When baby steps beat moon shots

6th January 2023

Richard HigginBotham

by Richard Higginbotham

Only around 30% of companies achieve digital transformation success. Their efforts can be big and costly, and may require the whole organisation to change shape. This wholesale digital transformation is the ‘moon shot,’ yet baby steps might well be the way to go for those struggling to progress, or even start their digital journey.

A ‘moon-shot’ is an ambitious venture, akin to landing a man on the moon. The drivers are obvious and the general direction of travel clear, but the precise journey is complex, fraught with risk and largely unknown.

With so much margin for error, and significant value at stake, it’s little wonder that many organisations’ transformation efforts stall, before they move beyond white-board planning.

The sheer size of digital transformation deliverables is part of the problem. Enterprise-wide transformation is a process that can take years; it may call for new technology and require extensive operational and cultural change. And this leap of faith can see the initial strategy and business case battered by changing economic and market conditions along the way.

Baby steps

Breaking down the digital journey into manageable phases is the logical approach. According to Dr. Didier Bonnet @didiebon, Professor of Strategy & Digital Transformation at IMD in Switzerland, it might look something like this:

  • Modernisation — simplify and digitise existing processes and functions. Identify customer or user journeys that can be improved, by designing self-service applications or touch-points.
  • Enterprise-wide transformation that change the operating model. For example, creating a fully integrated customer experience across physical and digital channels. Or harnessing Internet of Things (IoT) technology to provide proactive service and maintenance.
  • New business creation — fundamentally changing the business model to create new revenue lines, disrupt the market or introduce innovative new products/services.

The obvious ‘moon-shot’ might be the 3rd phase – but there’s still much to do (and significant learning) in each of the first two. By breaking down the big initiatives into baby digital steps, you can accelerate progress and build momentum.

Digital steps to launch

Starting with simplifying and digitising existing processes is a great launch pad. And if initiatives stall, go back to the start.  It’ll give you the opportunity to engage operational staff and identify potential use cases for improvement. Plus, you’ll create value quickly whilst demonstrating what digital technologies and new ways of working can do for the business.

Anyone who has had to report actual benefits realised, versus those claimed on an initial business case, will know it can be a painful experience. Breaking down big change into smaller, more manageable steps (where the benefits are easier to predict and deliver) reduces this pain significantly. And the delivery of these dependable results is what creates momentum.

Low-code development platforms and Robotic Process Automation (RPA) are ideal enablers of this approach. Once you’ve identified and prioritised high-impact use cases, they can be rapidly developed, deployed and iterated — without the need for costly and significant change to underlying technologies.

Look to use cases

Typical use cases might be an enquiry process that involves staff re-keying information from emails. With RPA, you can free up staff from the mundane, repetitive tasks. Then, once you have the capacity and time to view the whole enquiry process, it could evolve into an application that spans the entire process (built in low-code and deployed in weeks).

We often find that by tackling a few simple use cases, it quickly generates a larger list of candidate processes and customer journeys for modernisation. For staff now freed from mundane tasks, there’s time to consider the bigger picture. That, and the understanding of what’s possible with RPA and low-code technologies, generates informed ideas for significant process and operational change.

As knowledge, experience and confidence builds, ‘digital maturity’ develops — where use cases grow in complexity — and decisions about method and the digital journey evolves. But it all starts with baby steps. And by building that momentum in a phased way, you’ll be ready to shoot for the moon.

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