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How to succeed in digital change

Dr Sandra Bell, Sungard Availability Services Head of Resilience Consulting EMEA, outlines the qualities needed for a business to maximise its digital potential

Agility, flexibility, adaptability. These three characteristics have pride of place as the key qualities needed for a business to remain competitive. Time and again in recent years, innovative use of digital technology has enabled trailblazers to be creative with their business models and disrupt the market to their advantage: just think Airbnb, Uber, Hasbro and Pfizer, to name just a few.

However, research by consulting firm McKinsey1 suggests that the vast majority of organisations are only operating at a small fraction of their digital potential. At the same time, our own research has shown that over 50% of IT decision-makers believe they’re not transforming at the speed employees and managers expect.

So, what is going wrong?

The assumption is commonly made that start-ups, dot coms and Silicon Valley-born unicorns get this right, while the old guard of legacy monoliths, traditional enterprises and non-digital natives get it wrong.

In reality, neither get it right.

Established multi-nationals often have the resources needed for digital transformation but sometimes lack the ability to make it happen quickly and suffer from internal resistance to change because of scale. Startups might have the brightest data scientists, the coolest workspaces and limitless enthusiasm but they are often unable to create impact at scale.

Executing digital change can be problematic for all organisations, but we have found that three things can greatly increase the chance of success:

1 A leadership united around a strategic vision
Digital transformation needs to be led from the very top of an organisation. The ambition needs to be bold and strategic and the implementation needs to be driven by agile-enabled interdisciplinary teams that combine the necessary design, data engineering, analytics, workflow, integration, UX & visualisation skills, paired with function & domain expertise and empowered with the appropriate authority of CXOs of impacted business units to deliver against the Digital strategy.

Transformations that are initiated for purely operational reasons, such as cost savings or an improved end-user experience, or driven by a single business perspective, e.g. IT or a specific business unit, will, at best, simply achieve a technological enhancement to traditional ways of working. At worst, they will fail to deliver any value at all.

2 Organisation-wide buy-in for the change
Most organisations are matrixed, and a very practical issue is getting enough time from contributing business units. For a digital transformation to succeed it needs to be highly focused on the needs of end users with high expectations around functional depth, ease of use and domain relevance. It is essential to have buy-in from end users, not only to provide their domain expertise at the design stage, but also to make sure that any changes are fully embedded at an operational level.

Successful digital transformations also need to be flexible enough to meet the diverse needs of user communities and environments, as well as a fast paced, changing market or environment. Whilst they need to be based on bold strategic objectives, they also need to be coloured by operational realities.

3 Sufficient critical enablers in place to prove the value of the transformation proposed
One of the key determinants of whether a digital transformation will be successful or not is the ability to abstract from, and then obfuscate, an increasingly complex network of back-end systems and cloud based microservices. Forming, training and proving a core Digital transformation capability that demonstrates its value to all upfront is a wise investment.

However, it is a very rare organisation that has a consistent way of working right across every business unit. Likewise, there are many flavours of agile service architectures, project planning & reporting. Rather than spending time arguing about which one is best, when any would be good enough, successful digital transformation teams just get on with it and prove by doing.

The Digital marketplace is fragmented and complex and architectures must be dynamic and evolve over time, so a digital transformation without an accompanying, on-going design and development capability is just asking for trouble.

Final thoughts
Change implies unpredictability, complexity and risk that could hold the potential for disruption, so it’s natural for the operational and tactical levels within businesses to have an aversion to it. However, in today’s world, businesses must go digital or perish.

Sungard Availability Services (AS) is a provider of critical production and recovery services to global enterprises. Leveraging more than 40 years of experience, Sungard AS designs, builds and runs critical IT services that help customers manage complex IT, adapt quickly and build resiliency and availability.

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