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Digital transformation: strategies for a more agile, innovative organization

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What does successful digital transformation look like in 2024? 

Digital transformation today goes beyond technological adoption. Leaders have to consider how digital tools impact a business’s processes, practices, people, and culture. How do these resources increase adaptability? How do they support ongoing strategic initiatives?

Our 2024 Leadership Priorities in Tech survey, Leading Through Tech Anxiety, makes one fact clear—digital transformation is a top priority for global leaders. An overwhelming 94% of large organizations have a digital transformation strategy in place.

While it may be a high priority, navigating a digital transformation journey is complex. To ensure the plan meets the priority, it’s important for leaders and their teams to understand stumbling blocks on the road to transformation and to build strategies to overcome potential bumps along the way. 

As new technologies emerge and customer expectations shift practically overnight, organizations must be prepared to experiment, learn, and modify their strategies faster than they ever imagined.
Ben Pitman, Director of Engineering Consultancy, Kin + Carta

Why clarity and commitment are transformation essentials

When done well, digital transformation plays a key role in unlocking ‌‌competitive advantage and creating new avenues for adaptability and agility. This is why 49% of business leaders we surveyed see digital transformation as improving the customer experience, while 43% view it as a valuable tool for automating internal processes.

Once leaders decide to invest in digital transformation, they must align on a clear definition and shared goals to navigate the complexities of the process. While the need to adapt and transform is a constant, it’s essential that leaders can link the objectives of a transformation initiative back to a North Star. It ensures that every stakeholder, from leadership to frontline employees can move together towards a common vision. Without this alignment, initiatives risk becoming disjointed, leading to wasted resources, missed opportunities, and organizational friction. Employees often report ‘transformation fatigue’ when initiatives don’t have clear goals and alignment.

The term digital transformation gives a shared signal to all of those involved that there is an urgency and opportunity to fundamentally change—not necessarily the way that you do business altogether, but to improve what might not be working.
Stephanie Shine, Strategy Principal, Kin + Carta

Transformation is a team effort

While leadership is essential in setting a vision, leaders must recognize that successful transformation includes distributed decision-making and bottom-up input and collaboration. Once the need for change and the direction is clearly defined, it’s important to identify grass-roots champions who are motivated to meet the challenge and understand the current state. These advocates will help ‌shape a productive framework for change.

By investing in vision and alignment, you are recognizing the equal importance of both people and process in driving successful digital initiatives. Ignoring the human element often leads to change resistance and a lack of enthusiasm for transformation. Business leaders have to prioritize a culture that embraces innovation while respecting existing processes and the individuals driving them. They must establish a collective understanding and agreement on the definition and goals of digital transformation, fostering cohesion as well as innovation. This approach will position their organization for sustained growth and digital success.

At the start of a transformational journey, leaders may underestimate the time and investment required for a successful and truly transformational shift, leading to frustration and disappointment. Successfully navigating digital transformation demands ‌significant commitment from leadership. It is about much more than promoting new technologies; it requires a fundamental shift in organizational mindset, including a dedication to strategic planning, communication, and continuous learning and experimentation across the organization. The resources invested in this effort are essential in securing the long-term success and competitiveness of the organization.

How leaders show up impacts everybody else. Employees need to feel psychologically safe to experiment and fail. Look for ways to enable experimentation, and look even harder at your response when things go wrong.
Josh McNally, FinServ Portfolio Delivery Partner, Kin + Carta

Strategies and tools for success

A successful digital transformation relies on robust strategies to move from vision to delivery.

Strategic planning

Strategic planning is the compass that guides businesses through the complexities of digital transformation. Aligning technology initiatives with business goals is imperative from day one. Simple, time-tested tools like SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) analyses can help to identify opportunities and tackle weaknesses. While tools like a balanced scorecard (BSC) can enable leaders to set realistic expectations for transformation and its expected outcomes. This allows leaders to look back and evaluate the effects of implemented changes, allowing them to quickly adjust or further develop new strategies. Striking a balance between planning and execution is vital.

Alignment to value—borrowing from software architecture

As well as being a key driver for disruption and change, software also offers tools that are well-suited to designing a high-performing, adaptive, and productive organization. Conway’s law—an IT theory developed in the 1960s by Martin Conway—suggests that systems often mirror the function and dysfunction of the organizations that create them. Designing your organizational architecture (structure and processes) in tandem with your software/systems architecture helps to not only to avoid the risks outlined in Conway’s law but to turn them to your advantage.

Tools like domain driven design (DDD)—A software design approach that focuses on modeling software to match a domain according to input from that domain's experts—can be used to shape adaptable systems that drive value. These tools can be used to model out team structures and processes, alongside other tools such as value-exchange diagrams and value-stream mapping. 

Cross-functional creation

Successful digital transformation is a collective effort that requires cross-functional collaboration to spark innovation inside an organization. Businesses can leverage design thinking or agile methodologies to generate idea exchange within and between teams. At the same time, leaders should remain wary of potential roadblocks, including unclear roles and goals, resource allocation issues, and power struggles. A culture of open communication is key to navigating these challenges and harnessing the collective intelligence of diverse teams.

Change management

Within any digital shift, change is inevitable, but managing it effectively is an art. Change management the role of people in the process. And a human-led approach is the best way to generate buy-in and organization-wide support. Leaders should be wary of top-heavy strategies that neglect employee needs and concerns. Successful change management through digital transformation is not just about processes—it’s about people and their journey through change.

Want to explore the ways senior leaders are navigating digital transformation today? Read our 2024 Leadership Priorities in Tech report now. 

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