Digital transformation: It’s a phrase that conjures up stock art images of business users navigating a bright and shiny world of ones and zeros. But get past the hype, and it’s a fairly straightforward proposition: “Digital transformation” is another way of saying “business strategy inspired or shaped—and then enabled—by technology.”
In practice, this means the only way for companies to stay competitive is to thoughtfully consider how technology is influencing their customers, fueling product innovation, offering new channels, disrupting operating models, and introducing new skills and imperatives for attracting, developing, and retaining employees. It is upon this foundation that companies can then smartly select, prioritize, and deploy digital solutions to to drive their success. Digital transformation isn’t doing business as usual in a more efficient way, but reimagining your business in a way that allows you to stay competitive in a disrupt-or-be-disrupted world.
If there’s one thing that we have in common, it’s that to be successful in this digital world, we must be open to continuous learning. Here are a few lessons I’ve learned in my career that may help you successfully advance your digital transformation strategy.
Align Your Strategy to Customer Priorities
Start with an outside-in perspective. Focus on your customer and product first to define your digital journey. For instance, here at Workday we sell digital products, and because we know the world never stops changing, we must continually innovate to stay ahead of our customers’ changing business needs.
But at my former company, the challenge was: How do we take a medicine and wrap the data and the delivery system around it and do this in a way that creates a seamless experience for the patient, their physician, and the healthcare system that supports them on their journey to improved health?
Get Closer to Your Customer
Whether your goal is to digitize your product or digitize your company—beginning from scratch or as part of an ongoing digital-native journey like Workday’s—I always have the same answer on where to start: Get closer to your customer by focusing on being a customer-centric CIO. If you make the conscious decision to get closer to the customer, you’ll gain priceless insights and perspective on what it’s like for them to do business with you.
If you aren’t already doing this, a simple way to get started is by reaching out to your colleagues in the sales and product organizations. You’ll likely find they have a wealth of ideas on how to create a better customer experience. Some might even desire to truly push the envelope, but may not know how to get started and they may not always think about approaching their CIO and IT team. By developing rich connections with your sales and product organizations, you’ll be taking an important step in building a contingent of leaders across the organization who will support digital transformation.
Assess Your Engine Power
When you start gaining traction inside your own company for digitizing products and the customer journey, you need to think about how all roads eventually lead to foundational backend systems. It’s important to ensure these systems are capable of supporting new ways of running your business. Skipping the important step of assessing these systems—which are often slow, unresponsive, and costly to maintain—can result in your digital transformation efforts crashing. Bottom line: How the customer interacts with your company should remain your north star, but delivering a better customer experience is impossible without the right foundational technology.
Think Business, Then Technology
This might be surprising coming from a CIO, but the biggest mistake organizations make when it comes to digital transformation is that they make it solely about technology. When I talk with a customer, I don’t start by talking about our own technology or any of our other differentiators. In fact, I try not to talk much at all. I prefer to listen to what a customer is trying to accomplish from a business standpoint. Maybe they’re using a recent acquisition to clean up some legacy technology issues, maybe they are having a hard time understanding their talent, or, they might be thinking of adopting a new HR philosophy.
Understanding the business problems you’re trying to solve—and then what in the current state of affairs makes that untenable—will help you identify the changes you need to make to people, process, and yes, technology, to turn your ideal future into reality. This, after all, is what digital transformation is all about.
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