Technology first? People first? Digital Transformation is about transforming the company, culture and finally also the people. Technology is a small part of the digital transformation journey, but not the solution itself.
Each and everyday companies approach me for help in their Digital Transformation efforts. No matter how small or big the companies are, there are always the same problems and misconceptions about how to approach this new topic and how to really change the company for the better.
It is nice and futuristic to talk about AI, Blockchain, IoT, and many more topics but real Digital Transformation is only successful when a company is transforming the business model, the services, the products, and most importantly the employees and the company culture. All this is triggered by technology and is enabled by technology but TECHNOLOGY IS NO SOLUTION. Each company has to find solutions for its customers, has to adapt to changing possibilities but it is their responsibility to find the right solution and use technologies as a tool to enable these solutions. So, the work and impact involved is always 95% of the time on the internal change process and only 5% of technology adoption.
Digital Transformation is about people
As in every company topic, human is the center of the process. When we look at a company, we can split it into People, Processes, IT, and Strategy. In each one of these 4 pillars, we have humans in the role of user, leader, creator, or shaper. So, when we speak about Digital Transformation, we especially have to look into the topic of how these influencers, the humans in the process, need to adapt to the new world of technology and exponential change.
Several studies are outlining how little digital transformation projects succeed in companies. Most of the outline that 80-85% of the projects in Digital Transformation fail and often you also read that the missing culture and a wrong people management was the result of this failure.
Technology first? People first?
There are basically two ways on the market how companies approach Digital Transformation. The “Technology First” and the “People First” approach I call them.
Technology First is the most commonly seen paradigm of how companies see their own Digital Transformation. They see software or technology, they get attracted by the features and they try to implement this into their organization. This technology-first approach has a simple problem … it is a top-down approach where people are looking for features instead of solutions. Especially in employee engagement, this is a bad approach as you are not co-creating a solution that helps your customer solve a problem and your employee in supporting this customer.
People First comes from the opposite angle. It is about making people think about possible solutions and enabling them to rethink your processes, organization, etc. The most important parts are the education of the workers and also the freedom for them to express what they think and experience. This is a cultural approach where you are working on shifting the culture to adapt to new technologies and puts the software in the background.
Culture for change
In the People First approach, you are tackling your culture. Many of the corporate cultures are built around century-old processes and guidelines but they don’t help a company to outgrow its own roots. So, when talking about cultural change you also have to break with the old and create a new atmosphere where people can break out of their daily routine. This is a change in the whole system of your organization. A shift from “Managing a company” to “Leading a company into the future” is hard to achieve and is also a topic on its own but this is where the work happens in Digital Transformation and this is where you are spending most of the 95% in changing your company.
Digital Transformation – Rethink your organization
There are many triggers for Digital transformation. These can be that a new technology appears, a customer need is identified or it should be also implemented regularly. Design Thinking and Brainstorming techniques are used to fuel this process and to use the power of the people in your company.
Especially successful is the people first aspect when you are talking not only to management but when everybody in your company is involved when you integrate your customer and customer feedback, and when you first talk about creating a solution before limiting yourself to the search for software and technical solutions. Really try to think outside the known and “out-of-the-box” what the best possible outcome could be for a customer. When you found your solution which brings an ADDED-VALUE to the customer, then it is time to think about the “Digital” in Digital Transformation.
The “Digital” in Digital Transformation
As already mentioned, the digital part is most of the time a small part of the whole Digital Transformation effort of a company. First, it is a trigger for new possibilities and then it is an enabler for your solutions. So, when looking at your Digital Transformation journey you first need to understand what is happening around you, then start thinking of what can be done to deliver added-value to your customer and in the end, you are ready with a list of specs to look for the right technology to enable your solution.
Changing the Company Organization
So far it looks quite easy from an outside perspective. You have a trigger, you have a process to look for the right solution and you have then the right technologies to enable the solution. But as mentioned before you need more than this process to have a successful transformation. Changing your culture as mentioned before, breaking silos as Digital Transformation is cross-functional, and also aligning your strategy and organization structure is the real problem. When you have found your solution and you want to adopt you need to break down old structures.
There is no way that a new system can be handled with old structures.
This said there is also a big need for realigning your organization. You need to look at the customer experience and also the customer journey and align this process with your organization. Maybe a good example is a shift a lot of manufacturing companies need to make. They have a process and optimization mindset which is very structured. When entering a service and software oriented business, as many manufacturing companies need to do, it takes a different approach. The customer journey is different, it is a faster pace in sales and service, and the technology changes faster than it usually does in manufacturing. So a culture change from “optimizing” to “innovating” and an organizational shift from “process engineering” to “innovating and agile” is also reflected in the company structure.
- Identify new possibilities by involving your employees and customer in the process
- Use technology as an enabler and see it as a trigger
- Change your culture to adapt to a new business world with changing customer needs and new technological possibilities
- Adapt your processes and organization to fit your future needs, don’t just maintain the existing