Digital transformation is so very much more than just moving paper forms, reports, ledgers, and other tools of business process management to digital versions on computer screens. There must be a pretty good reason to fundamentally change the way the whole world transacts, else it could easily be just an exercise in swapping deckchairs on the Titanic.

The promise of digital transformation is quantum in scale. It is nothing like swapping the proverbial deckchairs. It is a phenomenon just underway, and still fast evolving (AI and machine learning are just getting traction). It is no longer just a ‘nice to have’, but a critical imperative to all business and institutional operations in the world. Lest they too are relegated to the dustbin of history with the other technologies of yesteryear.

The digital transformation age is young and fast evolving. Most have some idea of what it is about, but few implement it well. Even fewer have any inkling of how far it will go and what shape it will take. What is fact, is that adoption is imperative to survival.

The phrase Digital Transformation gets thrown around a lot. Like confetti at a wedding, the claim gets applied to many things. But like E = mc 2, most know the phrase, but few the fuller potential. For some, it’s lightweight applications like e-readers, to others who envisage quantum changes to their operations, barely recognisable in context of the past.

Deep digital transformation can be literally completely transformative. One recent example is the wide, deep, and ubiquitous transformation of retail m-commerce through all aspects of users online mobile engagement in China. The Boston Consulting Group report this is anticipated to lead to 74% of total e-commerce sales were via mobile in China by 2020. That’s up from 6% in 2012. Ponder that.

As is often the case, the tools themselves are not particularly transformative, but the way they are used. In fact, at present most digital transformation implementations fail to deliver with Forbes putting the figure as high as a worrying 84%. The evidence of value in successful transformation is abundant, so clearly the issue lies in implementation.

There is a lot written about digital transformation. From good advice on why failures happen at i-Scoop and others, to excellent implementation strategies such as Altimeter, among many others. Deep authoritative analysis already exists in abundance. We bypass some of that often impenetrable (but valuable) detail in this article to just bullet point a few elements we found critical to successfully transform.

The Age of Discovery

Many journeys have come to grief when launched purely upon the promise of great things. Before you begin the journey, you need to understand your actual destination. Do the research, discover what is possible. You might be pleasantly shocked. Then get a create a map. Understand how you are going to get from here to there. Understand and plan to overcome the obstacles and challenges along the way. Good planning will maximise your chances of success, and smooth the transformation of your organisation to what it can be.

Commitment Starts at the Top

To successfully deliver real transformation requires commitment at all levels of the organisation. From the top through to the working coalface of day to day operations. Critically it needs to be driven, championed and supported from the top. Without that top-down commitment, in leadership, financing, and engagement, it risks failure. It can’t be half planned, half funded, or half implemented, else the whole may fail. Like a caterpillar that needs metamorphosis to become a beautiful butterfly, digital transformation requires full expression to realise the value it can deliver.

Cultural Shock

Any organisation that’s been around more than five minutes has a culture. Usually the larger the organisation and the longer it has been in existence, the deeper the culture, and any change more challenging. Introducing something like digital transformation which done fully will touch the working lives of most in an organisation, needs to bring the people along with it on each step of that journey. If that road to change is inclusive, sensitive and supportive to staff impacts through the transformation, and demonstrably sharing the benefits of the change, the outcomes for all have a much higher chance of success. If you don’t bring your people along, you risk passive resistance to change, and that’s one of the hardest problems to address.

Do it Well

If you achieve that Midas zone of top-down commitment and your people are on-board and motivated, the implementation you undertake needs to be done very well, else it all amount to nil. To implement well, you have to plan well through discovery, solution research, planning, build, strategic roll-outs, testing, and iteration. Inflexible, costly, and now archaic large pieces of IT infrastructure are gone. A forward-thinking organisation will discover the agile tools of the future will not cost the earth, will not lock you into the technology of the time, and will continuously improve. Don’t let the limitations of the past become the trap of the future.

The New World

If you manage to navigate your way to successful digital transformation in your organisation, you will have arrived in a very new place. The significant benefits to your organisation should be self-evident. Not only will the traditionally sought cost, efficiency, and productivity gains delivered, there will also be immense benefits delivered at every level of the organisation. Staff will be utilising the introduced technologies and methodologies to reduce the historical drudgery based tasks. Smart systems will help reduce laborious mind-numbing repetitive tasks and free them up for meaningful, engaging contributions. At the same time, productivity and meaningful outcomes will be much more easily achieved. Everybody wins, and the organisation has a future in this highly disruptive future.