Five ways to speed up your digital transformation

Practical advice on how to successfully digitise your company



1. Transformation starts with people not technology

Digital transformation usually starts with a rallying cry by the CEO for everyone to get behind it but often the only genuine cheerleaders are the digital team. There needs to be a common purpose shared across the whole organisation, with meaningful benefits for all. Not having a digital strategy but a business strategy that works in a digital world is vital; otherwise everyone thinks it’s the digital team’s responsibility, creating a ‘them and us’ scenario. Communication is critical, when you
talk about digital transformation you have to do it in a way that’s inclusive for all teams in the organisation.

Once everyone’s bought into digital, you then need to empower him or her to make it happen. Pushing decision-making down (not up) is key. People closer to the decisions are always better equipped to solve them. This approach also avoids bottlenecks when seeking permission from above. Always encourage diversity in teams, a better mix of skills and background leads to better decision making.

2. Stop buying solutions that weren’t designed for you

There’s a real sales culture in the region with people buying pre-existing ‘off the shelf’ solutions, then trying to make them work in their business. Each business is unique, with its own customers and its own set of problems. Unless a solution was designed to fix these specific issues it’s going to be hard to make it work. There needs to more capability in the region to make tailor made solutions locally.

Understand your problem first and then look to what technology is available at the time to fix it. Don’t race to use the latest hyped technology and then go looking for a problem for it to fix – that’s like putting the cart before the horse.

3. Understand what agile working really is and the commitment involved

Traditional companies tend to have a built-in immune system that fights innovation. Hierarchy and long sign-off procedures can quickly kill ideas, or slow development. It’s very hard to develop anything in an agile manner when permission has to be sought at every stage. Rather than overhaul the entire business’ structure and processes, create an independent innovation business unit that can work autonomously, with the freedom, mandate and budget to pursue ideas to the end.

It’s critical to let the innovation unit grow until it becomes strong enough to exist inside the organisation. Integrate the innovation business unit too early and the company immune system will kill it and your path to innovation will become harder. The company immune system becomes stronger with every idea it kills, reinforcing the norm and offering greater resistance to future innovations.

4. Don’t do it alone – find the right partner and externalise

Many digital transformation projects fail because they are given to internal teams with no experience.

Hire external expertise to help your internal team build knowledge. You want to combine a deep level of expertise in digital transformation with in-house knowledge of the business and its customers. By working closely together as one team, the external talent can help upskill your in-house team so they are better equipped to tackle future projects.

5. Make smaller, smarter investments

A lot of businesses try to tackle too much and end up taking too long to develop. Often, knowledge taken at the start of the project becomes outdated and the result is no longer relevant. Early prototyping and iteration get you to a better outcome faster – this way you are always testing the relevance of what you are doing at every stage. Pixels are cheap, and it is easy to try different approaches until you find your way toward your minimum viable product. More importantly, prototypes help unify all the stakeholders toward a shared vision. Prototypes also reduce misunderstanding and help to control and quantify the scope of the project.

Try choosing a smaller project for a quick win that will inspire success in bigger ventures. Make sure the objectives and method of measuring success are recognised by all the stakeholders involved. Most importantly, don’t forget to celebrate your quick win success and share your story across the company.

Alberto Lobrano is chief technology officer for Reaktor, Middle East and Africa