The human at the heart of digital transformation

Digital Business Strategist and experienced manager at U92, Guillaume masters various digital marketing techniques and understands the organizational challenges companies face. He holds a master’s degree in management and technology and has several years’ experience in marketing and e-commerce. With his personalized take on strategic support, Guillaume shows leadership, both strategic and operational, in the presentation and delivery of solutions best suited to their reality.

When the concept of digital transformation in an organization is mentioned, we instinctively tend to associate it with technology. But the impacts of such a transformation go far beyond the technological.

Digital transformations also have a direct impact on processes, operations and, most importantly, people.

What is digital transformation?

Beyond being a nice (or not-so-nice) buzzword thrown around rather loosely in recent years, what exactly is meant by digital transformation?

According to the Government of Canada’s terminology and linguistic data bank, digital transformation is “the profound transformation of business activities, competencies and business models to fully leverage the opportunities of digital technologies.”1

What does that look like in more concrete terms? 

Essentially, it’s a transformation project, much like others that we’ve come to know, but one that involves digital components (web, database, CRM, analytics, etc.).

Such as? In what context would a digital transformation project be appropriate? If the managers of a company feel their customers are abandoning them for competitors offering a more fluid buying experience, for example. The customer journey has evolved rapidly, and companies don’t always know how to adapt. In another example, executives might realize that they don’t really know their customers despite, despite customer loyalty, because customer data is not being collected, cleaned, sorted and used to create value.

A bit of historical context

Let’s take a step back and look at the beginning. 

In the last few decades, the automation of many traditional tasks, the evolution of the global economy, the technology boom and the social context for both workers and customers have all led organizations to question themselves and to consider technology and its components (data, for example) as a real strategic issue. In this regard, the position of Chief Digital Officer, which did not exist before 2011, has already reached its peak within multinationals and has now been eclipsed by the position of Chief Data Officer. It is important to note that this scenario does not necessarily apply to SMEs and VSEs, for whom hiring someone with this type of profile is a big challenge, considering the scarcity and high cost of such resources. Smaller companies such as these often hand over the responsibility of digital to a senior manager who has neither the expertise nor the time to carry out this kind of project.

Digital transformation: Causes vs. effects

Many believe that launching an e-commerce project, implementing an ERP (enterprise resource planning) or a CRM (customer relationship management) platform are ways to begin the digital transformation journey, but no – these are rather the effects of digital transformation.

For example, you have to ask yourself whether implementing a CRM platform is a priority for the organization before asking yourself which CRM platform to choose. Instead, digital transformation is about answering fundamental questions, such as:

  • How can we better meet consumer needs in 2022?
  • How can we better differentiate ourselves from the growing competition?
  • How can we automate our low-value-added processes?
  • How can we increase our market share with a new customer base?

Digital transformation is too often perceived as the implementation of a technology, and not as a structuring project that will have an impact on the business model, value proposition and organizational culture of the company.

Let’s consider the following:

  • Walmart continues to digitally transform the shopping experience with, for example, voice commands (Google Home and Alexa) and in-store item searches via their mobile app.
  • Dominos has revolutionized the experience of ordering a pizza with their mobile app.
  • Capital One, initially a bank, is becoming a technology company by offering digital financial services to businesses.
  • IKEA has been undergoing a digital transformation for several years, with products and services such as TaskRabbit (a digital service that finds someone to assemble your furniture) and IKEA Place (an app that allows you to view a room in your home and place IKEA furniture in it)
  • More locally, Premier Tech began a digital transformation that has allowed them to digitize their internal operations and, ultimately, create the Premier Tech Digital group. This group, made up of 200 people, has the mission to create digital products and services for their customers.

What about the human element?

So, the business model is improved, processes are revised, available data is increased tenfold, and tools are digitized. But all these changes will not happen fluidly and automatically by themselves. According to a study by Boston Consulting Group2, the success rate of this type of project is only 30%! Several factors explain the failure rate of this type of project:

  • A lack of support and leadership from top management
  • A lack of communication on the vision and stages of this transformation
  • A lack of skills and expertise within the organization

We immediately notice the impact of the human element. A successful digital transformation requires the will and commitment of the people who make up the organization. We can’t expect employees to be able to leverage customer data, maximize the potential of CRM, personalize customer service or deliver seamless omnichannel customer experiences just like that. All employees must be engaged in and positively perceive this transformation.

Here are some tips to help your organization achieve this

  1. 1. Identify a project leader with this expertise
  • Often, this big responsibility is given to someone from IT or marketing, who is not equipped to take a holistic view of such a project.
  • Having a leader who knows how to guide and motivate the troops is essential, even if it implies a significant investment.
  1. 2. Set aside some time to each person involved
  • A multidisciplinary committee can be formed to carry out the various projects, but it is imperative to free up time for them. This will be a worthwhile investment in the long term.
  • Freeing up time in a context where all employees are overworked requires strong leadership from senior management. You must have the courage to re-prioritize your activities to free up time for your teams.
  1. 3. Break down silos and mobilize the team
  • Breaking down silos and democratizing the transformation within the organization is crucial. Otherwise, this type of project can damage the company by heightening division and inconsistencies between teams and creating a negative feeling that will be difficult to remove.
  • Too often, this type of project tends to communicate very theoretical elements, plans and strategies, but does little to address concrete applications. Employees must be able to see the real impact of these transformations.
  1. 4. Implement an internal communication plan
  • A good way to engage all employees around this project is to put in place a solid internal communication plan that will stimulate discussion, answer questions and alleviate concerns.
  • This plan can take different forms, such as a monthly newsletter or a lunch & learn.
  • A fun tool such as a project progress chart (identifying the percentage of progress made, tests in progress, number of training sessions given, etc.) can be an interesting addition to the internal communications.
  1. 5. Plan and organize training and onboarding
  • An investment in digital transformation without an ensuing investment in HR, including training and skills development, is bound to fail.
  • This step is essential for everyone’s understanding, commitment and motivation. A good communication plan (that includes written communications and face-to-face meetings) supported by training and a clear launch plan are very good ways to successfully onboard all teams.
  1. 6. Implement a digital culture (by “digital culture,” I mean a way of working that is based on agility, flexibility, measurement and a culture of trial and error)
  • Involve the communications team from the beginning of the project, so that key messages are clearly communicated and well understood.
  • Involve the HR team to fine-tune which resources need to be hired, adjust processes and implement development plans.
  • Ensure strong leadership that will allow teams to feel comfortable testing things out and, above all, know they have the right to make mistakes.

The final word?

Depuis un certain temps déjà, on observe l’impact des technologies numériquWe have been observing the impact of digital technologies on customer and employee behaviour for some time now. At the same time, these technologies are developing extremely quickly and are becoming key strategic elements for organizations. Since the pandemic in particular, organizations are feeling the urgent need to transform themselves by leveraging various digital technologies. Digital transformation projects within organizations are on the rise, and this trend is expected to increase in the coming months. The low success rate (30%2) of these transformation projects can be largely attributed to the human element. This means that in order to set yourself up for success, you must ask yourself the right business questions before determining which technology(ies) you will need to adopt. And above all, you must make sure to put the human at the centre of all your digital transformation projects.