What are the common issues that get in the way of fundamental digital change?

Many organisations are looking to disrupt operating models to drive value or efficiency using technology and digitisation.  It feels like those people who are successfully doing it are all around us, but for others, the change can be elusive. So, what’s standing in the way and how can barriers to digital transformation be overcome?

Tim Powlson, our expert in Digital Transformation, shares a few of the basic building blocks that he has seen lacking over the last 20+ years of his experience.

1. Connectivity: Wi-Fi, 4G, 5G or maybe the wrong device

“The Wi-Fi is rubbish in here”, “There’s a network dead-spot in the back corridor”, “No point trying to work on the new site there’s no connection, not even 4G”. We’ve all heard variations on this theme.

If users aren’t confident in connectivity this can be a big barrier to adopting digital solutions. Sometimes, the fix is to carry out a Wi-Fi survey and to upgrade the network. Other times it is to build software that can be used off-line and upload data when connectivity is restored.

In another instance the device being used isn’t fit for purpose. For example, a desktop in the office that can’t be moved to where the work is done.

The basic infrastructure is rarely a problem that can be ignored.

2. Support and service

If it can go wrong, it will – so says Murphy’s law! We all know this is true so let’s make sure we have the right support available to users when it does. It’s not only about fixing problems though, support should also be there to fill the gaps and smooth the path.

It reminds me of an inspirational CIO I worked with. He would hold up a hand to itemise the five types of work that anyone on the service desk should be doing:

  • Incidents: fixing something that’s gone wrong; responding to an alert
  • Problems: making sure a repeated incident doesn’t happen again or is a quick to fix
  • Service request: doing a standard job, like setting up a new user
  • Service change: improving or adding to a standard service, often delivered in projects and programmes
  • Admin: toilet and team meetings

…and nothing much else.

Basically these are all customer focused activities – making sure the service is running smoothly. Not having good support and service can create barriers to digital transformation and will cause friction and lead to failure.

3. Design for users

This seems almost too obvious to say, but in my experience, both the design and the user can be left out of the change process.

Start by asking the question “who are my users?” There will usually be multiple groups to think about: the end user is obvious, but what about the back-office users or partners and third parties who are important in the process. Capturing user journeys to prompt thinking about what a user is trying to achieve and the barriers to their goal or friction in achieving it, is vital.

Design is the other part of this statement. The best experiences are designed – they do not happen by accident. Software may be off-the-shelf but it also sits within the wider process. Designing the end-to-end process is critical to smoothing the adoption of new ways of working. Design the parts of the process that are in the digital world and the parts that are in the physical world. It doesn’t have to be perfect; it doesn’t have to do everything, removing friction and delivering value is the goal.

There is nothing like involving actual users in the design process. Time gathering feedback from actual users, in my experience, has been some of the best time investment that has been made in the long-term adoption, and will avoid any barriers to digital transformation success.


4. Data – DMAIC – PDAL

“What does the data say” a quote from my data hero Hans Rosling.

Transformation is rarely (if ever) a one-and-done activity.  To succeed, action and course correction are required and there’s nothing like using data to better understand a situation to direct the best course correction.

Using a method, like Agile development, DMAIC or PDAL, is useful to lay the groundwork. Essentially, many of the iterative approaches I’ve worked with are looking to decide what you want to do, identifying data that will describe the reality, make a change and collect the data to measure if the desired outcome is being achieved. Using the data to make decisions on improvement sounds like common-sense but there’s nothing common about sense!

To succeed in delivering desired outcomes data driven decisions are essential.

5. Adoption and user training

It can be very easy to get carried away with the tech bit of a change. But if users don’t actually use the tech then the change will be short-lived or non-existent.

Where I’ve seen this work well, all types of users have been considered and the approach that best fits them has then been deployed. For example, a regional team member is trained up to give end user support to an end customer.

Underneath all of this, ensuring the design is as simple as possible, intuitive and user friendly is critical. It’s frustrating when software is missing the intuitive flow by not presenting the user with options in the order they may need them. I remember a comment from a developer colleague “the best error message is the message no one sees because we don’t let the user go wrong.”