. So far, so good. The CIO investigates the cloud services available, and how this will change their infrastructure. Slowly, the picture starts to look more complicated – worries emerge over how to integrate legacy IT applications, or how to control costs, and very often, over data security and sovereignty. Eventually, the migration to cloud is shelved.

While there is no doubt organisations’ IT infrastructures have become more complex in recent years, this complexity is not a valid excuse for delaying the adoption of new digital technologies. With robust planning and clear, expert guidance – no complexity is insurmountable. A mix of the right skills and knowledge will enable CIOs to plot an achievable roadmap whatever the level of maturity in the business. The central tenet should be that everything is within ‘the square of possibility’.

2. ‘Legacy thinking’ is holding transformation back
One of the greatest barriers to digital transformation is ‘old-fashioned’ thinking, which means that grassroots ideas are often killed in the weeds. Often, this results in businesses approaching digital initiatives from the IT department’s perspective, rather than that of end-users. A shift in attitude is needed. The organisation must understand that better digital services are fundamental to engaging with users – whether internal employees or external customers – so projects must keep their needs front of mind. In addition, this shift must embrace innovative thinking, and become less concerned with getting everything ‘right’ first time.

In any sector, the companies riding the technology ‘wave’ are the most successful. These are the organisations able to create and launch new products or services in short timeframes, thanks to their agility. By embracing speed – for example, employing quick testing and quick feedback phases – ideas that don’t work can be quickly discarded, and those with promise can be rapidly rolled out.

A conscious choice to be creative, be prepared to take a risk, and to water the seeds of grassroots ideas, will empower true digital transformation.

3. Ill-defined and misaligned projects
Technology is an intrinsic part of any organisation – think of how critical IT departments are to everyday operations. Every organisational and business process is now driven by, or supported by technology. What this should mean in practice, is that there is no divide between the business and the IT department – but often, this is not the case. There are some fundamental questions that any digital transformation undertaking must begin with – what are we trying to achieve, what is our strategy, and how does technology help us achieve this? Frequently, however, organisations begin projects before they have answers to these questions; resulting in ill-defined projects that fail to deliver tangible benefits.

Digital transformation has huge potential for improving the way that businesses interact with stakeholders, how their operations are run, and ultimately, on their bottom line. But to make this digital future a reality, these barriers must be overcome, and CIOs can make this happen. Firstly, by challenging the legacy mind-set that continues to hold enterprises back. Secondly, satisfying boardroom demands by improving the link between the goals of the business and the goals of IT. Thirdly, CIOs must be prepared to take risks – focusing on the digital destination, rather than becoming fixated on the journey of transformation.

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