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Going Digital: How to get started?

This blog was inspired by the Thriving Through Digital “lean beer” conversation held in Auckland, New Zealand on 12 September 2018.  The specific topic of that conversation session was “ How to start your digital transition.”  You can find more information and join the group conversation here.

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”

This famous saying from the ancient Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu reminds us that even the longest and most difficult ventures have a starting point.  And there is no doubt that the digital transformation journey is a long and difficult one, as recent research data demonstrates. So the question is, what is the best first step toward digital transformation at your organization?

Well, at the risk of sounding like a consultant, that depends.  There are some broad themes that all journeys to digital must address, but there is no recipe book that you can follow.  Your journey is unique because of:

  • where you are today
  • where you believe you want to be
  • what your competitors are doing
  • your organization’s specific purpose and desired outcomes
  • what you learn along the way and how you adjust
  • what skills you have available today, and what skills you will need
  • the expectations and desires of your customers and other stakeholders

You need to address at least some of these unique differentiators to know where you’re heading and to set off in the right direction. The best way to do that is to do a “digital readiness assessment” so that Lao Tzu’s first step is more likely to be in the right direction every journey.

A Digital Readiness Assessment should set out to answer the following questions for the organization:

  1. What does digital mean for us?
  2. What changes do we need to make to our business and operating model to become our definition of digital?
  3. Is your current IT environment capable of enabling and supporting the changes that you will require to enable your new business and operating model? (You can read more about the elements required for high-performance IT in this post.)
  4. What high-level business, customer, and technology programs will be required, and what outcomes and business value are they designed to deliver?

Having asked and answered these questions, you are now ready to map out and take that first step on your journey to digital. Your journey is unlikely to be simple or direct. (Imagine how boring The Lord of the Rings would have been had Frodo simply walked to Mount Doom and dropped the ring in.) You can’t simply define a 3- or 4-year road map and expect to be able to execute it exactly as planned.  The history of change and innovation is a history of iteration, as ideas are built on, changed, stripped back and morphed over time. This is what innovators and entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley and elsewhere mean when they encourage colleagues to “fail fast.” If you are going to succeed on the journey to digital you will need to engage in this process and use it to your advantage.

One way to do this is to manage your transition to digital using a technique borrowed from Agile software development – the sprint. Sprints allow you to iterate forward towards your goal, rather using the more traditional approach of working backward from your vision. Taking such an iterative approach allows you to learn and adjust as you go. The ability to learn and adjust allows you to increase your chances for success as you navigate your unique transition to a successful digital organization.

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