The term ‘digital transformation’ easily rolls off the tongue of every business leader in the world today. But what does a modern definition of digital transformation entail? Certainly, we’re far past the point of actually digitizing paper-based information and processes. Digital transformation in today’s terms is representative of a company’s shift to excelling in the digital era – the mastery of digital tools, the cohesiveness of customer experience, and the introduction of digital products and services.
While the criticality of digital is widely understood, many companies are still grappling with how to articulate their digital identity and make tangible progress in their digital evolution. This is largely since organizational structure, culture, and company workflow aren’t historically set up in a way that is conducive to the collaboration and agility that today’s digital imperative demands.
In a recent session with Phillip Carter, Chief Analyst for IDC in Europe, Fredrik Tukk, Head of Innovation Scouting at Maersk Drilling, and Marne Martin, President of the Service Management Global Business Unit at IFS, we dove into a detailed conversation on what it takes to achieve digital transformation ROI in today’s landscape. There were many important points discussed and you can stay tuned to the podcast for a replay of the full session coming soon, but what stood out to me that I want to cover in this article is the number one issue that stands in the way of digital transformation ROI and how you can move past that barrier.
Organizational Silos Kill Digital Progress
“2020 was an inflection point for IT spend and digital transformation efforts more specifically because it was the first time ever we saw a lack of correlation between GDP trends and IT spend. Normally with a significant drop in GDP, IT spend follows that very closely,” says Carter. “If you look at 2020, the biggest drop in GDP since World War II, IT spend held up remarkably well, and that was driven primarily by investments in digital transformation. Our research shows that we will hit $1.5 trillion investments in digital transformation globally this year, growing at about 15%. So, we are literally hurtling towards our digital destiny.”
This digital destiny is being recognized in both our personal lives and in the business world. But as businesses look to keep pace with digital innovation, there exists a significant disconnect between the investment in digital and achieving ROI. “We’re moving towards a digital first mindset, not just at a business level, but also at a personal level, a societal level. I think we can feel that we can see that,” explains Carter. “But the problem is that our pre-pandemic research showcases that only 26% of organizations are really delivering an ROI from all of those investments. That’s the digital ROI gap, as we call it. And we need to close that gap to drive the next phase as we move to reignite business, across the board.”
To close the gap, we need to examine what it is that is keeping organizations who know digital investment is important from achieving their desired outcomes. “The primary reason for the ROI gap is the inability to scale due to organizational silos. These silos create barriers across traditional organizational structures which are linked to the legacy technology architectures of the past,” says Carter. “We also hear feedback that IT and security leaders slow things down, so there is a sense that business and IT need to come together in a more cohesive fashion to drive scale. We call it the digital dream team, where every business function becomes a technology function. This requires a need to raise the tech IQ across all of those business functions, and IT needs to be at the table as well.”
Building Your Digital Dream Team
In building a digital dream team, you should consider that the goal is to – as Carter said – raise the tech IQ of every business function and create a more cohesive, collaborative approach to digital transformation. This forces elimination of silos and brings issues to the surface in order to identify, resolve, and move past them. “It used to be that the IT department was building the technological foundation for the company. But these days, many times you find new technologies or new vendors that come to you with a different perspective where you can execute. And sometimes, especially around COVID, it hasn’t been focused on the ROI,” explains Tukk. “It’s been focused on actually delivering a value to the customer that might not be measurable. One example I have from our industry, from when we couldn’t travel. We needed to focus on utilizing new technology and doing remote maintenance. There isn’t a direct ROI on that. It’s not a business decision, it’s a necessity to keep the rig going. So, you need to find the solution, where then technology played a major part, and that solution wouldn’t come from IT, and you need to find someone who can deliver that to you today. And that’s why you need to find other ways of working than the traditional way.”
