A quote attributed to Albert Einstein defines insanity as repeatedly doing the same thing the same way but expecting different results. Another quote for which Einstein is credited warns that the same thinking that led to the creation of problems will not be effective for solving them. Whether Einstein actually said these statements is immaterial. What matters is that there is a great deal of truth in both statements.

Blockbuster, Kodak and Borders are just a few once-major corporations that failed to adapt to the digital age. Many others are no longer the power-players that they once were, such as Motorola, Blackberry, Sears and JC Penney. Other organizations failed to leverage technology to understand who their customers were and what they truly wanted.

Today, businesses must adapt if they are to survive. This means leveraging technology to provide the maximum benefits, but technology alone will not solve the problems. Human intervention is required for a digital transformation — and therein lies the problem for many companies.

Change starts in the C-suite. It is the upper levels of management who determine the methods that the company will use to compete. Their support can also make the difference between successful adaptations and failed attempts. The initiative needs to be company-wide, requiring all executives to cooperate for the greater good. Old mindsets, such as claiming exclusive control over technology decisions or databases, have to be replaced by a better understanding of how every piece of the puzzle affects the customer.

Approaching a Digital Transformation

Given the number of businesses in the world, there are probably a few that have achieved and maintained success without embracing the digital age. If these companies are content with their growth and profitability, they may not need to worry about a digital transformation. For everyone else, however, the following tips can help make the transformation a success.

  1. Define Your Purpose: You will need to define the objectives you hope to achieve through a digital transformation. You want to make sure that objectives are clear and unambiguous as you will need to communicate them to stakeholders to secure support for your vision.
  2. Increase Your Customer Knowledge: You cannot provide what your customers want if you do not know what it is. Use all available information, from big data to feedback from your customer service reps, to help you understand customer behaviors, expectations and motivations.
  3. Evaluate What You Have: Before you can plan a route, you have to know your starting point. You will need to evaluate your current infrastructure, personnel and technologies to determine what you will need to support a digital transformation.
  4. Be Flexible: One issue many companies must confront is the need to change policies or processes to support a digital transformation. The authorization to resolve a customer’s complaint, for example, might need to be given to multiple employees rather than centralized on one manager’s desk. Be flexible when it comes to issues such as approvals, workflow or similar concepts.
  5. Build Your Team: You will need a dedicated team to support the digital transformation. Your team may include members with different skill sets, such as marketing insights, technical ability or logistics. Be sure to communicate your objectives and define each team member’s role and responsibilities.
  6. Plan Your Strategy: Your objectives explain what you want to achieve; your strategy details how to achieve your objectives. Collect data, discuss strategy with your team and prepare a comprehensive plan to implement your digital transformation.
  7. Execute Strategy with Agility: It would be nice if you could simply implement your strategy at the end of your planning sessions and have an instant transformation. Unfortunately, the very nature of a digital transformation requires an on-going commitment. You will implement ideas, learn from the experience and then adapt or refine elements to offer a better customer experience.

Like any other innovation, a digital transformation is most successful when the business is willing to adapt to the technology. Adaptation almost always requires changing perceptions. For many, the most difficult challenge is altering mindsets — which means that once they have accomplished that task, the rest of the digital transformation should go much more smoothly.

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