Meeting the Challenge of IT Digital Transformation During a Pandemic


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Managing your organization in the midst of IT digital transformation is challenging in the best of times. During a pandemic, you need to have a very focused approach. In this article, we will explore some of the ways in which societal upheavals can impact an IT digital transformation project as well as explain how you can rise above those challenges.

Before we get into that, we need to define IT digital transformation and explain the steps that an organization must take in order to complete it successfully.

What Is IT Digital Transformation?

The world is changing. Consumers are moving from in-person commerce and personal interactions to e-commerce, social media, and a life influenced by technology. Organizations must adopt changes that leverage technology for marketing, sales, and managing the supply chain.

Because every organization is unique, the ways in which they approach IT digital transformation will be different. These differences can reveal opportunities for organizations to improve their processes and capture a more significant market share. Each approach will introduce unique challenges and require organizations to chart their courses with no guarantee of success.

As the world changes, your organization must change with it. A successful IT digital transformation will allow your organization to move swiftly into the future, whereas an unsuccessful transformation will force you to change your strategy and try again. Acting sooner rather than later can give you a distinct advantage, however, so it’s worth the risk.

Critical Components of a Successful IT Digital Transformation

In a study of successful digital transformations, McKinsey Company, a US-based management consulting firm, identified five key areas that successful companies used in their strategies:

  1. Selecting the right “digitally savvy” leaders to put in charge of the transformation.
  2. Designing and building capabilities for their future workforce.
  3. Empowering and encouraging their employees to innovate.
  4. Transforming their daily processes.
  5. Ensuring frequent and transparent communication.

Unfortunately, that same study also found that the success rates for organizations that attempted IT digital transformations were pretty low. In fact, less than a third of organizations achieved success. The report found that the organizations with smaller workforces that followed the above principles seemed to fare best.

Your IT Digital Transformation in the Midst of a Global Pandemic

Ultimately, the purpose of an IT digital transformation is to change how an organization functions and to fundamentally modernize its processes. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced organizations to change and adapt, whether they were ready or not. Deciding how to respond to these challenges will play a significant role in determining your organization’s long-term viability and success.

When you are subjected to circumstances outside of your control, you can choose to fight against them or look for the opportunities that lie within. Below, we will explain each of the five critical areas identified in the McKinsey study. We’ll discuss how to address each area in order to achieve a successful IT digital transformation and thrive in the midst of a pandemic.

Digitally Savvy Leadership

For a successful transformation, you need to have leadership buy-in and a committed workforce from top to bottom. Buy-in requires that your leaders agree with the changes that need to be made, are willing to try new ways of doing things, and are willing to try different approaches when strategies fail.

You should seek leaders who have experience with directing distributed teams. They should have a record of inspiring teams to perform at their best, even when facing unprecedented changes in how they operate. Of course, those who have experience with IT digital transformations will be extremely useful.

Build Your Future Workforce

Your organization’s workforce will not be the same when the transformation is over. That isn’t to say that you need to replace your crew, but it does mean that you need to set goals for workforce development and provide resources to support those goals. One thing that successful organizations have in common is that they provide support for ongoing education and training.

Consider partnering with an e-learning platform that provides training for digital processes and technologies that can be leveraged to transform your business. Ensuring that your employees have the necessary skills will enable them to take your organization to the next level.

Empower Your Employees to Innovate

Some of the best leadership advice that I’ve seen in the past decade comes from Richard Marcinko, a former Navy Seal commander, who said, “I will not punish my people for making mistakes. I’ll only punish them for not learning from their mistakes.”

Your organization’s IT digital transformation will be unique, and you will have to innovate and improve your processes. Innovation involves a great deal of experimentation to find out what works and what doesn’t. Therefore, if your people aren’t making mistakes, they’re not trying. You should praise employees who try to innovate, even if they fail. Your teams can learn from failures as well as successes, so make sure to pass along the results to the rest of the organization.

