1. Business
  2. Tech in business
January 21, 2020

Why tech should be secondary during digital transformation 

By Jonathan Bridges

The pressure to pursue digital transformation is huge. No longer a buzzword, digital transformation is an important initiative which must be embedded into the structure of any organisation. If a business isn’t on the road to digitise operations, its competitors surely will be.

Failure to quickly adapt leaves a business firmly on the back foot, struggling to keep up with those using digital technology to streamline their activity. It’s like wading through treacle trying to catch those who have already won the race.

To keep pace with this dynamic environment, the latest technology solutions are essential for defining any transformation journey. That’s a given. But access to the most recent innovations is only part of what is required to sustain transformation at a cultural level.

As businesses begin to overhaul operations, they often find themselves hitting an unexpected brick wall: a culture clash. 73% of organisations found that their transformation projects were far from revolutionary, so getting it right isn’t always easy.

Importantly, digitisation projects are not driven by tech alone. And this is where businesses often fall short of the mark. The technology is secondary because without the support and engagement of an organisations staff, overhauling the company’s operations to welcome digital changes is extremely difficult. People and processes both have a crucial role to play in digital transformation.

The importance of consultancy

Before any digital transformation project can begin, consultation is king. These projects require an organisation to complete a full audit of its technology as well as assessing its internal culture and processes. This is used to establish how things will change when technology is introduced to transform operations.

Taking stock of the business can also ensure that continuity exists within the culture despite technological changes taking place.

Pioneering digital transformation through the business without a full understanding of technology’s existing place in the organisation is extremely difficult; it will prevent changes being made in the most efficient way and failure to recognise the importance of culture poses risks to the entire digital transformation project.

The importance of a top-down approach

Examining the business in great detail needs to be led by the senior leadership team. They must articulate and sell a vision to the workforce and engage them throughout the process. It’s important for senior members of staff to truly understand what digital transformation will look like and the impact it will have at every level. Transformation cannot be spearheaded by one person alone.

Redesigning systems and upgrading to the latest products is not a guarantee that digital transformation will be successful. If you fail to align digital transformation with staff values and behaviours, there is a risk that employees will be less motivated to succeed. They will become disillusioned towards the changes and the process may falter, which is why those at the top must diligently engage with the process.

A double track of digital transformation

With consultation complete and senior staff on board, now comes the point of acting on transformation. Keeping one eye firmly on culture, this can be broken down to both the transactional and the transformational level. Transactional changes are small, they are manageable differences that staff can easily digest. Far from drastic, the changes are easy for employees to integrate into their everyday lives, showing staff tangible changes that are easy to follow while boosting morale.

Transformational changes, by contrast, completely overhaul how an organisation operates. They are longer-term changes that address the entire technological identity of the organisation, ranging from entire overhauls of data systems to new technologies, such as virtual and augmented reality being introduced. For senior leaders, understanding how their investment into technology has totally transformed the workplace is key for justifying the programmes. Transformational changes represent a strong, longer-term return on investment and is the kind of change which forward-thinking stakeholders will relish tackling.

From a cultural perspective, introducing smaller steps alongside a ‘big bang’ approach to digitisation compliments the rhythm of the business and is motivational for employees who can see the changes taking place in real-time. This prevents employees from feeling alienated by technology that they don’t yet understand.

Transactional changes are useful for establishing employee confidence and ensuring that they remain engaged throughout the disruption, whilst allowing a business to remain competitive. There are also longer-term benefits to this approach. Introducing smaller changes will encourage staff to be receptive to larger, more transformational changes that shift how the organisation interacts with technology on a deeper level.

Differentiating between transactional and transformational changes in digital transformation ensures that culture comes first, which supports the process from inception.

Culture as an infrastructure to support change

Digital transformation is a paradigm shift that needs to be supported by a collaborative and supportive company culture. If this framework isn’t in place to support the changes, then it’s more likely to fail. Strategy, processes, business operations and people’s everyday work are all touched by digital transformation — so technology must work alongside culture in order to be sustainable.

Cultivating this environment enables a company to become digital through and through.

Read more: Six digital transformation tips to avoid a “digital veneer”