Digital transformation is no longer reserved for multibillion-dollar and trillion-dollar companies. Automation, artificial or augmented intelligence (AI), multi-cloud and enhanced cybersecurity technologies are essential for any modern business, because today’s consumers demand secure, personalized and convenient buying experiences. As a result, IDC predicts that global spending on digital transformation will hit $2 trillion by 2022 .
Digital transformation is about utilizing available emerging technologies along with a growth mindset to help a business scale by improving its efficiency and continuous growth business model. However, the process can be painful and confusing, especially for small and medium-sized businesses. A recent survey of 4,600 business leaders in over 40 countries revealed that 91% of businesses are navigating roadblocks to digital transformation. In addition to challenges such as changing legislation and mounting privacy and security concerns, most organizations lack in-house expertise and suffer from a generally “immature” digital culture.
The good news is that a growing number of companies recognize that digital transformation is dependent – in large part – on successfully transforming their human workforce. This is why 43% of organizations are incorporating digital initiatives across all aspects of their business and 46% are developing their internal digital capabilities – an increase of 27% since just 2016.
As CEO and digital transformation leader of a global technology solutions company, I help businesses of all sizes embark on their own unique digital transformation journeys. Because many business leaders are overwhelmed by the sheer prospect of digital transformation, I often partner with them at square one. This means taking inventory of a business’s current technological capabilities and deficiencies, as well as the ways its culture can be shifted to embrace new technology. Here’s what I’ve learned:
It takes a village.
Whether you’re a small, midsize or large company, digital transformation is about improving efficiencies in workflow, collaboration and communication – systemically and holistically. Effective and sustainable digital initiatives involve an entire business, not just its IT department. Many IT departments in small and medium-sized businesses are only staffed to keep the basic daily operations – printing, internet, email – of a business up and running; they’re not actively devising ways current or future technology can drive business.
IT departments are indispensable, but they’re responsible for digital maintenance, not digital transformation. In order to accomplish the latter, organizations need people collaborating to drive digital innovation across all departments. Many businesses lack the resources to do this. In that case, partnering with a company or augmenting your team can be much more time and cost-effective.
Frame the big picture.
Digital transformation is rarely accomplished without some kind of pushback. Integrating new technology, even if it’s a single piece of software, can radically disrupt your employees’ workflow. Long-term employees may have the most difficulty accepting new technology, especially if they fear that technology will make them obsolete.
But digital transformation should empower, not diminish, employee confidence. Which outcome a business achieves is largely determined by its leadership. For every digital initiative, there must be a champion who firmly establishes the value of the technology and precisely how it will elevate not just the business, but the work of every individual employee.
For example, my company worked with a business whose employee required 10 days to compile an invoice by manually retrieving and calculating information. By implementing a small piece of software that automatically retrieves and calculates the same information, that same task could accomplished in just an hour. Now, instead of aggregating data, that employee is able to analyze the data for insights into how to improve the efficiency and profitability of the business as a whole.
This is just one of the ways digital transformation transforms people’s lives. With increased responsibility, employees have increased incentive and ability to help their company grow. When upper management understands and promotes this principle, they can greatly minimize pushback, increase employee satisfaction and scale their business – all at the same time.
Transparency is key.
Another way digital transformation can empower employees and increase engagement is by democratizing information. Before, a company’s C-level leaders used to share their vision and the state of the business with their employees once or twice a year. But inside today’s digital business, all employees are connected to important statistics and performance metrics at all times. They know exactly what’s going on with their company at any given moment, because the information is always at their fingertips. The clearer and more comprehensive an employee’s perspective on their entire organization, the more purpose and meaning they will likely derive from their work.
Prioritize going global.
As technology is lending new meaning to people’s jobs, it’s also increasing their autonomy. Flexible work environments powered by digital work spaces allow employees to work in the time and place that makes them most productive. A culture that embraces digital collaboration between remote team members is the first step toward building a global workforce. Hiring talent from anywhere in the world helps you recruit the best possible assets to your business. International teams that bring a fresh and diverse set of perspectives to the table can help your business grow faster and appeal to a much larger demographic through a more customer-centric approach.
Encourage continuing education and a growth mindset.
A few decades ago, people went to college, got a degree and entered the workforce, where they continued to use that degree until they retired. Because technology and new business models are evolving so rapidly now, employees need continuing education opportunities to improve their ability to leverage new technology in innovative ways. In my experience, companies that provide ongoing education are most likely to succeed with digital transformation.
Many companies planning to undergo digital transformation focus solely on anticipating potential technical roadblocks. But it is just as, if not more, important to consider the emotional obstacles you may encounter in your workforce. When employees are empowered with knowledge, they’re able to advance their innovative and creative abilities alongside technology that frees them, and ultimately your business, to capitalize on the human imagination.
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