Analysis: Getting digital transformation right: What nobody tells you

Like it or not, the COVID-19 pandemic has spurred many companies to start their digital transformation journey. While it might be on the agenda of most companies nowadays, success does not come easy. A research by McKinsey Digital titled "How to restart your stalled digital transformation" found resourcing issues (20%) to be the most commonly cited factor in stalled digital transformations. More than half of respondents (53%) said their resourcing problems result from the ways funds are earmarked or allocated among initiatives. According to McKinsey, this reveals that "the trouble is not simply a matter of allocating sufficient funding or talent" when it comes to digital transformation.

To jump-start stalled digital transformations, McKinsey found that undertaking a rigorous change-management programme (28%), improving the economic model for the transformation's timing and impact (21%), as well as developing a robust internal communications plan (21%) were most associated with success.

How do marketers define digital transformation?

One thing marketers can agree on is that digital transformation is an internal change involving business processes, culture and customer experiences to meet changing market requirements. StarHub's chief digital officer, Adam Stewart, told Marketing that digital transformation is not just about creating a new mobile app or embracing automation software. "I strongly believe that the key to a successful, scalable and sustainable digital transformation is making deep and holistic changes across all experiences, products, services, processes and data with customers’ needs and expectations at the centre of it all," he said.

According to him, the changes StarHub makes must improve customers' daily experience with the brand - from simplifying product catalogues to speeding up product enhancements, shortening response times and minimising errors. He added that success stories come from companies that are flexible and respond quickly to changing customer priorities and market movements, realising greater customer satisfaction, revenue upside and business cost reductions.

Likewise, Daniel Lee, senior director - digital acceleration, foundational markets at McDonald's, defined digital transformation as business transformation executed through digital technology. He explained that it is about combining customer-centric thinking with actionable data and digital channels, that ultimately deliver improved business outcomes. "It ranges from simple actions such as making existing processes more efficient, to creating brand new ways to reach and engage with customers," he added.

Besides improving business processes and making them more efficient, digital transformation also enables organisations to be more nimble and agile as well as being cost efficient in their day to day operations, Abbott Malaysia's head of digital marketing and CRM, Nicholas Goh, said. He added that this would then give the organisation a competitive edge over their competitors.

Also weighing in on the topic was Acquia's senior field marketing manager Rachel Lam, who shared about the aspects of digital transformation that nobody tells you, "Where there are so many ways to interact with your prospects and customers, the information gathered from these interactions, there is always an issue of making sense and use of all the data," she added. To be successful in digital transformation, companies need to do the groundwork and ensure it is sustainable after the transformation. Otherwise, there will be challenges in the long run, she added.

Some ways Acquia has implemented digital transformation for its clients include understanding the buying process of the customer through the interactions with its content and salespeople via online and offline channels. According to her, this helps the SaaS company better target similar prospects or audience through relevant channel and content. "Through the interactions with the customers, we are then able to provide consultative insights to them and provide them personalised solutions that would fit their needs and solve their pain points," she added.

Join us on a three-week journey at Digital Marketing Asia 2020 as we delve into the realm of digital transformation, data and analytics, and mobile and eCommerce from 10 to 26 November. Sign up for early bird tickets here!

Aspects of digital transformation that nobody tells you

Digital transformation might have become a buzzword in recent years, but there is no guidance on where and when to start. Goh said this includes areas such as when is the right time for an organisation to embark on a digital transformation journey and whether they are even ready to do so.

"In most cases, I would say when an organisation has a mandate to embark this journey versus people readiness as well as system readiness are often times mis-aligned. Alignment within the whole organisation and buy in from stakeholders are key before embarking on this transformation journey," he added.

Goh also said he wished he had gone on a digital transformation course before starting on the journey. He explained that most of the time, he learnt how to implement and amend things on the fly as he went along. While such a practice is not ideal, Goh said that having past experiences and knowledge in some areas do help him make decisions a lot quickly and easily. This is especially so when it involves technical knowledge as well managing stakeholders expectations.

Agreeing with him is StarHub's Stewart, who said that the execution of digital transformation strategies will become smoother when stakeholders see clear business objectives and outcomes.

As such, for a truly successful digital transformation, aligning stakeholders’ mindsets, though a tough task especially in the initial stage, must be done and treated sensitively.

"What I would want is an innate ability to recognise the nuances of customers’ ever-evolving needs and expectations. Customers’ expectations are a constantly rising tide in our fast-changing digital world, and we want to stay ahead and accurately predict what our customers want," he said. Stewart explained that this is why the telco's digital transformation journey relies heavily on data insights. To further boost this capability, StarHub is also in the process of breaking down data silos and harmonising its data assets for the company to have a unified view of its customers.

Mindset shift is key

At the heart of getting buy-in from the management is a mindset shift. According to Digi Telecommunications' chief digital officer Praveen Rajan, the key to digital transformation is actually people transformation and mindset shift. Most automation and digitalisation are operational processes, which still require people to craft the solutions.

He added that transitioning employees to new way of doing things requires acceptance, readiness and effort invested in training, for instance. "In other words, while having the latest digital technology is necessary, what is equally important is having company-wide support with the right people and the right mindset in place to see through an effective digital transformation," he said.

There is also a common notion in the industry that digitalisation is the answer to all business problems. While it can be the foundation and catalyst to many solutions and operational improvements, Rajan said the fact is that there will be complex business challenges that require more than just digitalisation to close the gap. Fundamentally, a good start is often to identify parts of the business that will benefit most from digitalisation, and then scale from there, he added.

According to him, one thing he wished he had known before embarking on digital transformation was the fact that it is a never-ending journey and that it will continue to evolve. "The digital landscape is an ever-changing one, and when you think you have transformed, either your customers have changing needs or the market changes before you know it," he said.

Citing MyDigi app as an example, Rajan said email addresses were used to log in to the app when it first rolled out. However, the team quickly learnt that the growing younger generation has moved away from using emails as a communications tool. As a result, it changed the login method to mobile numbers.

Also stressing the importance of mindset is McDonald's Lee, who said the culture around thinking is the most underlooked aspects of digital transformation and any business transformation for that matter. Transformation means doing things differently, which starts with being willing to think differently in several areas: making decisions quicker, taking calculated risks and having permission to fail, Lee explained.

"Organisations and careers in most organisations are built around slow consensus driven decisions and ensuring that failure is discouraged if you want to stay employed. If an organisation is truly seeking transformation, you must take risks which is naturally bundled with failure," he added. According to him, the trick is to manage risks and failure so that the impact is not as catastrophic when something goes wrong, which most likely will.

Join us on a three-week journey at Digital Marketing Asia 2020 as we delve into the realm of digital transformation, data and analytics, and mobile and eCommerce from 10 to 26 November. Sign up for early bird tickets here!

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