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Demystifying digital transformation and its potential

Digital transformation and continuous improvement are two phrases you hear mentioned an awful lot in meetings, but how are they connected? Has your organisation been transformed digitally? If so, what was the outcome? And what’s next? Dispelling the myths around digital transformation (DT) was the focus of our latest 2050 Maritime Innovation Hub workshop, presented by Ian Brown, MD at ExcelPoint and an expert in the field of DT.

According to Brown, and in keeping with my own experiences, digital transformation has been going on around us for a long time. It’s about using new techniques and technologies – which at the moment include automation, data analytics, IoT, robotics, AI – to solve problems, achieve new efficiencies and bring about continuous improvement. It brings information and people together, creating workflows to automate processes and remove paper trails, finds ways of doing things better and faster, creating cost savings and improving the overall customer experience.

Perhaps the ultimate business challenge, many organisations have had to reactively digitally transform themselves overnight, migrating employees to homeworking wherever possible to be able to adapt to changes brought about by the Covid pandemic. They have needed to be agile to survive. This begs the question, what would have happened if Coronavirus hit our society 10 years ago? Would we have been able to adjust and adapt so readily? It may be a cliché now, but technology has clearly been a huge enabler in allowing many of us to carry on with our lives during this pandemic.

Investment into digital transformation initiatives has ensured many retailers could continue trading even when their stores were closed. Their supply chains could carry on uninterrupted, customer loyalty wasn’t adversely affected, and in some cases, they were even able to make record profits. Ports became busier than ever, as manufacturers and retailers sought port centric logistics solutions to meet exceptional consumer demand. Without digital technology, we wouldn’t have been able to switch to paperless, remote working in the office. Supply chains couldn’t have been realigned so readily because businesses wouldn’t have been agile enough.

Using Gartner’s analogy, Covid has widened the gap between Digital Dragons – those who are embracing digital technology to dominate and expand - and Digital Dinosaurs. Dragons are finding ways to ‘do things better’ whereas Dinosaurs – we know became extinct.

At the heart of successful DT are clearly documented goals, a vision of what success looks like and the culture to achieve it. It’s about people and good communication – technology is simply the enabler. Culture lies right at the centre of every successful digital transformation, driven simultaneously by every stakeholder, from the board room to the shop floor.

Alongside vision and cultural values sits resources. Digital transformation, like any organisational change, is difficult and requires dedicated resources. Based on Excelpoint’s experience, two factors influencing the success or failure of digital transformation projects are inadequately defined vision and inadequate resourcing. Universally understood goals, which are measured in incremental stages, and giving people adequate time and resources to focus on projects without distractions, are more important than almost anything else.

Technology obviously also plays a central part in every DT project and to help future proof investments, low code/no code software platforms are becoming more widely used. Whereas previously organisations would have opted for an ‘off the shelf’ solution that was 70% fit for purpose and then customise it, the buzz now is around using no code alternatives. These avoid any future technology debt whereby time and costs saved in the launch phases are then lost because of lengthy future development required as business needs change. Researchers are forecasting that over 50% of future software applications will be built in low or no code applications to benefit from the increased agility they offer.

Readying for ongoing agility really encapsulates what digital transformation is all about. Our speaker reminded us of Charles Darwin’s observation that the most successful organisms are the ones that excel at adapting to changing environments. Whether small or large, business organisations are no different and living organisms too, made up of people, processes and continual change. Digital transformation helps to find solutions to the problems of managing that change and measuring its impacts.

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