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There is no map for digital transformation

Suresh Sambandam CEO, Kissflow
Geometric world map wall art in Benjamin Espresso Bar, Kiev, Ukraine

Remember the start of your digital transformation journey? You had road maps, timelines, budget, and a great launch. And after two years, the journey had probably taken its toll.

The road maps were tattered. The timelines were buried under months of adjustments. And conversations about the budget were avoided at all costs. The problem: The journey to digital transformation is a lot harder than it looks. It’s hard to know how far you've come, how much longer there is to go, and even whether what you've already implemented is helping or not.

When you encounter other CIOs and IT leaders on the same journey, some of them have impressive armies of developers, but their ranks are scattered and misaligned. Others preach that digital transformation isn't a real place and you can never get there. Some are darting around chasing the latest flashy tech. Still others practice the art of camouflage to avoid attention from the rest of the C suite.

One thing is for sure: No one seems in control.

Is this the dirty truth behind digital transformation—that it’s an impossible quest? That it will only drive CIOs mad? That you'll never make it?

No. You can do it; you just need to approach it correctly. Here's how.

Maps vs. plans

One issue with the digital transformation journey is that the maps are usually all wrong. A map tells you exactly where a destination is and how to get there. It shows you when certain obstacles will emerge. For example, a map will tell you a lake is over the next hill and you should go around it.

A plan, on the other hand, assumes you are going to encounter some unexpected obstacles, and it prepares you for how to encounter them. The plan predicts that there are lakes or areas of flooding and has your inflatable kayak at the ready.

In digital transformation, the landscape shifts continuously and new obstacles emerge every time you make the next decision. When you put your faith in a map and it fails you, the journey becomes a free-for-all. Instead, you need a plan to help you navigate the inevitable obstacles.

The five layers of IT

Before we get to the plan, here's a helpful framework to think about the layers of technology in your organization.

1. Core systems

Systems are key to implementing the core functions of the organization. They store, manipulate, and retrieve your essential data. Examples are ERP systems, document repositories, data warehouses, and other essential databases.

2. Applications

Applications interact with the core system to get work done. They rely primarily on integrations to process data, display it on dashboards, and create portals. Applications involve reports and analytics, rule engines, and tracking the lifecycle of data. An example in banking is a loan onboarding application. Integrations pull client data, dashboards give a broad view of the loan information, case management can track the life cycle, and reports can show aging.

3. Processes

Processes route a certain set of data through predetermined steps. They are often parts of a larger application. Processes include workflow management, user management, and case management. In the loan onboarding example, you may need an approval workflow involving credit analysts, the legal team, and underwriters.

4. Experience

Experience is how non-IT people interact with the core systems, applications, and processes. Internally, it's what employees see when they participate in an application or process. It's the interface and usability of forms. These should be intuitive and require no training. Externally, experience is self-service portals for customers when they fill out something like a change of address form online. It must be secure, perform flawlessly, and be compatible across all devices.

5. Cross-functional collaboration

Finally, there is the layer of how teams collaborate with each other in informal ways such as message boards, channels, and chat.

Decision overload

Digital transformation is a series of hundreds of small decisions. IT leaders must live with the results of those decisions and deal with their ramifications at the next decision. When faced with a new obstacle in the journey, IT leaders usually can take one or a combo of four possible actions: build the solution from scratch, build the solution on a low-code platform, buy a solution from a vendor, and/or let business leaders build the solution on a no-code platform.

The new plan

Here’s a new plan that will help you navigate to the best decisions as you face the obstacles in your digital transformation journey. The theme of the plan is to let everyone solve the highest value problem they can. Here's what that looks like.

IT teams focus on the core systems

Your internal developers are the only ones who can create and maintain your core systems, and they are essential to your business. Free them up as much as possible to have this be their top priority.

IT teams use low-code development for complex applications

Applications are the primary gateways that let your users interact with your core systems. These apps need to be built and changed much faster than core systems. Business users won't be able to build these solutions on their own. At the same time, you don't want your developers to spend all their time creating and maintaining these apps. Low-code platforms make it easy to get the functionality you need at a much faster pace.

Business users create processes and lightweight apps

Business users understand how to solve their problems much better than IT. They need a no-code platform to create their own workflows with IT oversight. The no-code development platform (NCDP) should have rapid prototyping, development, and deployment all on the same system.

Keep the internal user experience flexible and intuitive

Internal users want the ability to change forms and dashboards quickly without waiting for IT. The interface needs to be good, but flexibility and ease of use outweigh fancy UI.

External user experience must be professional grade

Business users cannot create the level of experience required for customers and clients. Everything from online forms to chatbots need to have a world-class feel. Users are comparing your B2C software experience to every other and have high expectations. You need professionals to create professional-grade UX.

Rely on vendors for collaboration

Internal collaboration is of high value, but not so much that you should build it yourself. There are products in the market that have solved many of your problems to a very high level, and it’s not something you need to exert full control over. Pick a solution that provides contextual collaboration and has plenty of integrations.

Get back on the journey

Digital transformation is not a mirage. It's a real, achievable goal. However, you have to shift your trust from maps to plans. IT leaders will encounter many challenges and how they respond to each one affects the journey. If you allow everyone to solve the highest-value problem they can, you will set yourself up for a journey that moves quickly and safely to the goal.

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Read more articles about: Enterprise ITDigital Transformation