A 3 Phase Plan for Sustainable Digital Transformation

“The hardest part is starting. Once you get that out of the way, you’ll find the rest of the journey much easier.”

Simon Sinek

According to a McKinsey Global Survey, more than 60 percent of respondents with stalled digital transformations attribute the problem to factors that organizations can control. This notion goes against widespread assumptions that external pressures, such as market disruptions or regulatory changes, pose the most significant threats to digital initiatives. More commonly, sources of derailed progress included lack of clarity or alignment on a company’s digital strategy and poor quality of the digital strategy to begin with.

Cultivating A “Marathon, Not A Sprint” Mentality

It’s incumbent upon the digital transformation leaders to manage expectations and take the lead in defining realistic, data-driven ambitions for the enterprise. It’s also critical for all stakeholders to agree upon the necessary governance changes to achieve the new objectives.

Re-envisioning your digital transformation project requires crafting a bold, inspiring mission statement – one that is clear, concise, and consistent with established strategic pillars. This will help everyone focus their efforts on building a program that delivers immense value. Pick a leader who can cast a compelling vision, which acknowledges the past but establishes a new and exciting future.

It’s important to understand and accept that your other project and business leaders will shape the basic perceptions associated with your subsequent plans and actions.Therefore, proper preparation, assessment, planning, acting, measuring, and above all, communication can greatly enhance your chances of success.

Implementing a Proven Methodology and Framework

Following a proven approach to reinvigorate your data roadmap will likely solve many of the problems faced initially. There are a number of different frameworks that can help design your approach. For example, the Prosci change management framework is one approach to following a structured process for implementing lasting change within an organization. It’s initial strategic framework includes three phases: 

  • Phase 1 – Prepare Approach
  • Phase 2 – Manage Change
  • Phase 3 – Sustain Outcomes

Each phase is broken down into three stages, and each stage includes important activities to support the success of a change. Similar to other change management methodologies, the Prosci approach is structured, yet also adaptable and scalable to fit the needs of any organization or change initiative. For more information visit the Prosci 3-Phase Process full outline.

Source: © Prosci, Inc. – Managing Change: Take Action and Implement Plans Worksheet

Conclusion

Again, the Prosci methodology is just one of many available to successfully manage change to support digital transformation. See this list of 10 other models for a few examples. Regardless of the exact framework, what they all have in common is taking a methodical approach to ensure your digital transformation efforts are lasting – meaning you’ve identified the right goals and that you have stakeholders and an organization that’s fully invested in the change.

Don’t let fear of failure get in the way of trying to move your digital transformation efforts forward. With structure, clarity, and concrete objectives, leaders can forge a new path and create a new momentum that allows for a data-driven culture to emerge and thrive.

5 Digital Transformation Lessons from Dune

Last week, sci-fi fans finally got to see the latest film adaptation of Dune. When published in 1965, Frank Herbert’s novel was a groundbreaking, eco-conscious sci-fi epic. Set 20,000 years in the future with intergalactic dynasties and secret orders battling for control of the scarcest resource in the universe, Dune seems both completely alien but also very familiar.

Much has been written about Herbert’s inspiration for dune. But while the author had plenty of history and his own time to draw from, the story is even more relevant today, given how dire some of the same issues have become. So if Dune does such a great job of reflecting our current situation, what insights can it offer into how to address our challenges?

Here are 5 lessons from Dune on digital transformation

1. Bring back the thinking machines

In the Dune universe, a war against machines results in a prohibition against AI or “machines in the likeness of a human mind.” Subsequently, over thousands of years, humanity has filled the role of advanced computers with Mentats. After undergoing conditioning at specialized schools, these ‘human computers’ are able to process large amounts of data, identify patterns, apply logic, and then deduce probable future outcomes. The prescience and strategic abilities of Mentats make them valued advisors, with the great houses of the universe vying for their service.

Atreides Mentat Thufir Hawat

Sound familiar? With organizations across all industries racing to capitalize on AI, there’s been growing demand for data science related roles. Companies have to compete with big tech companies for talent, and there is simply not enough supply to meet the demand.

The solution? Automation. “Many machines on Ix. New machines,” notes a guild navigator (another class of humans that replace the work formerly handled by computers). Organizations can automate much of their data science work by partnering with vendors that have already made significant investments in R&D and data science talent. Leveraging outside expertise to focus on improving specific workflows is more cost-effective, provides flexibility, and can accelerate digital transformation efforts. 

It’s time to bring back the thinking machines (spoiler alert: the humans and AI eventually make peace in the Dune series).

2. Every drop counts

In contrast to the Harkonnen who seem to indulge in daily steam showers, the Fremen natives of Dune are relentless in their conservation of water. Donning water-preserving suits, the Fremen even reclaim water from corpses and avoid crying. Of course, personal survival demands it, but their hyper-vigilant water preservation also serves their long term vision – terraforming their desert planet into a green oasis. The Fremen use wind traps to collect moisture from the air and slowly amass giant caches of water across thousands of sites.

Fremen water catch basin

Organizations rightly prioritize opportunities that promise to have the biggest impact. But they also shouldn’t overlook less obvious opportunities to innovate (for instance, optimizing the various points at which water is used within food manufacturing processes). By applying the same rigor across other processes, the many small gains in aggregate can have an enormous impact on the efficiency and sustainability of the entire business.

