4 factors for digital transformation success

Posted in: Business Insights, Technical Track

How do you measure the success of a digital transformation initiative? Whether it’s a full-scale strategic project, or a smaller, more targeted implementation of a digital technology, there’s no question that you need to determine a basis for measuring success. As a start, you need to get stakeholder buy-in on a list of success factors, or goals, of that implementation.

At our recent Velocity of Innovation event in New York, I moderated a lively discussion about what constitutes a successful digital transformation program. Event attendees included our own CEO and founder, Paul Vallée; Rohinee Mohindroo, former CIO of Rakuten Marketing and independent consultant; and Samir Desai, CIO at Equinox Fitness Clubs.

I asked panelists and attendees to weigh in on what they thought were the critical factors in digital transformation success. These four key factors emerged from our discussion, and may help you form the basis of a success measurement framework for your next project.


#1: Speed

With Velocity of Innovation as the title of our event series, it’s no surprise that we wanted our panelists to comment on how to achieve velocity in digital transformation. I asked specifically about the Gartner’s concept of bimodal IT as a means of accelerating transformation. According to Gartner, bimodal IT is the practice of managing two separate, coherent modes of IT delivery, one focused on stability and the other on agility. Mode 1 is traditional and sequential, emphasizing safety and accuracy. Mode 2 is exploratory and nonlinear, emphasizing agility and speed.

While bimodal is popular and has significant value in reducing risk, Rohinee Mohindroo admitted that she’s not a fan of the approach, and prefers a 100% agile methodology as a means of accelerating innovation. But she warned that it comes with some challenges.

“The experience I’ve had with agile is once you’re doing it, how do you scale it out? It’s easy to do agile when you’re a small team or a small company, but when you start to grow really quickly, scaling out agile can be a daunting task. Fundamentally, the approach that works for me is to actually understand what some of those blockers are that keep you from moving faster and create a culture where you’re trying to solve those problems as opposed to “not my problem,” said Mohindroo.

But, she says that when you’re doing agile, your ability to respond quickly to customers is unparalleled. “I hear a lot from business leaders who are doing agile. The successful ones are pivoting every day, sometimes more than once a day. When a client calls, this approach lets them respond in real time,” she added.


#2: Balancing the customer and employee user experiences

Our panelists agreed that while the customer experience is a key driver to digital transformation success because of its close link to measurable results, you have to balance it with your employee user experience. When you focus only on delivering exceptional customer experiences, while forgetting about the experiences of your employees, you could be making a big mistake.

Samir Desai commented that internal systems all too often take a back seat to customer-facing initiatives. “My experience has been that the internal user experience is always at the lower end of the priority queue, as you focus on developing improved experiences for the customer. Something that the customer is going to see is always going to get further. So it becomes a challenge to figure out how to ensure your back of the house doesn’t become archaic, while you’re creating cool things that a customer faces,” Desai said.

Paul Vallée warned that going to too much effort into fixing what isn’t broken with your internal systems could also be a mistake. You have to prioritize, balancing necessary innovations with those that would provide employees with a “cooler” user experience.

“At Pythian we let our internal ticketing system become outdated because of our emphasis on other efforts and what we discovered is that some people really like the archaic stuff. This is actually instructive for all transformation projects, with any group of people.  You have to balance your desire for rapid change  with the overall appetite for change. For every one of your employees who’s in favour of innovation, there’s at least another who’s resistant. It requires a lot of effort and budget to change the culture,”  Vallée said.

But what is the cost of ignoring the internal user experience completely? According to Mohindroo, it could be high. Neglecting your internal systems could be causing frustration for the people who should be your best brand advocates. Conversely, paying attention to the user experience in your own backyard could pay off in the form of loyalty, productivity and retention.

“I notice that in most corporations, the internal employee experience is usually infected in favour of focusing on the external customer. I think what we tend to forget is that those internal employees become advocates and consumers of your brand. While the customer facing teams  may be really happy, maybe the back office person really isn’t. That comes through in the long term, and translates into things like productivity and retention as well,” Mohindroo said.


#3: Assigning a product manager

When you think of product management, you may think the concept lies solely in the realm of product companies. The product manager role may not come to mind when you think about  IT services, or internal digital transformation initiatives. But a product manager, simply put, is someone who is responsible for the overall, ongoing success of a product. And in the case of a digital transformation initiative, a product manager ensures the success of that initiative. In a transformation project, they can play a central role, viewing every aspect of the initiative through the lense of the customer, and ensuring that all efforts ultimately – whether internal or external – result in customer value.

Product managers are masters of innovation. Because they put the customer first, they will always ensure customers can benefit from the product or service through various digital touch points, including web, in person, mobile, or through other devices. For this reason, our panelists and audience members agreed that the unique skill set of a product manager is critical to the success of any digital transformation project.

Pythian CEO Paul Vallée said Pythian recently determined that a committee approach wasn’t working, and that the company needed a single owner for its internal digital transformation initiatives.

“We needed somebody who understood exactly how the business works. We needed someone who had been with the business a long time and had been involved in establishing our practices. That was what we needed to do in order to get to break through that inertia and to get rid of the committee for day-to-day decisions. Although, a group of stakeholders should always be consulted throughout the project, at the end of the day, one person needs to be a leader on the file,” Vallée said of Pythian’s recent experience with moving toward a product management approach.

According to Samir Desai, the key to getting this success factor right is getting just the right person in place. “Not everybody is cut out to be an innovator. I think you need to choose someone who understands the business and the technology, and who has the right kind or personality fit to play that role.”


#4: Prove value along the way

By dividing your project into small, achievable deliverables, you can reduce risk, and prove the value of the transformation initiative long before the delivery of a final product. Taking an agile approach breaks the work down into smaller pieces, allowing teams to feel that they are making progress and keeps the attention on doing the right things, not just doing things right. Focusing on smaller incremental deliverables also reduces risk as the company gets visibility into progress and challenges on a continuous basis, allowing for the introduction of rapid and/or or frequent direction changes as circumstances change.

At our Velocity of Innovation event, an audience member suggested taking an approach that involved introducing MVPs (minimum viable products) throughout a transformation project.

“Show me that you’re succeeding with an MVP before we move onto the next thing. It helps move the project forward faster, while managing expectations along the way with more than just lip service,” he said.

These are just four success factors that emerged from our discussion. Pythian has unparalleled expertise in achieving digital transformation success. We can help you develop a detailed framework and roadmap to achieving success with your next transformation initiative.

This blog post is part of a series on digital transformation. Watch for my next post, which  expands on the idea of applying product management principles to digital transformation, and explains how to improve outcomes by engaging a dedicated product manager.

For further background on this topic, read my earlier posts, Defining Digital Transformation and Five Tips to Improve your Online Client Experience.


Velocity of Innovation (Velocity)  is a series of thought-leadership events for senior IT management, hosted by Pythian. The format is a panel discussion in which Pythian leads conversations around today’s disruptive technologies. Topics range from big data and cloud to advanced analytics and DevOps. These events are by invitation only.

Interested in being a part of our next Velocity event? Contact [email protected] for information and to request an invitation.




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About the Author

Lynda Partner is a self-professed data addict who understands how transformational data can be for organizations. In her role as EVP of Data and Analytics, Lynda focuses on Pythian’s services that help customers harness the power of data and analytics and holistically manage their data estate.

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