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A Guide To Navigating Digital Transformation

Digital transformation without a roadmap can have disastrous consequences. This article considers the importance of road mapping for your digital transformation journey in seven distinct phases.

You probably know the consequences of a long-awaited holiday without an itinerary: wasted time, money, lost or late connections, and even the risk of not experiencing all you set out to. It makes for disappointment that could easily have been avoided.

The same applies with the deployment of Digital in a business.

Digital transformation without a roadmap can have disastrous consequences such as budget blowouts, misaligned processes, and costly mistakes. A roadmap can help businesses identify their vision, and current state vs target state, as well as bridge the gap between where they are now and where they need to be.

The roadmap should be flexible and high-level, with milestones to measure progress and contingencies to ensure the path being followed is the right one. Essentially ensuring that technology helps achieve the right business outcomes in the most efficient manner.

Thanks to all the variables that exist in business, the consequences of not having a digital roadmap can and probably will be disastrous – aside from the above consequences, there's also the possibility of over-investment in some areas while under-investing in others, inability to scale effectively, misaligned processes and expensive overruns.

All of these will damage your bottom line, possibly your reputation too, and place your people resource under duress.

At best, you will need to backtrack to compensate for lost time; at worst you could be out of business.

Let’s consider the importance of road mapping for your digital transformation journey.

There are seven distinct phases – each with their own benefits.

1) Make sure you’re all on the same page.

Phase one is all about being clear on your vision which may require you to create one if you don’t already have it, and identifying your key problems. Here’s where you gain input from your stakeholders – staff, management, customers, the board – so you come to a shared definition of your vision and challenges.

Resist a top-down approach as you’ll miss out on valuable insights from your frontline staff and customers.

2) Understand your current position and the impact maintaining the status quo has on your people, processes, and information.

The focus of phase two is to articulate the current state of your business – where you’re at right now – and demonstrate how staying put is detrimental to your business.

You should be able to see that doing nothing is painful and costly, so you can build a business case for change and in finding the right solution. The Business Case sounds complex, but it needn’t be. Essentially capture all the information around what is being proposed so you can go back at it and refresh it as more information comes to hand.

3) Connect your strategic goals with solving your problem.

This phase is about asking whether solving this problem or following this trajectory will bring you closer to your strategic goals and vision? It’s no use solving a problem if it doesn’t bring you closer to your goals and vision – this is a reality check to see if the problem is a distraction or a genuine issue that needs your attention.

4) Bridge the gap between where you are now and where you need to be.

This phase allows you to compare where you are now and where you need to be so you can identify the changes needed to bridge the gap.

Here you get up close and personal with your weak points, potential blind spots, and your strengths. You will identify your current resourcing and what needs to change to transform your business.

5) Gain a clear picture of your target state (your destination) and its connection with your objectives.

Moving on to phase five means you can visualise and describe in detail what your evolved business will look like. This should be both aspirational, so it inspires action and a culture shift, and be realistic.

You will need to know how your future state will deliver your objectives and what actions you need to take to bridge the gap between your current and future state.

6) Be realistic so you feel equipped to overcome internal and external obstacles.

Road mapping allows you to identify your future state's constraints, benefits, risks, and values. Here you can place your future state within the real-world.

For example, what are the pros and cons? Will achieving your target state make you more competitive? What processes or regulations will you need to follow? Is what you’re trying to achieve permissible and possible? Does your internal culture need to change? What might get in your way?

7) Communicate the steps and direction you’re heading (and the sequence of events).

Here’s where the map comes together. You get to see a clearly defined path of where you’re heading and potential obstacles along the way.

This is where you reverse engineer from your future state:

  • What needs to happen and when?

  • What are the prerequisites?

  • Which milestones will we measure and celebrate along the way?

  • How do we know if we need to course correct?

  • We’ve got to point out that these steps are not set in stone – they should be high-level and flexible.

At the end of this seven-step process, you’ll gain a clear roadmap that considers:

  • Why are we embarking on this transformation?

  • Who will be involved in making this happen?

  • Do we need to employ more talent, outsource expertise, or partner with a consultancy?

  • What capabilities, resources and budget are needed to make it happen?

  • When do we need to reach each milestone and what factors might impact on our lead times and ability to make it work?

  • How will the processes and methods we follow ensure our roadmap is aligned with our strategic goals – and is realistic, profitable (or impactful), and permissible within our internal and external environment?

  • What if we need to course correct, pause or accelerate the process?

  • What contingencies and measures do we have in place to make sure the path we’re following continues to be the right one?

Ant McMahon is an Auckland based technology consultant and virtual CIO working with his clients aligning business and technology outcomes.

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