7 tips for leading digital transformation
A growing number of companies are embarking on a digital transformation journey, but few are succeeding. In fact, a recent survey found that the success rate of most companies undergoing a digital transformation currently hovers around 4-11%.
Dave Sackett has managed to beat those odds. The CFO of ULVAC Technologies is successfully leading a digital transformation of his company, a capital equipment seller that serves Fortune 100 technology companies.
For Sackett, finance and IT strategy go hand in hand, and he routinely speaks to CFOs about digital transformation and opportunities in the 4th Industrial Revolution. “The more I educate myself, the more knowledgeable I become, and I like to share that with other people,” he says. “I think people should be prepared for the future.”
To that end, Sackett shares these seven tips for leading a digital transformation in a small or midsize firm.
1. Automate manual, repetitive tasks first.
At ULVAC, Sackett is implementing a robotic process automation ERP system that allows for efficient, digitized workflows. “Manual transactions, things that are repetitive, things where there’s no real thinking involved —that’s my #1 thing to automate,” he says.
2. Use technology to transform processes, not just automate existing workflows.
Automation is key to streamlining operations, but it’s about more than just digitizing existing processes. “Digital transformation gives you an opportunity to come up with something brand new,” Sackett says. “It gives you an opportunity to really rethink some key questions: Where’s the information going? Who’s the audience? Is this something that even needs to be done anymore?”
3. Provide open and direct access to information.
Increase efficiencies within your company by making it easier for people to access information. “Give access to whoever needs the information,” he says. “You shouldn’t have to go to the finance department and request reports; you should just have direct access to the reports. This helps speed processes along and ensures that you only make reports that people will actually use.”
4. Get your senior leadership team aligned on the transformation.
To speed up the adoption of new processes and tools, you need to align your people from the top-down. “Definitely get support from your senior executive team, where they’re all aligned,” he says. They can drive the communications and most effectively share “the directive that ‘Change is good for the company, and we’re doing it now.’”
5. Choose vendors you trust.
Look for reliable vendors who communicate well. “Find someone who’s instantly responsive — someone who can assist you,” says Sackett. “Come up with a plan that you can execute, and then follow up on that plan to see how it’s going.” One simple yet effective way to vet potential vendors? Talk to their other users at conferences. “They’ll give you the real story, as in, ‘Oh yeah, the vendor says this, but it’s really, X, Y, and Z,’” Sackett says.
6. Give your team time to “play in the sandbox.”
Give people the time and tools they need to adapt to new processes. Sackett took a year to implement his company’s new ERP system, even though his vendor said they could do it in three months. “I knew my team wasn’t going to respond that fast,” Sackett says. “They weren’t going to have enough time to ‘play in the sandbox,’ which is like a demo or a fake system that you can do transactions in to understand the process.”
7. Create processes that force people to adapt.
Once you’ve implemented new processes, fully commit to them. Otherwise, people might be tempted to fall back into old workflows. “We’re kind of militant about it,” Sackett says. “If you want your expenses paid, you’ve got to go through our automated expense report process. If you want to book trips, you do it through our automated platform. You can’t submit anything on paper; you can’t submit it in the old way. If you want it done, you have to adapt.”
For more insights on digital transformation, download the Vistage report, Digital transformation: The path forward for small and midsize businesses.