It’s time to work past the age-old IT and business divide and to create an environment where a team approach with shared goals is the norm. To do this, you need not only to identify who the team players will be but who will lead, or coach, the team. “If you think about Premier League, for example. So often the business feels they are the offense, and we need them to be the offense, but there’s either a perception or sometimes reality that IT is playing defense and slows down the offense,” says Martin. “We need to be thinking about how we get a full team to be working together. We often don’t have that coach or a leader that can bring the offensive and defensive elements together to work as a team and, specifically, a Premier League team. So that’s where we have actions that we can continue to drive and be better at, as part of IFS as a vendor. But we’re also looking to how we can enable the leaders and the coaches in an organization to be more effective. And, to the extent that there isn’t that type of leader in the digital dream team, that we call that out and work with our customers to address that.”
Teamwork Builds Speed and Effectiveness
In the more traditional, IT-leads-all approach, there can often be a sense of control that creates friction and can cause a lack of flexibility. “When it comes to digital transformation, there is for some natural reasons a lack of flexibility and adaptability to take on new technologies and test them out on the side more or less to the legacy system,” explains Tukk. “For example, we’re working with a startup who suggest a technology that might be set in a different cloud setting. If I come to my IT department, they say, ‘No, we are Microsoft, no discussion.’ No flexibility. I understand they also can’t just say yes to everything, but with increased speed in change in digital, go to market needs to be fast. When you work as a team and focus on solving your problem you can go to market much faster.”
And, yes, speed is critical. That’s not to say rush haphazardly, but the pace of change is continuing to increase and the pace of innovation – effective innovation – needs to match. “I talk quite a lot about this notion of four-wheel drive innovation, which is taking the speed and mindset from the digital innovation initiatives around the edge, into the core as well. And that’s basically saying, ‘Okay, we need to evolve quickly so that there can’t be two speeds of technology investment or technology adoption, or business direction.’ It needs to be one speed,” explains Carter. “And that speed is a lot faster than it currently is. But that requires people like Fredrik who drive digital innovation initiatives and push the agenda on the frontiers to also bring that mindset into the core, across all the different business units. And that’s part of the digital dream team stepping up to this new level around digital investments and outcomes associated with that.”
This move to a digital dream team requires team members letting go of ego and focusing on problem resolution. The most effective way to accomplish this is to ensure the whole team is focused around a common goal. “What we see here as a way of driving that alignment across the teams is a focus on metrics that everyone signs up to,” notes Carter. “With the remote maintenance example that Fredrik highlighted, if you’ve got a metric around meantime to resolution and IT, and the business, and digital are working towards that, then suddenly there’s a different level of alignment. And you bring that speed from the innovation areas into the core, as part of the fact that everyone is going to be measured on that outcome.”
So, if the digital dream team is how you overcome the havoc that organizational silos have on digital transformation success, it seems the coach you choose to lead that team would take some careful consideration. What makes a good digital dream team leader? “You need to look for people that can work through conflict,” says Martin. “Keep the team on track, be able to motivate and drive the courage and the curiosity to actually get it done. Don’t just think of it from a functional perspective, think about it as who has the enablers to do the job well and that that person might come from finance, or might come from sales, or might come from operations, IT, you don’t know necessarily where that person comes from.”
The coach role is far less about function or title, and far more about personality. “It’s much less about the title, but more about the personality,” says Carter. “I think it’s the classic T-shaped person, someone who’s strong in key detail areas where it links to the project at hand. They need to understand at least the domain associated with the use case, but then have the emotional intelligence so to speak, in terms of courage, in terms of curiosity, in terms of engagement, bringing people along, dealing with the friction, picking up the ball and running with it.”
As we experience our digital destiny unfold, we’ll witness death to complacency and over-caution. Tukk shares some wise words, “I’ve come to realize that you’ve just got to try. Don’t sit and plan for too long. Don’t sit and think, oh, we should find someone else, we should do this or that, we should plan more. Give it a go, give it a try. The worst thing that can happen is you fail. But if you do it small and fast, no big harm done.”