scaffolding
Taking an all or nothing approach to digital transformation results in so many more points of potential failure PHOTO: Dan Gold

When you renovate an old house, you start by improving what's there. 

The same goes for digital transformation.

But instead of thinking of it as a "transformation," it might help to look at it as Sergio Zyman does — "digital renovation." Zyman's book "Renovate Before You Innovate" preaches improving what you already have rather than scrapping everything and starting from scratch:

“True renovation is making changes to something that already exists, leaving the essence intact but giving it new vigor and perhaps new life …. It’s analyzing your skills and leveraging them to make a bigger impact.”

Your own digital renovation may involve deploying new or updated software, migrating to the cloud or removing software you no longer need. But it doesn’t mean you do all three at once. 

Digitally renovating will serve you better than a full transformation. What follows are some tips for enacting renovation best practices.

Let's All Take a Deep Breath

You don’t have to look far to find articles and advice telling you how important digital transformation is for your company. Consultants call it an essential practice for "modernizing" your business. 

You need to "disrupt to win" as the enterprise becomes more and more digital. Fail to do so, and you and your business will be left behind.

But the following definition for digital transformation suggests it is less of a modern phenomenon than consultants and vendors would lead you to believe:

Digital transformation is the reinvention of an organization through the use of digital technology to improve the way it performs and serves its constituents. 

I would argue that the "use of digital technology" in business is nothing new. Enterprises have used digital technologies for the past 60 years — from floppy disks and USB flash drives to Blackberry (the "work" phone), all the way to the emergence of the cloud.

Digital transformation, however, is about more than ensuring you have an array of the latest digital products and services at your disposal. It is about ensuring you are using those digital assets to improve the efficiency and productivity of your workers and the profitability of your business. 

In such cases, digital renovation may be a more apt term than digital transformation.

This Isn't a Race

Even if you believe they can benefit your company, implementing as many new technologies as you can — whether automation, advanced analytics or machine learning software — will likely become overwhelming. Remember, for each new technology you deploy, you:

  1. Have to deploy new software into your environment and
  2. Must ensure user adoption if you want to find value.

Migrating your business to the cloud is irrelevant if, once you have moved, your workers no longer know how to access their files or collaborate with colleagues. They end up feeling alienated, which will have an obvious negative impact on their productivity.

So even if multiple technologies appear that you believe can enhance your business, it pays to be patient. Don’t rush and commit to five new technologies at once. Prioritize which areas of the business can benefit the most from new technology and take incremental steps.                    

Optimize What You Already Have

As tempting as it may be, spending big on a brand new platform will often result in certain areas of that platform going underutilized or ignored completely by your users. 

But if you choose to "renovate" individual pieces of software, tools or services in areas where you know user adoption or productivity can be improved, this will offer you the best possible return on investment.

So do your research. Ask colleagues, employees and your team which tools are used and which are ignored, and why. Is a clunky user interface leading to low adoption of software? Or are individuals finding workarounds elsewhere because using a certain tool takes up too much of their time?

Comprehensive Digital Transformation Takes Time

If you follow the ‘all-or-nothing’ advice of some vendors, digitally transforming your business can be a long and arduous process. 

And in some cases, it will end up being too long. The rapid nature of technology change means once you have "transformed," you risk the possibility that the perfect software you just installed is now obsolete. 

For this reason, you must ensure any new technology you invest in is sustainable, both from the viewpoint of the software itself and in terms of user adoption.

By digitally renovating your workplace, rather than a full transformation, you get to upgrade the basics. You keep your employees happy, your bottom line happy and do more with what you already have.