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The digital transformation journeys of technology leaders and what they learned along the way

Digital Transformation

November 26, 2021
min read
Digital transformation journeys

Detailing the digital transformation journeys of three technology leaders from the Pulse community and what they learned along the way

Irrespective of the industry or company size, there’s been a significant push to accelerate digital transformation (DX) efforts since the global pandemic began in early 2020. Almost two years later, technology leaders who started digital transformation efforts might still be struggling with implementation, managing the transition, or conveying its ROI to leadership.

We reached out to three tech leaders—Gautham Pallapa, Senior Executive Advisor at VMware, Arun Gupta, Board Member, Consulting CIO, and IT Strategist, and Martin Davis, CIO at Mevotech—and asked them to share their digital transformation journeys by answering four questions:

  1. Is digital transformation important? Why or why not?
  2. What impact has digital transformation made on your current or past organization?
  3. What challenges has your organization faced while undergoing digital transformation?
  4. What are some misconceptions or easily overlooked aspects about DX that would be good for someone starting their digital transformation journey to know?

Is digital transformation important? Why or why not?

“As the world shifts to a contactless, digital-first environment, customer interactions now span different devices, channels, and environments. It is not enough to understand events that occurred in our products and services. We need to genuinely and deeply understand the context and situation in which these interactions occurred. This requires data to be at the center of everything, making digital transformation imperative for organizations.”

–⁠ Gautham Pallapa

“There is an increased and growing need to embrace digitally-enabled processes, both internal and external, to create operational efficiencies as well as ‘stickiness’ with customers. Without the technology-enabled processes, it becomes difficult to sustain the business. It is up to the enterprise to determine if they would like to compete with constraints in an ever-emerging, competitive landscape.”

–⁠ Arun Gupta

“With the increasing pace of change, many business models are becoming extinct. Unless a company chooses to reinvent itself, it risks losing out to competitors or startups that change the marketplace. Think back to Blockbuster vs. Netflix, or Kodak vs. digital photos—or more recently, existing taxi companies vs. Uber/Lyft. All of these examples are business lessons that should drive companies to review how they should transform.”

–⁠ Martin Davis

What impact has digital transformation made on your current or past organization?

“Industry verticals such as retail have had to abandon their reliance on brick-and-mortar stores and switch to a digital-first strategy, enhancing supply chain logistics, integrating various systems, and modernizing their applications—this has enabled them to be scalable, reliable, and resilient. One grocery chain that I partnered with saw a 700% increase in their traffic and had a 0% downtime during peak shelter-in-place. Travel and hospitality industries have had to radically rethink and reimagine their customer experience, emphasizing sanitation protocols, contactless processes, and customer delight through technology and applications.”

–⁠ Gautham Pallapa

“My previous engagement in the retail industry helped us stay relevant to our customers: we used differentiated omnichannel solutions during the pandemic which really helped. In my current engagement with a hospital chain, the ability to connect patients with caregivers gave us an advantage in retaining customers and increasing our ability to remain in the first consideration set for health. Conversion rates from multiple channels have increased exponentially.”

–⁠ Arun Gupta

What challenges has your organization faced while undergoing digital transformation?

“There are three areas where organizations have faced significant challenges while undergoing a digital transformation, especially in the last two years:

  • Building a generative culture—transformations require experimentation, taking risks, and innovation, which in turn requires considerable trust, empowerment, and support within the organization itself;
  • Communicating asynchronously—with the shift to remote or hybrid work, adopting new ways of collaboration and communication to ensure productivity can be challenging;
  • Practicing empathy at the workplace—an organization undergoing a digital transformation must enable and empower its workforce, which is impossible without having empathy as a core tenet of their organizational culture[, rather than simply practicing empathy for customers.]”

–⁠ Gautham Pallapa

“One of the biggest challenges has been to rein in expectations. During discussions, business teams start dreaming of new capabilities which may or may not be relevant in the current context and unreasonable efforts required to fulfill the esoteric use cases with no real quantifiable benefit. Apart from that, it has been the continued involvement from the business teams rather than, ‘I’ve told you what I want, now you go figure out how to build it.’ This is changing with continuous communication and education, but new actors keep getting added and the process starts all over again.”

–⁠ Arun Gupta

“The biggest challenge is re-imagining the ways of doing business. A true digital transformation is about reinventing your revenue streams. Once you have overcome that challenge, the next challenge is change management—how do you make it happen and make it stick? This is a fundamental change to the business and takes a lot of change management. Helping people understand why they need to change, guiding them to the new ways of doing business, and embedding it in the culture is extremely difficult to do, which is why so many digital transformations fail.”

–⁠ Martin Davis

What are some misconceptions or easily overlooked aspects about DX that would be good for someone starting their digital transformation journey to know?

“Most organizations focus on technology as the first step in their digital transformation. However, the optimal order is: [1] the right organizational culture, [2] empowered change agents, and [3] optimal processes, before we even start looking at technology. People—not technology—are the true value creators within an organization. Technology is only an enabler and can never compensate for an unhappy culture. [In order to] ensure that a digital transformation is successful and sustainable, leaders need to consider the following aspects: what is the purpose of the transformation; why the workforce should care​​; what does the success of a digital transformation mean for the business; and when is a digital transformation complete. Overall, the empowerment of the workforce is essential for success. If organizational leaders have clearly articulated the ‘why’ of a transformation, they should never second-guess ‘how’ teams will achieve the outcomes.”

–⁠ Gautham Pallapa

“Digital transformation has many definitions and interpretations. The starting point was, in most cases, technology. Automating inefficient processes made them expensive inefficient fast processes, but the end result was suboptimal. The most overlooked aspect has been the end-to-end process map on how one part impacts the others, whether the rest of the stakeholders know and understand how the new will impact them. The other misconception is that the transformation is a milestone and once a project is completed we are done. Digital transformation is a journey that continuously evolves from one milestone to another. Boards need to be educated on the continuum and sustained investments.”

–⁠ Arun Gupta

“The biggest misconception is that ‘digital optimization’ is equal to ‘digital transformation.’ Digital optimization is improving how you do your current business with better digital tools, which is what most people focus on doing. True digital transformation—changing the revenue streams—is very different.”

–⁠ Martin Davis

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