Meeting the challenges of digital transformation [Q&A]

digital transformation

More and more enterprises are looking to implement digital transformation projects. But often they underestimate the complexity of the task and the degree of change that it requires across the organization.

So what are the major challenges that these projects face and what can businesses do to overcome them? We spoke to Andreas Prins, VP of platform strategy at digital transformation platform Digital.ai to find out.

BN: What are some of the major barriers to digital transformation that companies face?

AP: Many of our customers start at a team level right with practices like CI/CD, automation, test automation and all these kind of capabilities. That's relatively easy because there are so many technologies out there that teams can get started really quickly. So the first challenge they will face is how do you balance out one way to control what you want to have as a large enterprise, from government and all the directives, and at the same time provide teams the ability to make decisions themselves and to select tools they need to have?

What we faced with our customers pretty early in the journey is just getting started this means you've been staking out to multiple themes and finding that balance between governance and ability or restriction. That is the first of the balance, teams need to be open and be patient on the journey from a central team towards the individual. As as soon as you have that in place you can see it as the engine, once you have it running, you can start pushing out a lot of stuff.

There can also be a mismatch between what a company wants to achieve and what the engineering teams are pushing through. So how do we document what needs to go in, or what needs to come out from a from an achievement perspective? We need to help customers with strategic planning, how do the items you need to deliver contribute to strategic themes?

What we've learned there is one of the bottlenecks is at each level everyone knows what to do from a work perspective -- the DB engineer, network engineer, product management, line manager, CEO -- but it's really hard to have information cascading down, we believe it's better to provide them a system where they can work in a super structured way.

The other thing is how do you measure that the stuff that you're doing is fulfilling the goals you've set out? So determining what needs to go in is more important. But then, truly measuring if what you do is well aligned, is truly doing what it needs to do, that is not a task that many companies are facing so it's not like we have a lot of tools to monitor systems. As well as measuring it needs to feed back into the strategic decision making into planning and articulate hey, these are the next outcomes or objectives I want to achieve.

BN: What you're saying then is it needs a change to the whole culture of the organization beyond just the technology?

AP: Right, it's what many large enterprises, or more traditional businesses -- the non-Googles of the world -- need to start embracing, a cultural shift and at the same time a little piece of technology, as well.

BN: What are the obstacles that businesses face in actually getting transformation projects underway?

AP: One of the main obstacles really early in the digital transformation journey is to articulate, where do you need to go. That sounds extremely obvious right? Yeah we want to go faster we want better quality or we want to stay closer to our customers and we want to take a trip and experiment and all these vague terms. What does it truly mean, and second what are the actions and the steps that you really execute? It's almost like I've just explained the work going down from a delivery perspective from the CEO all the way to an engineer, how do you relate your items to the corporate goals? You need to articulate a transformation vision and a transformation plan that spans the entire organization, which is super generic the high level and at the same time relevant and actionable at the team level.

You can address this by having what we call 'explorer maps' -- clear, long term goals, which are split up into near term goals, which are in turn split up into actions that really make a change. Buy you also need to come together on a daily basis as a leadership team, discuss the actions that need to be taken and your progress against those actions. What is fundamental to any transformation is the role of leadership and the way they execute on the information instead of just saying, ‘yeah we need to go in this direction’.

BN: What methods can you use to measure the success of the project?

AP: You need to decide up front how you are going to measure success. It's important to look at the atmosphere of the project and monitor how people feel about how it's progressing. If, for example, the problem is bottlenecks that you're facing that are slowing the delivery, you need to articulate and identify what you want to achieve. So let's say the changes need to go out in two days, or every week when you want to have a newer version, you really need to start measuring at a technology level, there are many monitoring tools out there that you use. Or if you say my problem is more of a being in control from a risk perspective, you need to start looking at your control framework, simplify it and help teams to stick to the rules. It comes back to articulating what you want to improve and turning it into really tangible, measurable elements.

BN: Is it ever possible to say that the digital transformation project is finished, or is it a constantly evolving thing?

AP: It's constantly evolving, perfection is never is never achieved there's always something you can improve. However, I do think it's important to establish that there is a well appointed time to say, 'hey, I have achieved this particular goal.' And it's then time to identify another goal.

Let's take automation, for many companies lead time is very important, but at any point in time if you're a bank, say, and your lead time is every day to push out a new version of your app. Is it valuable for a customer value perspective to say we want to do it twice a day if you have a full automated process? It's more important to say my goal is to bring down operational risk levels, so you start articulating new goals and start optimizing new areas. The entire transformation is never done such that you can argue you've achieved your goal. That means keeping attention on new goals and existing behaviour is really important.

BN: So how do you maintain momentum to keep the project going forward?

AP: Management teams are always willing to be leaders or followers, but as soon as something goes wrong you'll see them pushing back and reverting to old ways. You need to have the leadership truly committed, not just in words, they need to live the journey themselves.

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