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The vast majority of digital transformation projects fail. Here’s why.

The International Data Corporation (IDC) predicts that global spending on digital transformation will reach $2 trillion by 2022. But this statistic is at odds with the fact that most digital transformation projects – even those initiated by high profile firms like GE, Ford and Proctor & Gamble – are failing spectacularly. No sensible investor would pour money into a prospect with a 30% chance of success, so why is this happening?

It’s happening because these organisations are making decisions from a place of fear. Fear of irrelevance, fear of the unknown, fear of the competition. Mostly, leaders are making technology decisions because they feel that they must. 

They believe, or have been led to believe, that doing so will magically solve fundamental business problems. Time and time again these tools fail to do so, and in some cases, the technologies we hoped would be a panacea turn out instead to be amplifiers of existing business issues.  

Instead, business leaders need to gain a more complete understanding of the underlying causes and principles of technological change in order to make more informed decisions. These same leaders must invest in building their digital capability. Show me a leader in any organisation who claims he or she doesn’t need to invest time in understanding the nature and impact of digital disruption, and I’ll show you someone who’ll be out of a job in less than five years’ time. 

Let’s assume for a moment you have those skills and are comfortable with discussions about technology. The success of your digital transformation project is still not guaranteed. That’s because digital transformations shouldn’t be thought of in project terms, or they’ll be doomed from the start.

If I told you I was going to embark on a “body transformation” project, and that I’d be working closely with a personal trainer and nutritionist on a daily basis to fundamentally change my physical shape, fitness levels and all-round health, you’d be confident of my success. I am working with experts, I have clear goals and I have considered all the variables that need my attention to effect measurable change. 

But if I then told you that I was only going to embark on the project for 12 weeks and then go back to my normal exercise and eating habits, you’d be suspicious of my chances of sustainable, ongoing results. You would not be surprised to find out, six months down the line, that all my good work had been undone. 

The word transformation implies a fundamental shift in values and priorities for a different level of effectiveness. It implies an ongoing commitment to a new set of principles and behaviours. Real digital transformation, in the same way, is a new way of thinking and doing. It’s not a new piece of software. It’s not a consulting initiative. It’s not lip service. It’s not a new app or a snazzy website. It’s an organisational commitment to adaptability, driven from the top. That’s why Amazon, Uber, Airbnb, Microsoft and Facebook don’t need digital transformation committees or teams. Transformation is baked into their DNA.

If you are reading this and doubting your company’s ability to make such a shift, there is good news. Digital transformation is not the only strategic play you have at your disposal if you’re pressed to inoculate your organisation against disruption and irrelevance. A significant focus of a ground-breaking new Digital Transformation for Executives Programme is a model that assists business leaders to plot one of four possible courses of action that exist alongside digital transformation. 

The course also introduces delegates to the concepts of digitisation (adding digital layers to existing business touchpoints), digital exploration (creating value in new digital frontiers with no change to your existing business model) and finally self-disruption – the act of deliberately and systematically cannibalising your own revenue streams before the competition does. 

The second day of the programme focuses on the forces driving digital change using a unique framework called DARWIN. Delegates will journey through a process of defining and experimenting with the entire digital ecosystem from the most basic building blocks of data, to automation and artificial intelligence (AI), to robotics, autonomous vehicles, additive manufacturing and virtual reality, to blockchain and cryptocurrencies, to the Internet of Things (IoT) and rounding off with an introduction to nanotechnology and biotechnology. 

The programme will ultimately help change your strategic thinking, teach you how to integrate key digital trends into the DNA of your organisation – and build future-proof strategies in a complex and unpredictable digital landscape. DM

This article was written by Mike Stopforth.

Mike Stopforth is Director at Beyond Binary , who together with digital content agency Black Mountain is running a Digital Transformation course in Cape Town on 5 & 6 March and Johannesburg on 23 & 24 March. 

Contact [email protected] to book your spot.


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