When you get into the ring to transform an organization from archaic to digital, what is the first thing you would change, was a question I was asked by a data scientist from a respectable organization.
Understanding Digital Transformation
What is digital transformation? Let’s try and get to a mutual understanding before I answer the question that was posed to me earlier this week.
Think about a person wearing a piece of jewelry made of gold. This piece of jewelry is located at a certain place and can be taken off as and when needed. This was how IT was perceived earlier that it is an embellishment or an add-on that will make life maybe easier and definitely gives a good touch.
Today, IT is not an add-on. Instead of a piece of jewelry, imagine drawing out strands of gold and weaving them as a part of the cloth that’s draped on your body. In no sane sense, can you imagine taking out the cloth that covers your nakedness, it is a necessity and a good part of you. Digital transformation is gold that’s woven in your clothes. You cannot distinguish between the business work and IT activities. They are interwoven and the business outcome that you wish to achieve is the IT’s outcome as well.
In order to transform an organization digitally, most of the business processes are powered by technology and wherever there are possibilities, automation replaces mundane manual activities. This will help drive up the efficiencies of the process and reduce human errors. Add on top of this digital transformation frameworks such as Agile and DevOps, that helps bring in flexibility and provide the right focus where needed.
In a Digital Transformation Exercise, What Would You Change First?
Hovering back to the original question, there are several aspects that need to be changed during the digital transformation program. Obviously, we cannot change everything at once, if you do, it would lead to digital chaos. So which part of the equation would you pick up first?
Broadly speaking, you could leverage innovative technologies, introduce automation, draft updated procedures and processes, or change the way the organization is structured. Theoretically, you can do any of these to start with. But, the question remains, which activity precedes everything else to make the program effective maximally.
To me, the biggest stakeholders who make or break a transformation are people. If you are not going to deal with the people first, no matter the kind of automation and technology or the frameworks one employs, it falls flat over a matter of time.
Why? It is ultimately the people who need to practice the processes and to use the technology. You cannot automate just about everything. There are restrictions, and I am talking about the massive number of restrictions when it comes to what automation can or cannot do. You will always need people to feed into the automation and to processes.
Therefore, it is prudent in my book to start a digital transformation by reorganizing people, by driving the culture that is suitable for the future. This will take time. You could set the clock for the organizational changes to reflect but it takes eons to drive a certain culture that bears the spine of the transformation.
People -> Process -> Technology
While digital transformation implies technology, it is perhaps the last bit that comes into the picture, it the last set of pieces of the jigsaw that completes the digital transformation.
By no stretch of imagination am I discounting the role of technology. All I am pointing is towards the order of transformation.
You align the people as per the outcomes that are desired, implement the processes that run the business. As the people are already aligned, implementing processes would be a breeze. Once the processes are established, getting the technology in to carry out certain activities is a no-brainer. Having won over the people and the processes, technology follows suit with absolutely no resistance.
This order has worked brilliantly for me, time and again. The secret to any tasty dish isn’t just its ingredients, it’s about the order in which they were brought together to create something delectable.