Shanghai, China aerial view over highways

Getting your digital destination right is as important as speed of change

Image credit: Sean Pavone/Dreamstime

However fast you travel, you’re never going to have a successful journey if you’re heading in the wrong direction. The same is true of business transformation.

In recent years, I’ve noticed a worrying, reckless and high-risk trend among business leaders – moving forwards quickly without direction when leading organisational and technological change. I liken it to speeding mindlessly in a car with no destination in mind. You wouldn’t do that would you? Digital transformation shouldn’t be any different.

I have increasingly found that the main mantra during the last decade, in terms of business demands on IT and operations, has been for teams to increase speed to market with ever more agility. CTOs have come under increasing pressure from the board and shareholders to reduce cost (increasing profitability) by replacing legacy IT with new digital and Cloud-based technology. Meanwhile, the CMOs wanted new products delivered into the market faster as they witnessed, endured and responded to disruption from more nimble competitors.

Large enterprises have strived to be more like start-ups. They have tried to match their ability to design and engineer new products and services, launching them to market at a pace that for many strained and broke internal structures and constraints.

Failing fast and testing in the market was the norm. I saw businesses obsessed over acquiring first-mover advantage. It became accepted that launching something fast was better than taking time to get it right as businesses moved on to the next big challenge.

Digital debt mounted in the form of never-ending backlogs. Then the Covid-19 pandemic hit, and the need to transform digitally was turbo charged. Watching on, B2B and B2C businesses alike that had immature e-commerce and digital delivery operations found themselves cut off from their customers, unable to operate when their physical stores and offices were shut.

This accelerated the need for high-speed digital delivery. Many design and technology teams stepped up to the plate. Companies that got it right survived. Others failed, and no longer exist – something that becomes increasingly obvious every time I walk down my local high street.

Two years on from the start of the pandemic, working models are unsustainable. Teams are digitally fatigued and channels are struggling to meet the expectations and business cases the investments were made against. The spirit of ‘get it done’ has been replaced by the need to ‘make it work right’.

This push for ‘right’ and not ‘done’ demands attention, expertise and people. However, surely we can appreciate that the demand of constantly working at high speed is draining employees? Companies are struggling to retain talent in the areas of digital design and engineering. We are all too familiar with the Great Resignation – this has to be part of the reason? But why is this leading to people leaving their employer?

For me, one reason could be working at speed without direction – direction that comes from deep customer and business understanding. Without it, work can be stressful and unrewarding. Seeing your last six months of hard work and commitment addressing a problem that hasn't gone to plan when it reaches customers or employees is at best demoralising and at worst has the possibility of costing livelihoods. Teams deserve better.

As leaders, we are in a new chapter. Growth is back on the agenda. Companies know they have to maximise the returns from the digital investments they’ve already made. Take advantage of new areas for innovation, the emergence of automation and IoT helping businesses to grow further by optimising processes and supply chains.

The organisations winning in this race are those that have realised that as well as speed, they need direction. Direction from having a clear vision of what experience they are trying to deliver for their customers or employees. It’s informed and validated by insight, refined through proof-of-concepts and prototyping before launching and scaling using digital-experience platforms and design systems to ramp up releases.

Work alongside engineers and designers who understand the value of talking and listening to customers (internal and external), and who will be using the technology solutions. Get to know the genuine human needs of the intended user, and give the project team a purpose and vision of what they are aspiring to deliver. Once this understanding is in place, your teams can focus on building and delivering, without the risk of heading in the wrong direction at high speed.

Successful organisations build customer-centricity and organisational understanding into the DNA of their business processes. I really believe if projects and programmes of work are deeply rooted in the importance of solving real-world problems and deliver genuine improvement, teams will feel empowered, output will soar and value will be added to your bottom line. Stop driving the wrong way quickly, you'll never reach your destination.

Chai Rajebahador is executive vice president and head of Zensar Technologies.

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