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Digital transformation has been high on the business agenda for many years, with leaders investing heavily in new, promising technologies as part of their overall development plans. This trend shows no signs of slowing down. In 2019, IDC forecast that investment would reach $7.4 trillion by 2023, with the critical drivers being market competition, rising customer expectations and ongoing business challenges. More recently, Covid-19 has been the most unplanned reason for accelerating most businesses’ digital transformations; out of sheer necessity, leaders have opted for short-term solutions, with the hope of transforming their business as quickly as possible.

Naturally, teams will have encountered a number of bottlenecks throughout this transition, as a result of unnecessarily complex processes across the business cycle. These companies have looked for quick fixes merely as a means to keep the business running while their workforce continues to operate remotely. These initiatives lack the foresight of a long-term transformation plan and rarely result in success. In fact, according to Conga’s latest research, only 36 per cent of all projects relating to the transformation of commercial operations are considered somewhat successful.

Even prior to the pandemic, businesses would often rush their transformation programmes. Initiatives were often driven by the desire to keep up with competitors or to embrace the latest technology, rather than establishing clear business objectives based on a sound understanding of the outcomes that digital transformation can and should drive. Unfortunately, the pandemic has only accelerated this issue.

How to approach a digital transformation programme

The first step in formulating an effective strategy is to measure where the business currently stands in its digital transformation journey, that is, what works, and what does not. Before adopting any new technology or starting any transformation initiative, companies need to take a step back and establish their digital maturity. This will likely involve reviewing the whole commercial operational model.

By reassessing its suitability, especially in the current environment, leaders may identify unnecessary or complicated processes across the operational cycle which hinder the business’ overall performance. Once they have assessed their business’ overall digital maturity, leaders will have more of an idea of how and where change needs to occur in order to progress and improve the company’s overall operability. 

Businesses will have a clear picture of the current state and what the next stage of their company’s digital transformation journey should be, as opposed to simply guessing, or learning through trial and error. Only then can leaders establish clear objectives and a strategy, incorporating new technology to help achieve these goals.

The digital maturity model – a phased digital transformation journey 

The maturity model framework does not prescribe a linear change programme, where every business begins in the same place and follows the same steps to digital maturity. It is vital that every stage is assessed before any change is implemented to determine the next best steps. By evaluating maturity of any given process or area, businesses can gain a clear perspective on their current state, and how to move it on to the next level of maturity.

In the initial stage, companies will likely review key processes, such as managing proposals, issuing quotes or contracts, or even invoicing. Then once they reach the foundation stage, business leaders will start to understand the organisation’s core business logic and identify key data flows and areas for development. By which point, the next step will involve reviewing the system and ensuring processes are fully optimised against agreed business goals.

Following this, businesses can then consider some level of automation, or at least, the acceleration of everyday business processes, that enable teams to work on and prioritise more important tasks. By the next stage, leaders can consider the possibility of further integration between systems, such as customer lifecycle management (CLM) or enterprise resource planning (ERP) to deliver more multi-channel management. Before proceeding to the final stage: intelligence. This stage allows businesses to utilise advanced insights and reporting for unparalleled sales performance reviews, making sure that all teams are fully up to speed with each customer’s interaction with the business’ different teams.

Businesses will of course proceed through these stages of digital maturity at different rates depending on the complexity of their structures, and how many roadblocks they encounter across the business cycle. Undoubtedly, some will have to go back several stages to tackle any issues regarding the business operability or efficiency. 

Digital transformation is a process – it never ends 

At a basic level, it is all about reconsidering the relationship between people, processes, and data. Simplifying and streamlining a critical business process that touches upon all three areas is a key part of the strategy that makes transformation projects far more successful. 

As companies progress along their digital transformation journeys and gain greater digital maturity, they will continue to streamline processes, break down silos, and enable working across team and departmental boundaries. Businesses will become far more agile and adaptable, and able to identify other areas of their commercial operations that may need to be tweaked or fine-tuned, but this is very much a continuous process. No digital transformation journey ever really ends. After all, with flexible working and a hybrid workforce likely in the near future, businesses will no doubt have to consider new workflows to ensure they are better suited for the ‘new normal’. All companies should remain commercially agile.

As recent experience has proven, digital transformation and indeed, commercial agility is vital in today’s business world. By establishing their digital maturity, businesses leave themselves better prepared for all outcomes. Hopefully, businesses will take stock of lessons learned over the past year, and as leaders plan the return to the office, whenever that may be, they can draw upon these experiences and establish a much clearer transformation strategy. 

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Emma Crabtree

Emma Crabtree

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