Digital transformation is about people, not technology

Rich Sains
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The key to doing digital transformation right is making sure the process is all about the people

Perhaps the most common mistake we see people make when going through a digital transformation programme is focusing too much on the tools and forgetting about the people they are supposed to help.

It’s an understandable misconception - so often improvements are only possible thanks to new developments in technology, so it is only natural that people may slip into the habit of putting technology at the centre of the process.

However, despite what the name might suggest, successful digital transformation is more about people than anything else. The companies that get it right are the ones that start with an objective to help the end-user and work back from there. It’s tempting to start with a solution and go looking for a problem, but this is a recipe for disaster - or at least waste. For the man with a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.

Having identified an objective, don’t rush off looking for the latest technological solution to solve it. It’s easy to assume simply automating things is the key to easing the burden on your team, but the best start is actually to look for steps to remove from the existing process.

Try to find ways to make the existing system better before tearing it down and replacing it. The most successful automation comes when you make the effort to perfect your process before digitising it.

Communication is key to digital transformation, and needs to remain a core part of the process no matter what stage. Start by talking to users and mapping out where you are and where you want to be. People may use a new system initially, but they’ll only keep using it if it genuinely makes their jobs easier.

This has been key to our approach at Acada. We found that previous procurement systems were so hard to use that people would end up looking for ways to get around using them, bypassing systems and building their own workarounds. This led us to make ease of use a core tenet of our approach.

If you find yourself struggling with user adoption, it’s important to avoid the temptation to blame the users. While it’s true that some people struggle with change, they also want to do the right thing. If they aren’t using a new system, could it be because it isn’t doing what it is supposed to? Perhaps it’s difficult to use, or maybe what is expected of them hasn’t yet been clearly communicated. Don’t forget that digital transformation is about creating value for users. If they don’t seem to want to benefit from it, your first step should be to ask what you might need to do differently.

There are two sides to successful communication. The first is making sure you understand what your people need from your project, while the second is making sure everyone understands what you’re trying to do, what is coming and what they need to be doing.

The best way to do this is to recruit ‘super users’ to lead the change within your organisation. Super users are the people who ‘get it’. They see the need for your project, they are passionate about it and can communicate that passion to the rest of the team. As we have said, some people are averse to change by nature, but having an enthusiastic colleague to help them through the process can make an enormous difference to their comfort level and effectiveness.

Of course, superusers are just one part of the process. While they are a key part in keeping a continuing dialogue with the workforce, it’s also crucial to use more formalised initiatives like one-on-one meetings and drop-in sessions to gather feedback and allow for troubleshooting.

The benefit of this is it allows for far more flexibility than a traditional, milestone-based approach. Things can change as you move through the process, and by maintaining continual communication you are better able to be agile and make adjustments. Milestones laid out at the beginning of the process may end up not being reflective of what success ultimately looks like.

Technology can be transformative for your business, but ultimately it’s the people that are its most valuable resource.It’s only by understanding this that you’ll be able to enjoy all the potential benefits that technology can bring.

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