Tips for Successful Digital Transformation

By John Kitchen

Managing any company means keeping an alert eye on trends and changes in the market. I help manage a company whose products are evolving quickly, which means that we must pay close attention to see what’s next.

It’s easy to focus on the externalities like products and customers and ignore the internal processes of the business. And the longer you ignore them, the more you see them as normal. Then it gets worse.

Digital transformation is the buzz phrase these days to make businesses seamlessly modern. It’s not the answer to everything but the depth of change it offers can be a godsend. It has been for us. The advantages offered through digital transformation means that Esri Canada’s internal operations have less friction and more accuracy with a tangible return on investment.

Sales are tracked in real time. I can address problems when they’re small rather than finding out about them weeks after they’ve started. Customers now buy online on the weekend. I don’t have to wait weeks to find out who has sold what and where. People can collaborate across time zones with ease. Customer information is detailed, updated in real time and accessible to all. Assets are not mislaid. It’s simpler for employees to track their expenses.

But the digital transformation process isn’t like having the cable guy come in and boost you to a stronger network. Or getting your car serviced. It works in stages. It takes time, it takes the involvement of senior management and it’s a new way of doing business.

It’s a process and if you’re not involved, things can go expensively wrong.

To prevent that, this is what I learned during the process.

Hypothesize Needs

Think about which workflows or processes will be easier and more efficient. Do you want a fuller picture of your customers’ engagement with your company? Perhaps your system of record isn’t collaborative and should be. Maybe you want to receive real time sales figures? (The last quarter report doesn’t tell you much about last week.)
You may need more than one platform. Make sure they work together seamlessly.

Maybe your IT people are telling you that some shiny new technology will solve all your business problems. No matter how tech phobic you are, don’t put the IT team in charge of your digital transformation.

Business Driven

Esri Canada is filled with tech-savvy people, but I didn’t leave this to the IT team. They can update your email system without you, but a digital transformation must align with your larger business goals.

Do some research and figure out what will improve your business. Do you want to improve internal communication so that customers aren’t bounced from department to department? That means that everyone has the same information about the customer at the same time. Do you want to better manage employees working remotely, cut down on meetings or at least anticipate when a colleague can’t make it because they’re on vacation? Do you want all sales to be in a dashboard so you can every day see how your company is faring in real time?

Experience Matters

When you decide to go ahead, your job is just beginning.

I’m the General Manager of 400+ employees across the country and I made sure that I was the one responsible for our digital transformation and I picked some of our top people to be on the team.

You might think this is counterintuitive: you never take the big earners out of the field. But it’s an investment in your company. They are trusted voices in the company. They know what the different departments need. They know the language your company uses. They are mentors and natural leaders and you want them leading this change.

Also, asking a clever, tech-savvy millennial to tell a room full of seasoned professionals – with an average age of 45 – how they can do their job better isn’t fair to either of them.

I hired a professional change person, in our case, a recent retiree from our company, to handle our digital transformation. She developed a variety of strategies to help the staff navigate the changes and that proved invaluable.

Don’t Customize

As with most platforms, whatever you use is likely to have more features than you need. (Nobody uses all the apps their phone comes with.) And much as you want to make sure the digital system you choose fits your needs, it’s unlikely that you need to tailor it specifically to your organization.

Many of our staff can program and could easily create lots of customized applications on the platform we chose, but I wouldn’t let them.

The more you tinker, the more places the platform can develop glitches and the harder they become to find and fix. You’re setting yourself up for problems down the road. Avoid them and keep it simple. Start with basics and you can build on those later.

A Long Process

Like home renovations, a few changes sound simple, but it’s a longer and messier process than you can imagine. It’s not a big to-do list. It has simultaneous demands.

Your team needs time to develop a variety of resources. You want everyone to know how this works, as soon as possible. And these messages need to be repeated. In any company, there are a wide variety of people on staff with different ways of learning. As a result, we developed webinars, weekly updates, short videos and even quizzes to see how much people were taking in.

We created a digital library so people could refer to it when they were doing things for the first time, or things they only do 6 times a year and forget how to do in between. Also, this resource is invaluable to new employees. They learn to use the tools correctly and reduce their training time with other staff.

Even if you have a very smart, tech-savvy workforce as I do, not all have English as their first language, and some have been with us for 30 years and are reluctant to change familiar processes. Don’t expect the change to be quick or easy.

In some ways, the hardest part about taking your company into the fast pace of digital transformation, which I have found delivers everything I’d hoped, is managing everyone’s expectations about the process, including my own.

The results have exceeded my expectations and I see the return every day. We work more collaboratively, efficiently and I am better able to track results and anticipates challenges.

We did the transition incrementally, and it seemed unending. We had to resist the temptation to customize and not make it a perfect fit but a good one. It was hard to take a senior person out of the field.

But now that this huge phase is complete, and we are enjoying the benefits, I know there will soon be more opportunities for continuous improvement.

John Kitchen is the Vice President and General Manager of Esri Canada, which provides enterprise geographic information system (GIS) solutions to customers in the private and public sectors.

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