3 ‘phase 0’ digital transformation errors no IT leader should make

Digital transformation has embedded IT at the center of business strategy, making all organizations technology enterprises today, irrespective of their industry. Business processes, culture, workflow, and systems are all necessarily impacted by digital transformation efforts, which by definition overhaul how business gets done, expediting efficiencies, modernizing the enterprise, and — when executed well — enhancing profitability.

It’s little wonder then that CEOs across the world are attaching high importance to digital transformation as a means for achieving their future goals. According to KPMG’s latest 2022 CEO Outlook survey released in January 2023, 72% of the 1,325 CEOs across 11 markets have an “aggressive digital investment strategy, intended to secure first-mover or fast-follower status.”

But driving radical change in any enterprise without a well thought out strategy is a recipe for disaster. Before embarking on digital journeys, IT leaders must address several key areas that could otherwise stymie the entire process.

Unfortunately, the following planning, or ‘phase 0,’ mistakes are too often made by IT leaders looking to move forward with digital implementations before they are truly ready to make good on investments.  

Failing to secure LOB bandwidth

IT leaders must first gauge the readiness of their organizational engine to drive digital transformation. Without adequate resources, intentional change can quickly become chaotic. Resource assessment is a vital phase 0 or even phase -1 process of any digital initiative.

Most digital transformation initiatives fail because of lack of resources. While IT leaders often focus on planning, evaluation, partnerships, and platforms, they often forget to assess the human resource bandwidth required to implement, execute, and make good on the completed program — in particular within the lines of business (LOBs) impacted by by digital transformation.

No digital initiative today can succeed without LOB sponsorship and involvement. For instance, if a company intends to overhaul its recruitment strategy with a new digital solution, there must be complete involvement of the human resource department. However, in most cases, the HR team already has its hands full with its day-to-day workload and is unable to take out time to work alongside IT on the project.

With low HR involvement in meetings and feedback phases related to the project, IT will struggle to hit goals and timelines, jeopardizing the initiative’s outcome.

While it is relatively easy for an IT leader to put his or her team in place before embarking on a digital transformation journey, it may not be as easy for LOB leaders to identify the right team members to be involved. Therefore, it is on CIOs to ensure that their LOB counterparts set aside the right talent from their departments to be involved in the process and prioritize their participation alongside their daily work. This must be done right at the start, not after the project has launched, else the CIO will have to continue to re-baseline the timing and requirements of the initiative. Cross-functional teams are vital to digital success, and CIOs should insist on them.

Misunderstanding the organization’s digital maturity

Another major reason digital transformations stumble is the lack of visibility business and technology leaders often have into their organization’s digital maturity before they begin. To become digitally mature, an enterprise must know its capabilities. This is an imperative precursor before deciding to go digital.

Each company has a different level of digital maturity at the enterprise, technology, and functional levels, and how it complements business. If business and technology leaders understand where they stand on this digital maturity curve, it gets easier to know where they intend to go and how long will it take to reach that destination.

The onus lies on the CIO to apprise top management on the status of the company’s digital maturity, so they know where they stand. For instance, if a company is in growth mode, it may need to align resources, scale up its technology platforms, and hire more employees. By getting to know the digital maturity in each of these functions, technology investments can be prioritized and aligned in relevant areas accordingly. In the absence of this, companies can make investments in wrong areas without realizing larger value.

Some questions CIOs can ask as part of the digital maturity discovery process could be: Does the company have a clear strategic vision, objectives, and direction? How does the company rank (laggard, mediocre, or leader) against its competition? How consistent is the organization’s digital experience across various channels?

To get more visibility into digital maturity, CIOs would be wise to create digital maturity indexes and link them to various facets of the business.

Launching without a clear mission

Any digital journey kicks off with a problem that is worth solving. It would, therefore, help if there is a single, clear statement that throws light on the problem at hand, those experiencing it, and the reasons to solve it. IT leaders may come up with lengthy project briefs and comprehensive RFPs but without a clear, precise problem statement they are all no good.

A well-honed problem statement provides clarity for all involved. Deep into the complexity of a transformation, team members can return to this document for guidance, using it to help address drift or any additional issues or questions that may arise along the way to ensure they stay on course and on mission. A clear problem statement can also be helpful if a technology leader has taken up three or four projects simultaneously, as it can help with prioritization issues and any overlapping complexities that might arise to help ensure each project is successful.

A simple exercise such as a drawing board session can go a long way in understanding the pain points of the relevant stakeholders and coming up with a refined problem statement. A couple of weeks of such a collaborative process, prior to getting into a long-drawn digital initiative, can help business and IT to get on the same page and ensure they stay focused on delivering the optimal outcome regardless of what they encounter along the way.

Digital Transformation