3. “The slow blade penetrates the shield”

Combat in Dune highlights the value of adaptation and an incremental approach. With personal shielding technology having rendered conventional projectile weapons largely ineffective, military forces in Dune revive the use of hand-to-hand combat and traditional weapons. To win in battle, soldiers have to think steps ahead and employ techniques that allow them to overcome the shields, which only yield to slow attacks.

Likewise, with the conventional, top-down approach to digital transformation often failing to deliver, organizations must adapt more effective strategies. A survey of industrial professionals indicated that while 94% have taken an organization-wide approach to digital transformation, only 29% claimed success. Stymied by unanticipated complexity and plagued with delays and cost overruns, many organizations are turning to an operation-specific approach to digital transformation. By implementing digitization and automation techniques to specific workflows first, organizations are able to ensure incremental success and then scale their efforts to the rest of the org.

4. Enlist the frontline

Another benefit of the ops-specific approach is that it more effectively involves and considers those closest to the processes being targeted. In Dune, as the management of Arrakis and spice mining changes hands from the Harkonnen to the Atreides, there’s a clear distinction in the management style of the Atreides. The Harkonnen impose their rule and maximize spice production with violent oppression. By contrast, the Atreides begin their management by sending envoys to engage the locals. They rescue spice harvester workers at the expense of spice production, and then Paul embeds himself with the Fremen and gains their desert knowledge. The approach pays off, as Paul is able to mobilize the locals to overwhelming success.

Similarly, it behooves organizations looking to transform their operations to enlist stakeholders at all levels, especially those that can assess the situation on the ground and identify all opportunities to innovate. Getting their buy-in, tapping their experience and expertise, and ensuring the project delivers on their goals will increase chances for success.

Dune spice miner

5. Fear is the mindkiller

“Moods are a thing for cattle and love play” declares 1984 Dune’s Gurney Halleck while chiding Paul Atreides for not being more vigilant in preparing for their hostile destination. Once on Arrakis, Paul finds himself stripped of his resources and stranded in the desert. He’s forced to quickly hone his skills and adapt to the conditions of his new environment. 

The pace of innovation across all industries is increasing. To maintain their competitive advantage, organizations must create an environment to support innovation within. They can’t afford to wait for years long, enterprise-wide digital transformation projects to deliver uncertain results. Budgetary limits, legacy systems, lack of expertise, and other challenges can be overcome with the right approach. The op-specific approach can help organizations adapt faster, empower professionals across the organization, and realize ROI sooner. 

The sleeper must awaken!

Zillow & 2 Attributes of A Successful Data Culture

In our recent e-book, 3 Hacks for Onboarding AI Platforms, we outline a few key steps to building the right team and culture to support an AI deployment. And we did so for good reason. There is broad consensus that the success of digital transformation efforts hinge on having a data-driven culture behind it. A 2019 Deloitte study found that companies with strong data-driven cultures were twice as likely to exceed business goals. Another study by New Vantage Partners found that 95% of the challenge to adoption of big data and AI initiatives was cultural, organizational, or process-driven rather than technological.

Given this, organizations have prioritized fostering data-driven cultures within their organizations. Whether it’s hiring a digital-focused executive, establishing centers of excellence, or instituting organization-wide mandates, the focus is on moving away from decisions based on gut feeling to those based on data-derived facts. 

Organizations Must Look Beyond the Numbers

Sounds great, but an effective data driven organization must often look beyond the numbers and can face major consequences when they fail to do so. Take for example Zillow, a company that has used data to not only build more accurate real estate models but has also leveraged data into a powerful competitive advantage.

Zillow’s automated home-buying business recently made headlines for its decision to halt home purchases. The company, which has access to more than 17 years worth of data, is hearing backlash after the announcement. Some are calling into question the company’s ability to properly plan and take into account logistical constraints. Others are wondering if their brand has been irreparably damaged. How could these things happen in a data-centric company?

Attributes of a Data-Informed Culture: Intuition & Ownership

In our experience, organizations have proven tremendously successful when they connect big data analytics to the business strategy. This data-informed approach means they acknowledge the data-derived insights but are also aware of and account for the implications of other non-data factors that may impact the direction of the overall strategy.

It also means that when building this data-informed culture, in addition to data literacy, organizations must also look for and encourage two key attributes: 1) Intuition and 2) Ownership

Intuition is defined as the natural ability to know something without any proof or evidence.But it’s also another data point, based on unconscious knowledge, expertise, and experience to be combined with other data in decision making. Ownership is the state of being responsible and accountable. It’s critical that these two components are embedded into the company’s values so that data may be used in a way that properly guides and informs decisions. Otherwise, you may be sitting on actionable insights that no one has evaluated properly or acted on because it’s “not my place.” Someone must answer to the choices being made and how those decisions align to and support broader goals.

It’s easy to wonder if the culture at Zillow didn’t empower the decision makers to use their intuition in the process, but instead they had been accustomed to letting the data be their one and only guide. 

It also highlights a gap between the company’s actions and the real-world issues having to do with the on-the-ground workers and supply constraints. This could be the result of a lack of ownership over the decisions being made.

Being data-informed in addition to data-driven means using both intuition and ownership to constantly check your assumptions, methods and outcomes. The qualitative complements the quantitative, just as the human element complements the data analysis. 

If you want to take your data insights to the next level and avoid the unintended consequences associated with mismanaging the intangible side of your business, look for people that demonstrate high intuition and ownership traits. Your culture will thank you for it.