In business, many trends come and go.
One year, some buzzword is absolutely critical for business success. The next year, it completely disappears and people act like it never existed in the first place. (“native advertising”, anyone?)
But there are some exceptions. Sometimes trends aren’t just trends–they’re the future.
Digital Transformation (DX) is one of those cases.
According to a Progress report, 85% of Enterprise decision makers say that if they don’t make significant progress on digital transformation within the next 24 months, the business will suffer financially and they’ll fall behind competitors.
For businesses of all sizes and in every industry, the transformation toward digital systems, processes, and models is already happening. It’s here and the companies that embrace it and develop a strategy to manage the change will position themselves for the future. Those who don’t may not be so lucky.
Transforming a company by making it smarter, leaner, faster, and more efficient is the cornerstone of our digital future.
If you’re trying to understand what digital transformation means for your company or how you can move transformation projects forward, this guide will help.
What Digital Transformation Looks Like
Like many topics that relate to technology and business strategy, things can feel a bit obtuse. Everyone is talking about this idea of digital transformation, but what does it actually mean–practically speaking?
At its most basic, digital transformation is about using digital tools and technologies to strengthen existing systems and processes.
This can take many forms. And, as we’ll cover later, it can (and does) touch many different aspects of your business.
DX is all about taking a slow, tedious, or time-consuming process (generally done manually or with considerable human capital) and making it simpler, faster, or even instantaneous. It’s the business equivalent of doing research on the internet rather than going to the library.
To get a better understanding of what this looks like, here are some use cases from HelloSign customers:
- ZeroCater has streamlined their HR and employee onboarding
- The CeloPay team is redesigning billing and payments
- Grayson College has built an innovative system for handling student records
But digital transformation is not just about convenience or time savings. It can fundamentally reshape your entire company--or the whole industry. In fact, it can create entire industries and new markets overnight.
One of the reasons that DX is such an important topic in business strategy is its far-reaching effects. Transformation can touch almost any business unit inside your company, including sales, marketing, HR, operations, manufacturing, and more.
But these transformations rarely happen in a silo (and they shouldn’t!). The true power comes from the connected nature of digital technology.
Taken to its logical conclusion, DX leads to a future where every aspect of your business becomes digitally connected and is able to integrate seamlessly, reducing friction and creating a smarter and more agile workplace.
Digital Transformation Touches Everything
It's relatively simple to understand how transforming specific processes or systems can add value to your business.
Most companies use a CRM to automate and simplify complex sales cycles. But imagine if they were still keeping track of everything manually with pen and paper? They'd face more paperwork, slower growth, greater risk of error, and likely win fewer customers. Most importantly, they would be at a severe disadvantage against competitors with digital systems. So CRMs are standard nowadays.
Companies can reduce the amount of work it takes to perform a task or save money on overhead by doing things digitally. Those are simple calculations to make.
But it's also important to think about the bigger picture.
DX is not just about streamlining paperwork for one department. It's about the value that you can create when systems and processes are entirely digital. You're able to integrate all of that data and use it in new and exciting ways that will help grow the company.
A 2014 article published by MIT Sloan Management Review outlined nine fundamental elements of digital transformation.
That’s a lot to take in. But the takeaway is clear. Digital transformation can take many forms and impact huge swathes of your business.
So, what does that mean in practice?
It means you need to understand not only how these systems will operate independently, but what opportunities exist to connect different systems across the scope of your business.
In other words, you need a long-term strategy for how to manage and execute on digital transformation.
You Need a Digital Transformation Strategy
Because digital transformation is so intertwined with so many business operations, it’s absolutely imperative to have a high-level strategy in place.
Don’t leave digital transformation to individual business units or departments to handle on their own.
DX strategy should cut across silos. It should be based on a larger vision for the future of your company and how digital services or digital tools can change and reshape the business.
Much of the value of digital transformation comes from operational efficiency. It stems from the fact that digital systems can communicate seamlessly and instantly, eliminating time and money spent on manual workflows and paperwork.
But that can only be accomplished if there’s a high-level strategy in place that ties together different systems. The entire process should be orchestrated from the executive level.
Digital and IT are no longer silos or departments. Technology is now the backbone of business–from the front-line customer experience through to operations and manufacturing.
Digital transformation is about fundamentally shifting the way that your business thinks about and acts on technology.
The climb may seem daunting, but the potential rewards are vast.
Taking Steps Toward Digital Transformation
Although the idea of “transforming” your business may seem like a sweeping claim, the reality is that most DX initiatives begin by developing a practical and realistic plan for implementation.
Because the process can reach into so many aspects of the business, it’s important not to try to tackle all of the possible changes at once.
As with many large-scope projects, it’s important to have a road map.
Try these 6 steps:
- Gather data - Take inventory of the current business operations
- Set objectives - Define what the desired outcome will be for your DX strategy
- Identify opportunities - Pinpoint specific areas where DX can create the most value
- Create a plan - Map out timelines and budgets for individual projects
- Assemble a team - Identify DX stakeholders within various business units
Navigate the process by creating a tactical plan with a timeline and resources allocated for gradual implementation. This allows you to prioritize high-impact, low-effort opportunities and also define a clear vision for how all of these systems will eventually work together.
This will make the entire process manageable and give you both tactical steps as well as a long-term vision for how your digital transformation projects will take shape.
Digital transformation is not something that can happen with a stroke of a pen. But, with a solid plan, you can identify and capture huge opportunities through smarter technology.