Three ways to speed up digital transformation

Consider this. It took 50 years for 50 million people to get access to the telephone, but just 12 for the same number to have a mobile phone.

Today, the uptake of new innovations is even faster; the iPhone captured 50 million users in 45 months, while Pokémon Go took just 19 days. However, while the world and technology are moving at speed, many organisations are struggling to keep up. Part of the problem is that the change programmes they are undertaking are often so long, so slow and so short-sighted that they fail to keep pace with changes in technology and user expectations and lose momentum along the way. The UK government’s identity verification platform Verify is a case in point, with its delivery rated as unachievable in the Infrastructure and Projects Authority’s newly published annual report. But there are countless other examples across the public and private sectors.

Fortunately, there are steps that organisations can take to ensure their digital transformation programmes deliver change quickly in line with the fast-moving world of technology and user demand.

1. Divide and conquer

For a business embarking on digital transformation, having a well-defined vision with a clear set of outcomes and KPIs for measuring success is essential. However, strategy alone doesn’t guarantee success. Approach and execution are just as important.

Traditionally digital transformation has been something of a marathon, but better, faster change comes from a series of sprints. That means moving away from large-scale programmes, with their ambitious aims and protracted timelines, and breaking them down into smaller, self-justifiable phases. Each phase should have its own clear business benefit, and aim to deliver capability quickly in a three to six-month window. Gartner calls this approach ContinuousNEXT, describing it as ‘a formula for success in a world that is constantly changing’.

Companies should start by building a five-year strategy that supports their long-term objective but be prepared to constantly review and modify their strategy including the steps within it.

This approach makes it possible to deliver value for the business more quickly. Also, crucially, it allows companies to experiment with new technologies as they come onto the market, and to change course if something doesn’t work as expected.

2. Avoid single-track vision

Step5 is often called in to recover transformation programmes that have been floundering for a while, but the organisation has simply plodded on regardless, too afraid to admit defeat.

Businesses are often reluctant to stop when they are on a journey, even if it is clear that they have run off track. Changing direction also means having difficult conversations with senior stakeholders, which many would rather avoid. But continuing down the wrong path wastes time and money that could be better invested in the right programme; it can also erode company confidence in the change process.

Rather than persisting in the face of failure, organisations should be prepared to stop, step back and pivot if something has changed – either in terms of what the business needs or the technologies available to deliver it. Ultimately, fast and lasting change comes from focusing on what the business needs.

For organisations working in an agile way (as per point 1.), where the focus is on small, iterative steps rather than big, end-goal targets, it is much easier to change course. It is less about turning a tanker and more about spinning around a speedboat.

3. Deliver end-to-end agile

It is not enough for IT to deliver ‘agile’ change. Progress can stall unless the change is rolled out in an equally agile way so that business users (i.e., the people who will ultimately be using the change process) can experience it and provide vital feedback to help shape the next phase.

The key is to bring together IT change and business change on a shared journey. Take the example of an IT company working to bring a new product to market. The IT team should be collaborating with the product team who will, through research, have a clear understanding of what the customers want. Rather than delivering too much at once, their combined focus should be on prioritising what will make the most difference for users and delivering it first. Future capabilities can then be built on this. Delivering change quickly, getting constant feedback and acting on it is the best way to deliver the right capability quickly.

Prepare to change

Done in the right way, dividing up large projects into smaller self-justifiable phases, and creating the environment to support this way of working, not only leads to faster change, it also helps to deliver transformation that is more likely to succeed. At the start of a major programme, there is no way of knowing how working practices might change or what innovations are coming down the line.

Today’s delivery car might be tomorrow’s autonomous vehicle. That is why building in the flexibility to adapt and respond to changing priorities, environments and technologies can help deliver the right change faster.

Jim Berrisford, Chief Operating Officer, Step5

Step5 is a digital transformation consultancy which specialises in complex change programmes and in recovering programmes that are failing to meet their objectives. Clients include large private and public sector organisations such as the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy, Experian and BNP Paribas Personal Finance UK.

Step5 consultants have worked on some of the UK’s most challenging change programmes – from the £1 billion recovery of the spine programme for the NHS to the management and delivery of all telecommunications for the London 2012 Olympics.

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