Succeeding with Business Digitization
Rebooting Digitization (avoid wasting time, money, and damaging enterprise value)
The overwhelming majority of established businesses have significant complexity in their core operations, logistics, compliance, accounting, HR, and legacy IT systems that make digitization initiatives difficult.
And all businesses are constrained with respect to capital, human resources, and management bandwidth, and shareholders/investors are mostly jaded about the benefits of IT projects, which is how most Digitization efforts are perceived. Given that most C-suite executives have some domain expertise and are mostly not technologists, it is often difficult to decipher significant technology challenges with substantial risks attached and the institutional roadblocks and skills gaps that inevitably exist.
This is why the vast majority of business digitization efforts fail to deliver on the hoped-for promises they held and massively blow their budgets.
How can we (reboot) start Business Digitization?
Most Digitization initiatives are just that, a project or set of initiatives with Executive sponsors, committees, and waterfall project management approaches managed by the IT or Finance function. This approach to Digitization is guaranteed to disappoint and can be “career-altering.”
Approaching Business Digitization from first principles and challenging conventional thinking is the only viable path to take.
To succeed, it is imperative to reframe Business Digitization as a relentless business improvement process that is owned by everyone in the business. And that from now on, Business Digitization is how we do business, not an IT Project or Digitization initiative.
This message needs to come from the top and be reinforced with budgets that are expected to be used within the business's functional areas.
It is also necessary to articulate that from now onwards, all data that flows through the business no matter how mundane it is thought to be should be considered valuable and will need to be managed.
Using business process management tools (like Integrify, Mendix, and Appian) to force how data interacts with ERP systems and datastores makes this easier to do by the day. These tools can be opened up within a few weeks and typically kicked-off for <$50k.
When Data is discussed as if it is water flowing through the business, then how it is captured, channeled, managed, stored, consumed, and archived becomes easy to discuss and budget for. And clean and well-managed data is at the heart of making intelligent well informed business decisions now. Once the data is being captured and channeled
Getting what you measure
It is critical to set some clear ground rules and then measure business improvement efforts achieved through digitization on an ongoing basis if you are to succeed. This will need to occur in different ways in every business.
Example: We could review progress that measures technologically enabled business improvements every two weeks that have been executed (big wins or small will suffice). And give public kudos for improvements that work across the business, kill spreadsheets, and/or improve a User Journey e.g. how a new Vendor interacts with the business or how a new employee is onboarded. But the improvements must use some technologies / tools provided.
The goal is to create a culture of never-ending business improvement enabled by technologies rather than large IT initiatives. And we want to force roadblocks or issues to the surface. This can happen within weeks, as long as the will exists, and usually only requires modest initial investment to start the process.
Operating within a Framework (who owns what)
It is critical to create a comprehensive digital governance and risk compliance framework (GRC) that everyone can operate within.
Without a thorough framework and clear lines of responsibility, accountability, and authority, budgets blow up. The modern IT function cannot implement everything a business needs, but they are the experts in executing the GRC frameworks through which the business can operate.
Budgeting & ROI
Once Digitization is framed as business improvement, Budgets and authority to act are easily established as fixed costs. However, it also is important to put some structure in place (something simple will suffice) to record all imporvments, wins, minutes saved, and costs avoided.
A simple project tracker will work as long as it is flexible, visible, and trackable across the business. Measuring the ROI can be hard for any single improvement. Still, as time passes, the ROI will be undeniable and help remind everyone of the constant value being created.
Things changed in 2020, and businesses need to modernize quickly to survive and thrive. We can drive outcomes with budgets and local functional ownership. And promote behaviors we want by quickly recognizing incremental improvements with the appropriate mix of compensation and recognition.
Digitization requires a [new] Culture and the application of some first principles. Reframing how we discuss Business Digitization initiates the process and allows us to manage the biggest obstacle to Digitization, our business culture.