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7 Habits of Highly Unsuccessful Digital Transformations


What’s preventing your digital success? Here are seven of the most common obstacles we’ve seen across industries and geographies.

The fast-growing digital economy is full of unknowns. In fact, it’s undeniably a brave new world for all involved. But some things we do know.

We know with certainty, for example, that digital initiatives without purpose fail. Roughly 80% in fact, reports Forbes. This is largely due to a risk-fearing culture, regulatory paralysis, the bog of legacy systems, and failure to define and communicate a galvanizing purpose for digital change.

In reality, many digital initiatives today are often conducted as side experiments or prototypes, focused on incremental enhancements to a user experience, aren’t scalable, or don’t address significant problems related to broken processes. Of course, none of the above will ever achieve true change.

The most honorable purpose in the world, however, is only as good as a business’s ability to execute on it. Additionally, knowing what not to do can often be just as helpful as knowing what to do in times of change. When it comes to unsuccessful digital transformations, few behaviors are more detrimental than these:

Failure to set goals. 

Directly related to adopting a digital initiative without purpose, this common behavior prevents the organization from achieving any kind of meaningful change. What do you want from digital? If it’s just to be like everyone else, then your transformation will surely fail (think of the many iconic retailers that were quick to adopt digital apps yet are still struggling to survive). But if it’s to increase customer engagement, grow new channels of business, support an increasingly multi-generational customer base, or increase time to market, you’ll be better positioned for success.

Failure to understand where change is occurring.

This one is a bit tricky since it’s often difficult to spot. For example, most executives feel supremely confident that artificial intelligence will soon remake a variety of industries and occupations. But admittedly they still don’t know the specifics, which can complicate their understanding of where change is occurring. Nevertheless, forward-thinking executives always consider how emerging disruptions might affect all aspects of business (think of Best Buy’s recent gains after embracing showrooming). That alone keeps them on their toes and is a step in the right direction.

Failure to understand how digital affects your customers’ journeys.

Related to the above, this is also important enough to stand on its own. If the customer is always right, then a failure to serve them is fatal, especially as the demand for digital rapidly rises. That said, this oversight might also include targeting the wrong or no longer relevant audience. Your company must account for both. To do this, every part of the organization needs to see itself as directly impacting the customer. This mentality extends to teams that might have previously considered themselves internally focused, such as operations. Only then can companies realize the full potential of digital.

Failure to collaborate across ecosystems.

This certainly includes internal departments or business units, which are sometimes at odds, within your organization. But it also includes outside partners, collaborators and untapped relationships. One of the most disruptive things about digital is that business ecosystems have become more complex and interconnected. Therefore, winning digital businesses collaborate better with multiple external partners, a recent Stanford study found, and with the help of open application programming interfaces (API). So, foster open ecosystems. Or don’t and suffer the consequences.

Failure to incentivize change with meaningful budget.

To borrow a phrase from a popular business adage, failure to spend is planning to fail. More specifically, successful digital transformation will never happen on a shoestring or pet project budget. That’s not to say you shouldn’t learn fast with quick and dirty hits. But overall, you’ll need to put your money where your mouth is, and budget, commit and invest significant resources to enact actual change. As always, money talks. And the more you spend with meaning, the better chances your organization will have for success.

Failure to listen to feedback. 

Whether by ignoring your team’s analytics, outside benchmarks, and/or customer feedback, this behavior is lethal. Think of Blockbuster doing nothing as Netflix rose to prominence. Obviously, the market doesn’t always know what’s right. But it collectively and often does. So, listen to the numbers. Listen to your employees. Listen to what the feedback says before making meaningful decisions on where, how and when to digitize your future.

Failure to move fast and dirty.

At no point in history has change occurred this fast. Gone are the days of lengthy transitions. To win, you must act now. But you also don’t have to bet the entire house on the desired change. In fact, quick iterations are the proven way to go. This allows you to fail fast and invest in things that hold the most promise and greatest potential for return. While product development cycles used to move in months and years, they now move in weeks to months. May the fastest team win.

Figure 1

All told, the journey to digital requires thinking big and executing in fast, surgical strikes. It requires innovating with purpose to drive meaningful business results and listening to leading signals to ensure that you’re on the right course.

This article was written by Lester Lam, Vice President of Consulting within Cognizant Digital Business.

To learn more, please read “Being Digital Means Being More Human,” visit our Digital Works Practice, or contact us with any questions.

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