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What should companies be thinking about now to make digital transformation a success?

Paul Smitherman |

Outside of the consumer world, we are now really starting to witness the successes of digital transformation in global business. The goals haven’t changed – whether they’re about increasing productivity, personalising the customer experience or employee engagement – but the shift in focus of the business has been to understand that, without digital as a standard, they simply won’t compete in today’s world.

According to Timo Elliott, Global Innovation Evangelist at SAP, the best way to do that is to have the means and weapons in the form of technology – enabling data to become more intelligent and powerful and our experiences to become stronger. Brought together they offer something unique to the market.

“I think that most companies today realise that, without embracing technology, they would probably be in difficulties,” highlights Timo.

But a few years ago, with the likes of Uber and Facebook in the spotlight, going digital in the corporate world was only a vision and far from a business reality. Today, while a lot of companies are on their way to transforming, there continues to be a gap between Europe and USA and Asia. Tarek Bougroug, Board Director at SOA People, says “The levels of investment in innovation and R&D is generally a lot higher elsewhere than in Europe. We still have a long way to go in Europe”.

But Dr Tamas Szirtes, Director of cloud and innovation at SOA People doesn’t think there’s anything fundamental about European organisations not being able to make the transition, “Maybe European firms can be a little conservative about change but it’s up to us as technology experts to help them understand that there is a danger in being conservative and getting left behind. Our job is to ensure that our customers have everything they need to be successful”.

Tamas continues, “In the last three years we’ve experienced a big shift in attitude; our customers used to ask what is digital, but now they are asking when they can go digital. If they are not already on the move, then they are certainly already engaging with the process. However, there are some companies who are not ready or simply do not have the money, and it’s important to move to digital by opportunity rather than obligation”.

Increasing productivity with AI

More and more organisations are turning to new technologies to improve productivity, and one of the easiest, fastest ways to do this is with AI. Machine learning enables you to automate some of the complex repetitive decisions within your organisation. Analysts believe up to 60% to 70% of some business processes notably in areas like finance can be automated using these new technologies. That frees up huge amounts of resources that can be used for other areas like the customer experience.

Ensuring your employees embrace change

If your organisation is on the conservative side, then a good first step is to take a hard look at your corporate culture. Are the people in your organisation open to change and new technologies? Often if they feel that they are supported and rewarded in the right way then they will be excited by change.

Being open and transparent means allowing your employees to voice their fears about where the company is going. Other ideas may involve putting culture hacks in place, accepting failure and allowing your people to make mistakes. Maybe you already offer incentives to get people to make decisions faster, rewarding them for their decisions, right or wrong, as part of a forward-looking iterative process.

Investing in workforce engagement can be helped with tools like SAP SuccessFactors that drive human capital management, and by hiring people with new business titles around digital technology, enmeshing them with the existing corporate culture. However you approach workforce engagement, your employees need the right skills and training to take advantage of these new digital opportunities. Processes like the smooth onboarding of new starters, the right training, talent management and aligning KPIs to the overall transformation goals all go a long way to creating digital success.

“We may have the technology tools but we’ll also need to have the right mindset to engage,” says Tarek.

Step by step change

Much of this can be a challenging prospect particularly to SMEs who are consumed by their core activities.  Unfortunately for them just doing business as usual is not enough anymore, they will need to make time to create a framework for new ideas, collaboration, ideation and change management. And it’s up to us as the technology experts to help our customers make that journey step by step.

Tarek continues, “Most companies are looking for opportunities to improve their business. Many of them have already witnessed disrupters jumping into their marketplaces and having an impact on their business. With this mind, I hope that they will be driving their digital transformation through opportunity, not constraint – in other words, don’t leave it too late!”

The time to transform is now

The message is don’t leave digital transformation until your business is failing. The time to change is when your current business is healthy and flourishing; this is exactly the time to invest in your future vision.

Business leaders should be looking at leveraging digital capability now, even if it means starting small.  Engage with the right talent and bring people together, give them the space to express themselves, to try and learn even if it means failing the first time. The important thing is to open your mind to find different ways of changing and engaging.

Timo concludes, “Digital transformation is not actually about going digital, it’s about the fundamentals of doing business and doing it even better thanks to these new technologies.”

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