Successful digital transformations start with getting the basics right.

Digital transformations are notoriously hard. In Forrester’s Business And Technology Services Survey, 2022, nearly all services decision-makers have or anticipate challenges in executing their digital transformation. But this does not mean that there is some secret sauce that only a chosen few digital natives possess that remains hidden to the rest of us. Akin to fitness plans, there’s a new program revealed regularly, presenting the latest “celebrity secret” to finally getting the transformation results you seek.

But as with exercise, the foundation for a successful digital transformation starts with getting the basics right. And our data shows that most transformation journeys are still struggling with the basics.

Don’t get me wrong: To truly excel at transformation, advanced concepts are crucial. At Forrester, we apply these daily to help clients push the envelope toward becoming future fit enterprises. But those concepts won’t help as long as the basics are not in place.

In Forrester’s Business And Technology Services Survey, 2022, we asked more than 1,300 services decision-makers to tell us about the main challenges they encounter when executing digital transformation initiatives. Here are the ones that made the podium:

  • Winner: transformation as a side hustle. The most common challenge mentioned by digital transformation practitioners was “employee availability of time devoted to digital transformation execution around their other job responsibilities.” Employees are tasked with transformational projects on top of their day job. When unforeseen events or fire drills happen in the daily business, the transformation grinds to a halt. The resulting conflicts and distractions lead to stop-and-go transformation and increasingly frustrated employees permanently trying to juggle competing priorities.
  • Runner-up: functional tunnel vision. Organizations that focus solely on functional roadmaps fail to build the data foundations necessary to succeed. Regardless of the software quality, data and integration errors can severely impact functionality. As a result, “data issues” is the second-most-mentioned transformation challenge. Oftentimes, such issues arise late in the game, forcing teams to play whack-a-mole with individual data problems as they come up. If these surface during testing, end user confidence in the software and the transformation in general is in jeopardy.
  • Third place: transformation delegation. “Lack of non-technology specific skills or knowledge” is mentioned as the third-most-common challenge in executing digital transformations. Transformation delegated to the IT organization without dedicated business resources cannot meet expectations. Software needs to be an expression of your business. This cannot be achieved if business isn’t adequately involved to express itself.

Get The Basics Right For Digital Transformation Success

Looking at these top three transformation challenges underscores that the foundations of a successful transformation are remarkably simple. A successful digital transformation is:

  1. Focused. Successful organizations are in it for the long run and are willing to commit the resources needed. They put a dedicated change governance in place, identify and address single-person risks, and backfill resulting gaps in day-to-day responsibilities.
  2. Pragmatic. Successful organizations don’t fall into the “shiny new toy” trap. Their roadmaps are pragmatic, and they are willing to invest in the necessary enablers for their functional ambitions. They make it a priority and invest the time and resources to cleaning up and harmonizing data before developing new software if necessary.
  3. An enterprisewide effort. Successful organizations understand that a digital transformation needs cross-department commitment. It is not an IT deliverable but an objective of the entire enterprise. Leaders articulate their vision and make it a companywide priority by assigning clear responsibilities across key roles and sanctioning intra-organizational finger-pointing.

To be clear, there is a lot more to unpack when it comes to enterprise transformation. The complexities increase exponentially when looking at the dependencies between digital, agile, and organizational transformations to truly increase an organization’s maturity toward being future fit. Having said that, every effort needs to start with a solid foundation of getting the basics right.

To learn more about the most common challenges of digital transformation and how to address them, read my latest report, The Essential Guide To Addressing Common Digital Transformation Challenges. To discuss my research in further detail, please schedule an inquiry or guidance session. I’m looking forward to connecting with you on all things related to enterprise transformation and digital strategy.