Although digital transformation has been around for more than 20 years, it remains an essential strategy for businesses of all sizes and industries wanting to remain competitive and relevant in the rapidly changing digital landscape.
That’s the view of Andre Wissler, Mint’s Head of SMART (Mint’s SMART solutions combine the best cloud platform capabilities into a packaged solution including consulting services from expert Azure architects), who says the concept has come a long way from its original meaning – using digital technologies to automate business operations and transform customer experience.
Today, while automation remains a key component of digital transformation, it involves far more: the adoption of new technologies and digital innovation alongside changes in organisational culture, processes and mindset, all with a view to staying ahead of the curve.
“There’s a myriad of technologies – think of artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things (IoT), data analytics and cloud computing – that had barely started to emerge when digital transformation first became a ‘thing’. Now growing numbers of organisations are looking at how best to integrate these new technologies into their operations.
“However, digital transformation should never just be about the technology. It’s about how or whether the technology can be aligned with the business strategy. You need to have clear organisational goals and then drive your digital transformation journey – and it is a journey – against those goals,” he says.
Wissler maintains that business culture – particularly a culture of innovation and continuous learning – is also an essential component of digital transformation.
“The most successful digital transformation projects are those that embrace both automation and innovation effectively,” he says.
On the one hand, automation largely involves technical components. However, automation also requires a level of innovation – the ability to see how something that has been done a certain way for a long period of time can be done differently. And that requires a certain culture, one that embraces experimentation, risk-taking and creativity.
Innovation can take many forms, such as the development of new business models, the creation of new digital products and services, or the implementation of new processes and workflows. It requires a mindset that is open to change as well as the ability to collaborate across different functions and teams within an organisation.
“A culture of innovation doesn’t just happen; it needs to be cultivated and nurtured. Talk about it; set up forums and bring people together in groups or teams to discuss how and where innovations can be introduced to make the business better. Some organisations have even gone as far as setting up an innovation department or team and given them the tools that enable them to try out different ways of doing things. The point is to actively look for ways to do things differently, not just for the sake of change, but to improve all-round customer experience,” he says.
However, Wissler warns that automation and innovation don’t always complement each other. For example, automation can be an enabler of innovation, but it can also be a barrier if processes that are automated don’t allow for any level of deviation to try something new.
“In an environment of rapid development and change, everything can change in the blink of an eye. No one predicted the Covid-19 pandemic, yet this had a huge impact on many different organisations and industries and the way they operated. Some processes and operations that delivered a competitive edge in the past can suddenly become a dead weight. It’s therefore important to measure current automated process against new innovations and see where improvements can be made,” he says.
Digital transformation is also not a one-size-fits-all approach, and businesses need to tailor their digital transformation efforts to their specific needs and goals. It’s important for businesses to have a clear understanding of what digital transformation means for them and to approach it with a thoughtful and strategic mindset.
However, the elephant in the room of many digital transformation projects, particularly in today’s uncertain economic climate, are the legacy systems that continue to work as they were intended and are still reliable and efficient.
According to Wissler, all organisations can and should evaluate all their legacy systems to determine which are most and least critical to the organisation and which can be transformed and embraced as part of the digital transformation strategy. This, he says, can be done incrementally, using low-code or no-code tooling to wrap around the legacy system and create modern interfaces to make it more accessible to the newer technologies.
“This is not about replacing legacy systems, but giving them a new lease of life,” he explains.
The bottom line is all businesses must embrace transformation which requires a culture of innovation and constant re-evaluation of existing processes, including those that have been automated.
“The key for any business is to innovate, automate and enhance or face being left behind in a world that is changing at an ever-increasing pace,” Wissler concludes.