Navigating the new era of business transformation

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For a long time, the default answer to tackling changing market dynamics, disruptions and customer demands has been digital transformation (DX). But while efficiency and productivity gains have been won through some of these efforts, there have also been numerous mistakes made along the way. So many businesses are struggling to bear the fruits, with data from an IDC InfoBrief sponsored by Endava showing that half of DX projects undertaken over the past year failed to achieve their expected outcomes and goals. Added to this are the significant financial implications of failures, as 59% of organizations believe that investments in DX projects have been wasted.

These underwhelming outcomes are staggering when the majority of those organizations consider themselves to be digital-first.

When we dive deeper into the knock-on effect of unsuccessful initiatives, the very real human impact becomes clear, too. It’s not just businesses’ time to market and digital maturity that suffers; failures have also resulted in frustrated staff (56%), employees leaving the business (50%) and a work environment that’s less exciting and stimulating for teams (44%). All of this adds pressure to already struggling companies in a tough economy and points to an urgent need to shift focus. To put it bluntly, companies need to stop wasting time and effort and start putting people at the heart of their strategies.

Invest in people for the best results

All too often, approaches to DX have neglected to focus on what matters – the employees who use those technologies. After all, they are the ones who ultimately add value and who are tasked with making digital initiatives reach the desired business outcomes. Yet when digital solutions are built in siloes with no real consideration for how people interact with them, their potential is stunted, and employees become disengaged.

Matt Cloke

CTO of Endava.

Recent data affirms this notion that business leaders have hugely underestimated the importance of employee buy-in, as it was cited as a top reason for DX initiatives failing in IDC’s findings. Similarly, a lack of collaboration between the different departments in an organization and conflicting opinions from management were also cited as top reasons, revealing that digitalization efforts are not only backfiring because tools aren’t striking a chord with people, but they are also failing to accommodate internal team dynamics. Without a strong sense of collaboration and communication, problems with digital projects are amplified, and stakeholders become disconnected.

However, while it’s clear that an employee-first approach is the missing ingredient for success, this can’t just be an afterthought. Businesses need to actively engage employees throughout every stage of digitalization – from the planning to the design, implementation and ongoing improvements. This demands a real understanding of all employees’ needs throughout the business, as well as equipping them with the training and skill requirements to manage tools effectively and feel empowered by them.

The same IDC InfoBrief also uncovered that businesses acknowledged gaps in staff training and collaboration, expressing that wasted investment on DX would have been better spent elsewhere, including on upskilling staff and improving internal communication. Yet digital transformation and upskilling don’t have to be mutually exclusive; rather, training should be integral to the ongoing management and improvement of DX initiatives. 

Adopting this human-centric mindset from the beginning will not only prevent wasted investment by enabling people to benefit from technologies, but it will also build innovation and creativity into the organization's culture. That’s because creating a constant practice of sharing knowledge empowers employees to participate in making technologies successful while also enabling them to spot ways to enhance solutions as the environment and market around them inevitably evolve. It’s employees’ diverse skills and perspectives that bring technologies to life.

Your technology is only as good as your people

With growing concerns around the advancement of AI and the associated potential risks, as well as the power dynamic shifting from employer to employee, the need for a people-first approach to deploying technology will only intensify. As a case in point, employees will be integral to ensuring that tools such as generative AI are used responsibly to prevent inaccuracies and biases from being perpetuated within models. As such, nurturing engagement with digital solutions also means creating a workplace where people can actively spot issues and think strategically about how to best use such solutions, as opposed to passively accepting their outputs. 

By harnessing human qualities like creativity and critical thinking in tandem with digital solutions, businesses will be able to create the foundations for true resilience. It’s an approach that ultimately supports more fulfilling and interesting work for employees, in turn backing talent retention and acquisition efforts. You can have the most sophisticated new technologies and innovations, but if you don’t invest in your people and prioritize employee buy-in, then you’re burning money.

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Matt Cloke, CTO of Endava.