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How to Make Sure Your Digital Transformation Doesn’t Fail

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Technology experts discuss the value – and pitfalls – of the digital transformation – defining it along the way.

At Autodesk Accelerate, a conference for product designers and manufacturers, a panel of analysts discussed the opportunities, challenges, and pitfalls on the road to digital transformation. These analysts have the benefit of examining the process across multiple companies, sometimes watching it work, and sometimes watching it run into serious problems. All five analysts agreed that digital transformation is required if companies want to remain competitive.

What Is the Digital Transformation?

To kick off the discussion, moderator Chad Jackson from Lifecycle Insights asked panelists to define digital transformation. “Digital transformation has been a huge initiative for companies, but it doesn’t mean digitizing your data. It’s about applying digital technology to your data so it becomes automated. Then you have a thread and you have traceability,” said Michelle Boucher from Tech-Clarity. “With the digital transformation, your data becomes available to everybody, and there is intelligence in the data.”

Speed isn’t the primary consideration. The point is to make processes more effective. “The digital transformation is a matter of using the computer for what computers are good at,” said Stan Przybylinski from CIMdata  “People have figured out you can’t just take a process and make it faster. You have to reevaluate your processes and your company to produce something of real value.”

Every company needs to find its starting point. Sometimes the beginning is very basic. “It’s different for every company. Some companies find that going from paper to PDF is a big step. It’s a matter of using technology to do something important for your business, such as creating something you can email. You can’t email paper,” said Monica Schnitger
from Schnitger Corporation “After that, you get into the more complicated areas, and it helps if you have an end in mind.”

The process of adopting technology usually involves a long list of individual tasks and goals. “The digital transformation allows you to rethink what you want to do,” said Allan Behrens of
Taxal Limited. “You go through the process of figuring out what you want to do and identify the objective. It is not a single process. It’s a collection of different activities”

 Getting the Digital Transformation Started

Beginning the whole process of digital transformation is tricky. It needs an overarching vision, but it also needs tons of tiny goals. “You start with the process and decide your end goal. You can rethink how you do things. It’s streamlining the processes,” said Boucher “Once you have the vision, you figure out how to get there. It can be confusing at first.”

You can’t do everything at once. The transformation is best when it can be broken into comprehensible steps. “Digitalization requires an agile development process with incremental development. Each process does a small part of the overall transformation,” said Przybylinski. “We’re used to thinking of getting the whole system up, but an incremental pace of individual steps is usually more successful.”

Get your people involved. The outcome will depend on your ability to sell the concept to those who have to implement it. “People are the essence of our business. Preparing them and getting them involved in the process is fundament to your success,” said Behrens. “You have to get them to buy into the process.”

Digital transformation will change the way the organization operates. This has to happen even as the company is running full steam.“The digital transformation requires culture change,” said Jackson. “There is a risk in pursuing this. Companies are already heavily loaded down and have pressing deadlines. So, if you don’t do the digital transformation in the right way, you can disrupt yourself.”

The process works best if it’s a vision that comes from the highest levels of the company. “Sometimes the initiative can come from a new CEO who says we’re not digital enough. We’re not good a communicating with customers,” said Schnitger. “Addressing a specific problem is a good place to start. If you have some smaller things you’re trying to fix and you’re able to fix them, people will jump aboard.”

Changing times can be a convenient time to switch up everything. “When the pandemic hit, people didn’t have the ability to do things the same old way,” said Boucher. “They had to change and figure out to do things differently.”

Launch companies are in the best position to adopt new technology. The younger the company, the better chance for success.“If you’re a younger company you have an advantage. A transformation implies there are a lot of legacy activities. Designers spend only 50 to 60% of their time designing. Digitalization can reduce that wasted time. How should the data be flowing? How should the process be running? What’s holding me back from getting my job done?”

Pitfalls to Avoid

Buy-in from the staff can make all the difference in avoiding problems. “Make sure your people are involved. Make sure they understand why they’re doing what they’re doing. The biggest pitfalls come when the project is not thought out,” said Schnitger. “And measure success so you get the incremental wins.”

Some companies have learned tricks to ensure the transformation goes smoothly. “One way to avoid the pitfalls is to pair up experienced engineers with junior engineers. The experienced engineer knows why it works but they’re set in their ways,” said Boucher. “The young engineers are not as experienced, but they know the technology. The experienced engineer and the young engineer can benefit from each other.”

The process of bringing in new technology is disruptive all by itself. “Technology breaks the rules of older processes,” said Behrens. “You don’t find that until you begin to change. The people who can help through that are the technology providers.”

One of the greatest pitfalls comes when the people involved are not convinced the transformation is the right path. “If you don’t have the buy-in, the whole thing can fail because people will find workarounds,” said Schnitger. “You have to make sure they don’t circumvent the transformation.”

Most of all, it may not be a good idea to use a big concept that indicates every single thing about the organization will change – even if it needs to. “Don’t call it digital transformation,” said Jackson. “Explain that you’re going to reduce inventory. Make it goal-oriented.”

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