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PHOTO: Rohan Makhecha

Digital transformation. It’s a big buzz phrase right now, and rightly so. Gartner has found that nearly 90% of surveyed senior business leaders believe that digitization is a do-or-die undertaking for many companies. John Chambers, Cisco’s CEO for 20 years, rather bluntly prophesied the deaths of many companies that do not digitally transform: “Forty percent of businesses in this room, unfortunately, will not exist in a meaningful way in 10 years,” said Chambers in a keynote address. He added that the only companies that will survive will be those that manage successful digital transformations.

So, it’s no wonder that most companies are scrambling to establish and maintain digital transformation initiatives. Unfortunately, most companies are failing in their attempts to digitally transform. In 2019, for example, the Harvard Business Review reported an estimated $1.3 trillion was spent on digital transformation initiatives. Yet most of that money, around $900 billion, was wasted. And 70% of companies failed to achieve their digital transformation goals.

Why the big fail in digital transformation? The reasons are many and varied, but an oft-overlooked cause for failure can be described by a wise old saying: Before you can run, you must learn to walk. Or, in technology terms: Before you can digitally transform, you must understand digital.

Getting Smart About Digital Transformation

According to Forbes, the term digital IQ is “a measurement of an organization’s abilities to harness and profit from technology.” Companies with high digital IQs are likely to be very successful in their digital transformation efforts. And, of course, companies with less-than-bright digital IQ scores are likely to be among the 70% failing at digital transformation.

Fortunately, digital IQ is not a static, unchangeable metric. Digital IQ can be increased, both on an individual basis and across the organization. Companies seeking to survive long-term will be wise to work proactively at increasing digital IQ throughout the organization.

Training is key to boosting digital IQ, though many companies encounter a rather ironic obstacle: Many training opportunities these days are, in fact, digital. But companies that are digitally astute enough to deploy digital training initiatives will enjoy many benefits in comparison to in-person training. Digital training is cheaper, easier to use in geographically distributed environments, lends itself better to continuous education and can be updated whenever necessary. Organizations, however, must achieve a basic level of digital IQ before more advanced, accelerated training can be manageable and effective.

Related Article: Failure to Launch: 5 Causes of Digital Transformation Failure

3 Ongoing Educational Challenges 

Organizations with a digital IQ high enough to successfully conduct digital training initiatives will be well-positioned for success in their digital transformation efforts. But three ongoing challenges are likely to be experienced:

1. Discoverability: According to Techopedia, discoverability “refers to users’ ability to find key information, applications or services.” A high degree of discoverability is essential for successful learning and productivity. How do employees know where to access the tools they need at your organization? A corporate intranet website could be a good one-stop shop, but only if that intranet is clearly organized and doesn’t overwhelm the employee. It’s also important to ensure information is kept relevant. Easily discovered information, after all, is of little value if that information has grown stale and irrelevant.

2. Fragmentation: Users must be capable of using multiple tools to cover all necessary ranges of functionality. One tool, for example, might be focused on static content, while another is focused on training. At my company, Applause, an example of fragmentation might be the two sales tools Allego and Highspot. How do Applause employees know what’s in one versus the other? (You can likely think of numerous similar examples of fragmentation at your company.)

A frequent complication is that one tool may provide functionality for something, but that tool isn’t used for that function. Instead, another tool offers the equivalent functionality, and, for whatever reason, that tool has become the go-to for that particular function. Though there was likely a solid reason for making that tool the go-to, having multiple tools that can perform similar functions can be confusing to end users.

3. User Experience: Most modern digital tools are highly capable — and come with a matching degree of complexity. Many are less than intuitive, and can be difficult to learn how to use, even for users with higher-than-average digital IQs. That’s why easy-to-use tutorials should be made available for users, and support from appropriate departments should be easily accessible.  

Related Article: 4 Key Elements of an Impactful Digital Literacy Program

Having a High Digital IQ Isn't Enough

More and more organizations are learning about the importance of increasing digital IQ, both company-wide and down to the individual employee level. Many organizations are actively working to achieve that goal from the CEO on down. But, for many companies, a long road lies ahead. A 2018 PWC survey found, for example, that more than 80% of CEOs believe they need to improve their own digital IQs. In non-tech organizations, particularly, lots of work will be required to move digital IQs in the right direction.

But even for companies that can boast of their high digital IQ, successful digital transformation is not guaranteed. These companies must still face and conquer the three challenges detailed above. After all, the smartest person in the room isn’t always the most successful person in the room.