Digital transformation success – it’s more about people than technology

This year at #AIIM17, I had an excellent experience hosting a roundtable on the topic of digital transformation. In my first post covering this discussion, I shared the group’s answer to the question: Is digital transformation is a fantasy or a reality?

In this post, I’m sharing the advice the group provided when we asked “What are some essential steps to success?” and “What are the biggest roadblocks?” to digital transformation.

What I found most surprising from the entire discussion was that, while the topic at hand was a technology-heavy topic, all the steps to success involved PEOPLE; the users, the executives and the departmental managers.

Step 1: Get buy-in from your Users

It is probably not surprising that this was the very first thing mentioned in the room. Anyone who has ever worked on deploying any kind of technology project will concur that user buy in is A MUST. “If you don’t have user adoption,” said one participant. “It doesn’t matter what you build.”

That sums the thought up nicely.

Some ideas brought forth to get user buy-in were: “Make it dead simple” and “Get people excited about it, explain the benefits to them in their language.” This is the classic WIFM “What’s In It For Me?” angle.

Of course, these things are often easier said than done, but it’s definitely not a step that you can ignore. Digital transformation might be a newer concept, but getting buy-in from your end users is a concept that’s as old as the hills. Just make sure you actually climb that particular hill during your transformation.

Step 2: Ensure there’s executive alignment

“Not having a coherent vision” and “Not having consensus on the vision” at the executive level were observations shared by people in the room when discussing reasons that digital transformation initiatives have faltered.

While discussing this topic, several ideas were put forth to position the value of digital transformation to an executive. One attendee mentioned the concept of tying the initiative into a tangible outcome that the executives could relate to. To illustrate the point, she shared an example from her experience in banking, where a successful digital transformation initiative included implementing self-service kiosks in branch offices, which ultimately reduced the number of tellers from six to two, making the branch more efficient.

This brought up the sensitive question of “headcount reduction,” and the possible implications that a digital transformation initiative could result in the elimination of jobs. This touchy subject was certainly not a new concept for the folks with enterprise content management (ECM) experience in the room.

The CDIA+ training and certification I took back in 2005 discussed this very topic in the context of implementing an ECM project, where the project of digitizing paper often resulted in the elimination of some paper-intensive job roles. Even all those years ago, the core ECM training wisely proposed that “headcount reduction” would rarely, if ever, be stated as the main driver of a project like this, unless of course the organization was in a crisis and needed to slash costs.

Instead, the much more forward-thinking positioning to executives of “repurposing employees to higher value roles” was suggested as the value proposition. This is certainly as relevant today as it was then.

If a company is looking to transform, surely, by the very definition of the word, it is not simply looking to remain stagnant – accomplishing exactly the same amount with fewer employees. Surely, it’s a much more compelling story when the value is in the future GROWTH of the organization and how this initiative will help to accomplish MORE with the same headcount number.

This was definitely the consensus in the room.

So, the second recommendation from this group was to ensure there’s a shared vision and goal at the executive level. You can accomplish this by tying the initiative to company goals such as growth potential, improved customer service and increased job satisfaction, and by agreeing on specific areas of the business to address in an agreed-upon and prioritized order.

In fact, one person in the room had the new position title of “Director of Digital Transformation.” Staffing a role like this is well worth considering to ensure that there’s alignment at the executive level. This would ensure that there’s a people-centric approach to a digital transformation.

Step 3: Don’t hang your managers out to dry

The discussion up to this point revealed an interesting dichotomy. On one hand, we need our users to be excited and to buy in to our digital transformation vision, and on the other is acknowledging that this will inevitably affect individual job roles. Who then, needs the most support of all?

Managers. These are the people who have to motivate and inspire their teams, while delivering results and meeting the expectations of their superiors.

It’s the managers who have to deal with the word most often associated with change – FEAR. “People fear change” was a sage observation shared in the room. It’s not only the users who may fear the change, but also the managers themselves who carry the pressure to “make it work.”

Whoever is leading the digital transformation project should ensure that the organization provides the managers with the support necessary to lead their teams through the change, gives them a clear understanding of the vision, and supplies them with tools and talking points to help manage their teams throughout the transformation.

Going back to the example shared earlier, where banking kiosks ultimately eliminated a number of bank teller positions, some very useful and interesting information came to light in that discussion. There was a known 40 percent turnover rate in that particular job roll, which meant that the role was not very fulfilling to do and exhausting to continually staff.

What this digital transformation initiative ultimately achieved was to off-load the boring, transactional work to the kiosks and transform the role of the teller to being an advisor to the customer. This resulted in lower turnover rates and increased job satisfaction for the remaining tellers, while eliminating the perpetual hiring tasks the manager had to do to keep the role filled.

Surely setting these kind expectations up front with the management team and arming them with tools, training, and talk tracks to help displaced employees find new opportunities and to guide their remaining staff to success would be in everyone’s best interests.

So that was it. The steps to success in digital transformation have a lot less to do with technology than they are to do with people. We can all rest easy, the machines are not totally taking over the world.

Not yet, at least.

Glenn Gibson

Glenn Gibson

Glenn Gibson is the director of Product and Solution Marketing at Hyland, creator of OnBase. With 15 years working in the IT industry, he’s collected several certifications over the years as a VMware Certified Professional, Citrix Certified Administrator and Microsoft Certified Professional. As a self-proclaimed “presentation junkie”, he is very passionate about everything that goes along with public speaking, and has picked up a few awards along the way too. A native of Scotland, his passions outside of work include all things Scottish; kilts, bagpipes, whisky, (real) football and is often heard beating a drum or two in his spare time.

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