Transform Your Daily Processes

Daily processes are at the core of every organization. In retail, these include managing inventory, marketing, and sales. In manufacturing, they include managing quality, reducing bottlenecks, and meeting production targets. In technology, daily processes include identifying needs, designing solutions, and deploying those solutions in a reliable and performant manner.

One process that has been employed in the technology world with excellent results is known as Agile development. Agile works so well because it advocates small work units and a built-in process for review and innovation. Agile doesn’t mandate specific work processes, and the same principles can be implemented in other industries as well.

Implementing an Agile approach is more manageable with a framework and a system to track your cadence and synchronize the work across teams.

Communicate, Communicate, and Communicate Some More

Communication is one of the greatest challenges that organizations face with distributed or remote teams. It can be difficult to hold white-board sessions to design solutions or tackle problems over great distances. Fortunately, there are easy solutions that will scale well with larger teams.

Solutions such as Zoom, Slack, Teams, Box, and the Google Suite enable teams to collaborate on documents, have “in-person” meetings, pair programs, and share ideas. Your team can even adopt a weekly happy hour to socialize and play games. This will help each member of the team gain a better understanding of what makes the others unique, which will encourage them to discuss issues more openly and plan work more effectively.

A practical and transparent communication strategy is at the core of every successful IT digital transformation. Communication enables team members to share ideas and ensures that they are all working towards a common goal.

IT Digital Transformation Examples

Thus far, we have discussed the principles of a successful IT digital transformation and explained why each transformation is unique to the organization. However, this uniqueness doesn’t mean that we can’t learn from those who have successfully navigated these waters. Let’s take a look at a few examples of successful IT digital transformations.

A huge “big-box” retail corporation was initially slow to adopt IT digital transformation and soon found themselves being eclipsed by Amazon’s meteoric rise. However, they managed to build a successful online presence by leveraging their physical locations. They were able to innovate by having their existing physical stores double as fulfillment centers. Now, customers can buy online and pick-up in-store, and they can also utilize a drive-up service, which reduces the amount of time that a customer needs to spend in the store. In fact, their curbside service usually only takes a few minutes. This is an excellent example of an organization that was able to leverage their robust supply chain and existing infrastructure to test and roll out innovations rapidly.

You might assume that a multinational technology company would have an IT digital transformation well in-hand. But transformation—even in the technology industry—requires careful planning and rollout. One such company had to change their mindset in order to transition from building and supplying consumer software, to hosting a public cloud, offering support for IoT technologies, and integrating artificial intelligence to improve the quality of their services as well as their response to a continually evolving digital landscape. They found success by partnering with other industries and adapting their new capabilities to support other organization’s digital transformations.

The third example is an American multinational consumer electronics retailer. Seven years ago, they appeared to be following in the footsteps of other electronic retailers that were unable to compete with online technology providers and facing bankruptcy. However, this company reinvented itself as a place that aims to improve its customers’ lives through technology rather than a store that aims to sell CDs and electronic gear.

In other words, they leveraged digital transformation and aligned it with an updated business model. As a result of this shift, they now provide in-home consultations and support for installing, troubleshooting, and maintaining their electronics. Their branded offering provides additional value to customers by giving them peace of mind and the ability to make full use of their purchases.

Next Steps

As you consider the viability of embarking on your own IT digital transformation, you should carefully consider each of the above principles, seek the advice of organizations with good track records, and ensure that your teams have access to tools that can support your goals. With these capabilities and approaches, teams can beat the odds and make their transformations a great success.

Mike Mackrory is a Global citizen who has settled down in the Pacific Northwest - for now. By day he works as an Engineer Manager for a DevOps team, and by night he writes and tinkers with other technology projects. When he's not tapping on the keys, he can be found trail-running, hiking and exploring both the urban and the rural landscape with his kids. Always happy to help out another developer, he has a definite preference for helping those who bring gifts of gourmet donuts, craft beer and/or Single-malt Scotch.


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