Five Obstacles to Digital Transformation

When I talked to colleagues or people in my network about Digital Transformation I realized, that this topic seems to be rather difficult, especially for SMBs. Many of my colleagues just don’t know enough about Digital Transformation. They have a vague idea of what it could mean but no real vision. I believe that Digital Transformation is absolutely crucial to every business today, so I tried to figure out what the main obstacles to the Digital Transformation might be. If you know the problem, you can solve it.

1. Corporate Culture

Corporate culture and Digital Transformation sometimes seem to be poles apart. Corporate culture should support the paradigm shift and the change in your business. But I often observe that corporate culture does exactly the opposite. Corporate culture in many companies tries to preserve existing processes, habits, and technologies rather than enable new technologies and processes. Digital Transformation can only be obtained if the corporate culture supports this massive change. As I said earlier, Digital Transformation is the biggest game-changer for businesses in this decade. It is a massive paradigm shift in the business world we live in.

Preparing a corporate culture that supports this change, is the task of the top management, of course. Changing habits, long learned thinking patterns, an entire corporate culture is a long enduring task. Without adapting the corporate culture to new ways of working, of interacting with each other, using new technologies, in short: massive change, cannot be done in weeks.

My advice to any business that is going to adopt Digital Transformation is: look at your corporate culture and how this supports the process or may even does the opposite. Make the CEO, or the board aware of the problem. They need to act.

2. Digital Leadership

A change in corporate culture in order to transform digitally requires digital leadership. Sanjay Sauldie, author of “Digital Mindchanges for CEOs: What CEOs need to know to survive the Digital (R)Evolution”, made clear: Digital Transformation without digital leadership is impossible. Among other skills, Digital Leadership requires knowledge. How can you be a digital leader, if you don’t know anything about digitalization, if you don’t use the modern digital tools?

Digital Leadership is the next consequent step in leadership that connects new technologies, new mindsets (how do you work with millennials and Gen Z?), with long know leadership strategies. A digital leader understands the consequences of new technologies, such as social media, smartphones, digital workflows, and the mighty options of the Office 365 business suite.

Digital leaders need to understand, that the pace of changes has increased dramatically over the last years. What we took for granted 10 years ago has long gone. Many of us just didn’t notice it. We still use technologies that we incorporated 10 years ago, or even longer ago. This is why Digital leaders will accept this challenge and incorporate the change. Do you use a regular notebook and pen, or do you use Microsoft OneNote for taking handwritten notes on your smartphone or your Surface Pro? Do you pile papers on your desk at work or do you have all your information at hand on your smartphone, notebook or tablet? Stored in the Cloud?

3. Lack of Imagination

“Imagination rules the world”Napoleon Bonaparte

I strongly believe that one of the main obstacles to Digital Transformation is a lack of imagination. Many of us just don’t take the time to imagine what new technology can do for us or how they will change our businesses. We are rather stuck in our everyday work, and our well-known business processes that had worked for many years now. At least we think this is the case. In reality these business processes don’t work properly anymore. They are too time-consuming and inefficient. Digitalization is knocking at the door and says “Here I am, use me to become more productive!” It seems that we just don’t answer the door! Maybe we think “Go away! I can’t deal with you right now. I need to get my stuff done!”

Imagination is highly connected to knowledge. How can you imagine what new technology can do for you, if you don’t know anything about this technology? Imagination also requires an open mind. Allow yourself not to think in old patterns. Set aside a few minutes everyday to allow alternative thoughts. Are your prejudices valid? Imagine what your competitors can and will do with the new technologies at hand.

4. Day-To-Day Business

Many managers cover themselves in work. They want to be seen indispensable and important. How can you possibly be important or indispensable if you have the time to visit conventions, fairs, lectures about the future in your business? This is how many managers seem to think. I once heard a CEO saying about one of his C-levels, “Why does he have the time to attend an executive dinner at the chamber of commerce? We have so many important things to do!”

Too Busy

I may ask: “How can we allow ourselves not to meet other executives, leaders or specialists in our business for a deep and profound experience exchange?” Meeting other peers of your business will bring new perspectives and ideas. If I would have been stuck at my desk, not visiting conventions and getting in touch with leaders in my business, we would be way behind in our IT. I learned so much when meeting others, that this time spent just cannot be underestimated.

So get out of your booth, meet the peers and specialists, allow yourself to be influenced by others and make the best out of it!

5. Knowledge

It is evident that almost all the above mentioned obstacles require knowledge to be overcome. You cannot become a Digital Leader without a profound knowledge about modern technologies. How can you make a decision on Office 365 for your business if you don’t use it yourself? Microsoft Partners will offer you test licenses so you can play around with the new planner tool and find ideas of how this mighty tool can help organize the work in your teams. If you know SharePoint 2008, you will be amazed how this product has evolved over the last years.

The same is true for IoT (Internet of Things), Industry 4.0, 3D Printing (Additive Manufacturing), etc. Ask yourself: what does Digital Customer Experience really mean? How does it affect your business?

My advice to the C-level leaders is: make sure you personally get involved in Digital Transformation. How will digitalization change your part of the business? Go to conventions about Digital Transformation, visit trade shows. Use your network to discuss Digital Transformation. What do you colleagues to? How far are they? Send your top performers in your team to these events. Take them with you. Discuss Digital Transformation in your team. Maybe your employees are further ahead than you think.

Let me summarize: in order to digitally transform your business, corporate culture must be encouraging and open rather than discouraging, preserving and narrow. This includes time for learning and gathering knowledge besides day-to-day business. Imagination and enthusiasm will naturally lead to Digital Transformation. How encouraging and enabling is your corporate culture?

The purpose of this blog is to start a discussion. Please leave your comments, whether you agree or if you disagree. I hope to hear from you!

About Alexander

Alexander Buschek is passionate about Digital Transformation and the opportunities it gives businesses—especially MSEs. He is convinced that every business has to embrace Digital Transformation in one way or another in order to survive. The sooner a business begins its Digital Transformation, the better. Alexander was the CIO / CDO of Braunschweiger Flammenfilter and CIO of Cherry GmbH. Prior to that he was an entrepreneur, consulting MSEs about IT strategies, providing external project management, and overseeing various IT projects (e.g. ERP and CAD implementation and migration). Working with many MSEs gave him a deep understanding of this market. Alexander is now Senior Director, Analyst (MSE) at Gartner.