Digital transformation: Tech’s ultimatum

Most executives see the need to embrace technology — and quickly — or be left behind. Finding the right applications for technology can be overwhelming, though, and the chance of failure when implementing a new solution is exceedingly high.

Despite the odds, it is possible to be successful. This article explores some of challenges and opportunities associated with digital transformation.

Common challenges

Pace of change and readiness for change: One challenge for executives leading a digital transformation is managing the pace of change of technology. Companies fear that by the time they finish an implementation or upgrade, the technology has changed, and a better solution is available.

Change is stressful for employees given the pressure to adapt to new technology, and leaders who don’t provide support will likely meet resistance. Just as inflexible hardware or software create hurdles to digital transformation, people who are unable or unwilling to adapt to change can create barriers.

Trying to fix bad processes with technology: Another challenge is trying to use technology to fix flawed processes. If a new solution is sandwiched between inefficient processes, it is unlikely to achieve the desired results. Instead, a careful assessment of the use cases for technology is needed, as well as detailed process architecture and process engineering to connect to processes upstream and downstream of the tech implementation.

Quality and readiness of data: Artificial intelligence (AI) and AI features can streamline core processes within businesses. However, effective use of AI is dependent on the quality and readiness of the underlying data. Data must be classified so that it accurately identifies what it is and whether it is sensitive. AI is getting smarter, but functionality still depends on clean data.

Cost and scope: Tech solutions can have significant cost implications and executives must be realistic about what can be done within budget. Companies can become enamored with a certain tech solution to solve an existing problem, only to find the solution is not as flexible or all-encompassing as promised. The result? Add-ons and upcharges that take them by surprise. In some cases, the budget does not allow for those changes, so the solution is half-baked and it’s another tech failure.

How to maximize tech investments

Boosting buy-in with training: People, process, and technology must collaborate for companies to achieve a successful technology implementation. If these components are misaligned, the risk of failure increases. Often, the “people” piece of this trifecta requires the most thoughtful management. Implementers must identify pain points in people’s workflow and show them how the tech will make their work better.

Digital adoption tools to help companies keep pace with change: Consumers are trained to work with technology that is continually changing. Mobile phone users, for example, are familiar with routine software updates. Once the new version is installed, the user is automatically prompted with information about what has changed and tips for using the updated software. Companies should embrace a similar training model when doing tech upgrades in business.

Start with a strong digital core: It is difficult for the average organization to keep pace with constant changes in technology and AI with when using one-off solutions alone. Having a strong core software is an important starting point.

Customer relationship management platforms can help bring in revenue. Companies have found success using applications with a significant selling platform when they are integrated with other tools, like interacting with customers and video conferencing.

Enterprise resource planning also is foundational to long-term success, and businesses need a digital core that allows for adaptation. A good opportunity to embed AI is to take advantage of the offerings of a company’s existing vendors.

Preparing for digital transformation

Companies should establish digital transformation success metrics early. They must have specific goals for who will use the solution and for what purpose.

Despite potential pitfalls, by ensuring all the pieces are in place, being clear about the desired outcomes, and following through with a consistent focus, companies can be successful participants in the ongoing digital transformation.

• Jeff Schmidt is the chief technology officer for Crowe LLP, a public accounting, consulting, and technology firm that combines deep industry and specialized expertise with innovation. It has offices in Chicago, Oak Brook and Springfield.

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