In case you haven’t noticed, the world has gone digital. We’re nearly two decades into the new millennium, which many are calling the Digital Era, and for good reason. It seems everyone is living more of their lives through digital channels, from researching product alternatives to making purchases of anything and everything. If your company hasn’t yet fully embraced digital transformation, you run the risk of falling behind and becoming obsolete. This article provides some guidance for catching the digital wave and riding it in to the shores of business success. Different skills are needed for this new digital era.

Digital Transformation: The Why, How and Who

Why Digital Transformation

Besides the overall advancement of digital life, one of the biggest impacts has been on the relationship between customers and businesses. Unlike the pre-internet era when a business simply announced the existence of their product or service and why and where people should buy it, in the digital age the customer is in the driver’s seat. They decide the where and when of buying, the price they’re willing to pay, and how they want to pay for it. If your company can’t meet the customer where they’re at, you’re going to lose out.

Enough customers are still willing to do business the old way to keep many companies alive, but that window is definitely closing. There is a sense of urgency here that your company should be feeling to make the digital transformation. Start now before it’s too late!

How Digital Change Happens

Orchestrating a digital transformation is not a small undertaking. In fact, it’s a major change initiative and needs to managed like one. If you don’t already have a favorite organizational change model, choose one now before you begin shaping a digital makeover of your company because it will provide insights about how to proceed. A great detailed summary of several options can be found in 8 Critical Change Management Models to Evolve and Survive.

It’s always a good idea to start with your existing resources. Thanks to the digital tools and apps most companies are already using, you’ve got big data at your disposal, though you’re probably not leveraging it as much as you could be. It is essential to do so in a digital transformation. You probably have most of what you need already in terms of data about your customers and your business.

It also pays to be very intentional about what you want your company to accomplish in going digital. Keeping up with the times is good, but unless you shape your digital transformation with real business goals that can be measured, benchmarked and tracked over time to their intended targets, your digital change initiative will quickly lose steam and might fizzle out completely.

Digital Transformation: The Why, How and Who

A total digital overhaul can’t happen overnight, and what you choose to start on is important. It’s not only okay but highly recommended that you pick some low-hanging fruit in this regard. Pick and area or two you know can be taken digital fairly easily and trumpet the small victories to build momentum to tackle the bigger pieces of the puzzle. Be mentally prepared to scale quickly if the momentum is there.

When you get into the details of the various organizational change models, you’ll see some of these strategies spelled out. Follow them if to achieve success!

Who Should Lead Your Company’s Digital Change?

When the time comes for digital transformation at your company, one of the most important decisions you’ll make is choosing who will lead it. The temptation, as you might expect, is to hire a digital guru from the outside. This makes good logical sense on the surface. But it can also go horribly awry, as described in a recent Harvard Business Review article: Don’t Put a Digital Expert in Charge of Your Digital Transformation.

An outside digital guru could end up forcing the digital transformation in such a way that alienates the rest of the company as well as customers. It’s happened to more than one business, and has probably happened more often than other businesses are willing to admit. The problem is that the outside digital guru sees very clearly how to make the digital transformation happen, but doesn’t necessarily see the need to make it happen incrementally in order to get everyone on board to gradually shift things from previous traditional processes to digital channels and ways of working. When this happens, the result is not just failure of the digital transformation, but often includes lasting damage to the company and its reputation.

The article goes on to strongly recommend that a company’s digital transformation be led by an insider who might have less digital experience (they can learn what they need to know along the way) but has a thorough understanding of how things work now and plot a careful course to begin the shift towards digital. If you attempt a digital shift by getting everything ready and flipping a switch without having laid all the proper groundwork and involvement of key stakeholders along the way, you’re like to get a big short-circuit instead of success.

The plain fact of the matter is that digital transformation requires a lot of hand-holding and guidance, both for the people inside the company used to doing things the old way and also for the customers outside the company, who are also used to doing things the old way. The outside digital guru simply doesn’t have the patience, desire, or maybe even the skill to carefully manage these relationships. They just want to build it and then flip the switch. Unfortunately, that scenario seems to be the textbook approach to digital change. It’s more of a disruptive approach that simply doesn’t recognize the value of or need for incremental change to achieve success.

If the outside digital guru isn’t also an expert in leading and managing change in an organization, they will likely fail at the very task in which everyone just assumes they achieve success. Ironic, right? They end up developing the digital version of the company largely disconnected from the core organization that needs to be part of and supporting the transformation from the beginning. When companies choose the insider with little digital experience to lead the transformation, they succeed around 80% of the time. The digital gurus brought in from the outside mostly end up failing! And all from the simple and obvious fact that digital transformation may be more about organizational change than it is about digital expertise.

The time your company has left to begin and advance its digital transformation is ticking away. Staying relevant in the digital age means beginning the organizational change process needed to make the transformation. The sooner you begin, even in small ways, the better off you’ll be in catching up and heading in the right direction.