What causes SA digital transformation projects to fail?

People, not technology, are the most important determinant of success in digital transformation. Focusing on technology to the exclusion of people, process, data, culture and broader business strategy is the primary reason attempts to digitally transform fail.

This is according to local CIOs and IT and digital transformation leaders, who were participating in a high-level round table discussion hosted by iOCO, in partnership with ITWeb.

Mary-Lyn Raath, Digital Solutions lead at iOCO, noted that as many as 70% of digital transformation efforts failed.

“It’s always going to be difficult to transform a business, because you need to get people to change. Transformation brings so much uncertainty, and in many cases, you have to make a lot of assumptions to build a decent business case. The returns are uncertain, and the technology may be untested in your industry or organisation. These risks and fear of the unknown are some of the things slowing organisations down in their transformation efforts.”

IT leaders participating in the round table agreed that technology was simply an enabler, and should not be seen as the main component of digital transformation.

As many as 70% of digital transformation efforts fail.

Mary-Lyn Raath, iOCO.

Brian Harding, iOCO head of digital and international businesses, warned against the misconception that digital transformation was only about apps.

“A few years ago, digital transformation was all about apps with the intent on creating a new user experience. Often you had the same organisation, structure and processes, and a new front-end in the form of an app. That doesn’t really transform the client experience. Approaching digital transformation from a client experience view is crucial for client facing organisations and this should go deeper than the front end experience.”

One participant noted that digital transformation is not only about the technology: “It’s about how you grow and transform an organisation, with technology as the enabler. The implementation of the technology is part of the success, but it’s also important that your people embrace it. Digital transformation should be about unlocking value. It’s the new way of doing things to future proof the business.”

Another participant echoed this view: “Digital transformation should not be seen as an independent strategy. Many organisations come up with a digital strategy and a business strategy which sit side by side. If you do this, you are trying to achieve digital transformation in isolation, instead of transforming the business strategy, which incorporates a digital future.” He noted that digital transformation was not a project that could be completed in a limited time frame: “It’s not a sprint, it’s more of a marathon.”

The round table participants said their advice for organisations working towards digital transformation was to start now – even through smaller projects, to focus on change management across people, processes and overall company culture, and to stay focused on the big picture rather than becoming bogged down and confused by a plethora of solutions.

“Focus on quick wins to get momentum going, and enable your people to become ‘prosilient’, not just resilient,” advised Raath.

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