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PHOTO: Holger Link

Digital transformation takes many forms and is, in some ways, unique to every organization that begins the process. Sometimes an organization is driven to digital transformation by consumer needs and other times it’s from an internal process perspective. 

No matter the initial reason an organization begins digital transformation, one thing is certain: it’s never a one-and-done project. Digital transformation is an ongoing process that shifts and evolves over time to meet both consumer and internal stakeholder needs.

Driving success through digital transformation can only happen when it evolves with the process and the people it serves. Additionally, using digital transformation as a way to solve problems for consumers can only happen when it is simultaneously used to support internal processes which contribute to those consumer experiences. 

A Late Start Is Better Than No Start

Airlines have long been leaders in the digital transformation movement. It is a fast-moving industry that requires efficient and highly technical internal processes and smooth, effective customer-facing functions. Though many airlines started their digital transformation process early on in the movement, Southwest Airlines waited until 2014 to begin its digital transformation overhaul.

Airline employees work in busy airports and the processes behind the scenes are incredibly complex. Implementing new technology to digitize gate monitoring, to determine how delays at one airport impact flights at another, and to track traveler data will significantly ease internal and customer-facing processes and functions. But it’s also this overarching complexity that has prevented them from taking on digital transformation sooner.

Given that the airline expects to see a return on its investment in digital transformation as early as 2020, it’s clear that digital transformation can change the trajectory of an organization quickly.

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Digital Transformation Means Continuous Improvement

Southwest Airlines is a great example of how digital transformation can infuse an organization with a renewed focus on delivering exceptional customer experience. If it, and companies like it, can view digital transformation as an ongoing process rather than a massive overhaul, they can ease into the process in an iterative way while incrementally improving the experience on both sides.

One way to approach digital transformation as an ongoing process is to transform internal processes by taking a cue from customer-facing improvements and optimizations. By allowing the customer to lead, organizations can ensure that the problems they are trying to solve with digital transformation are important to their clientele. When taken as one problem or process at a time, organizations can spend time testing and iterating on their solutions without upsetting the core ecosystems at work.

Once one part of the process has been transformed and proven effective, organizations can take what they’ve learned and move on to the next process or problem to be solved through digital transformation. And it goes on like this until you come back around to where you started, at which point the existing solutions are ready for additional refinement.

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Think You're Done? Think Again

So what’s next after undergoing digital transformation? Truthfully, once an organization feels as though they’ve completed their transformation, it’s time to start over again looking at how those initial processes, transactions, and functions can be refined and made even more efficient.

When viewed as a one-and-done initiative, digital transformation ends up becoming an obstacle unto itself. The core issues that arise from this viewpoint are 1) the task seems too daunting and expensive to start, therefore organizations put it off until they cannot continue to survive without it, and 2) though an organization may be ahead of the curve initially, if they don’t revisit their processes and functions over time, they will eventually get left behind, which will lead back to the first core issue of time and money.

Organizations should work to plan for digital transformation as an ongoing process from the time they start. Having a long-term digital transformation roadmap in place that is lead by customer needs can help organizations identify smaller projects that they can undertake one at a time and can setup digital transformation as an ongoing cycle of implementation, testing, deployment and iteration.