2018 is already here and, with it, the momentum towards digital transformation is in full swing. I believe this is going to be a milestone year for digitalisation.

On one hand the adoption of sophisticated analytics tools and technologies is improving customer understanding. On the other businesses that pioneered grassroots digital transformation projects last year have started realising the benefits and planning to scale their initiatives.

The accumulative effect is a sense of urgency and momentum behind increasing investments and developing skills to fuel digital transformation.

Undoubtedly, this is exciting news!

I think it’s safe to say that while many digital transformation projects have been truly transformative, an equal number of well intended plans, also failed to grow larger than an under-utilised email marketing tool.

For me personally, there’s one more reason that makes 2018 really exciting: this momentum might be just what’s needed to pull your stagnating digital transformation initiative out of the bog and breathe life into it.

Why are some digital transformations more successful than others?

After talking with a number of clients and colleagues (both marketers & consultants), plus a fair bit of good ‘ol desktop research, I believe the missing ingredient is a lack of problem solving.

This certainly isn’t universally true, but in my opinion the common denominator among digitalisation projects that have either become too cumbersome or completely failed to realise their goals, is the way they are initiated.

‘How’ you ask? It often happens with a swift jump from someone deciding that their organisation could benefit from digitalisation to drafting a plan on how to get it done.

What we’re missing is the critical steps of identifying symptoms, rational analysis and then developing a logical solution.

The solution in this case is having a clear idea about which function of the business needs to be transformed, what that transformation would look like and how is it going to be achieved.

It wouldn’t be right to say that this step is outright missing. It is however my observation that strategic decision making is often substituted with either:

  • Mechanical thinking in which someone in the organisation formulates a digital transformation plan based on a successful blueprint from another organisation.
  • Intuitive thinking in which the plan is based on the intuition of someone in the organisation.

“It [Digital Transformation] is not about changing the way we do technology but changing the way we do business.”

–MIT Sloan Business Review

Digital transformation means applying specific digital and analytical tools to business processes with the goal of transforming them for the better.

It’s not enough to find isolated digital solutions to complicated and interconnected business problems. Forget about finding low-hanging fruit. Digital transformation is about building yourself a new garden.

Are you patching symptoms or building solutions?

Building a garden isn’t easy, quick or cheap. It requires patience and most of all it requires planning.

The most important skill to have for anyone involved in strategic decision making? Knowing how to distinguish a symptom from a problem.

For example: challenges with acquiring quality leads and successfully closing them is a symptom. The problem could be a lack of productivity, poor communication or no visibility into customer behaviour.

A mechanical or an intuitive solution might be to hire more sales staff, increase email frequency or spend more on advertising.

A strategic approach to this problem would be to:

  1. List observable symptoms that are indicative of the issue.
  2. Group together common issue across different symptoms.
  3. Clearly define these issue in terms of operational, managerial or resource (human & financial) challenges.
  4. Develop a concrete and specific approach for addressing these issues one by one.

The steps listed above are the Stages of Strategic Problem Solving from one of my favourite books on business strategy The Mind of the Strategist by Kenichi Ohmae*.

Finding strategic reasoning behind solving real business problems through digital transformation makes the goal you’re trying to achieve meaningful for your CEO and CFO and all the way down to your managers.

Digital Transformation Matrix

While researching this topic I came across the Nine Elements of Digital Transformation developed after in-depth research with executives from various industries by MIT Sloan Management Review.

I’ve used those elements to create a simple matrix as an aid for applying strategic problem solving while planning for digital transformation.

I’ve used the 9 elements developed by MIT Sloan Management Review and added two additional steps under each element: Indicators and Benefits.

Grab your free Digital Transformation Matrix below:

Why did I chose to add indicators and benefits?

I’m building up on my theory that strategic problem solving is the missing link between successful and unsuccessful digital transformation projects.

With the matrix I wanted to create a simple aid to recognizing symptoms (indicators), the business problems they’re related to (The 9 elements) and possible improvements (solutions) for marketers and other strategic decision makers.

This matrix is by no means exhaustive. The expected use is as an educational or communicational aid for properly scoping the requirements and the desired results of your digital transformation project.

Final thoughts

Digital transformation, regardless of its scale, is no longer a nice-to-have term included in company presentations, marketing plans or in your website copy. It’s a necessity for any business that wants to improve their current position and reach bolder goals during the next decade.

Before you start creating your digital transformation plan (or re-evaluating the plan you’ve been working on all last year), take a step back and make sure that you and others in your organisation have a clear idea on:

  • Visible symptoms that are causing a decrease in performance.
  • Challenges that are causing these symptoms.
  • Processes or skills that need to be improved for long-term success
  • In what specific ways digitalisation is going to elevate the symptoms and rid the organisation of the challenges causing them.

If you have any feedback on the matrix, I’d love to hear it. Connect with me on LinkedIn or send me an email.

*This article contains affiliate links and they’re marked with an asterisk. I only recommend books that I have in my own library and that have been an inspiration to myself throughout my career. Thank you for reading!