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­­Digital Transformation: Fostering Lasting Business Change

Dave McHugh


digital transformation
Dave McHugh, VP of Technology Strategy & Architecture at Wood Mackenzie, explores the common challenges and pitfalls organisations encounter during digital transformation projects.

Digital transformation must be one of the most used buzz phrases in business, and from my experience, its meaning is highly subjective.

Sometimes digital transformation is about automating manual processes, sometimes it’s about “going online”, and in some instances it’s about a technology refresh. The list goes on.

The imperative to transform has been accelerated since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, as many businesses realised they needed to be able to decentralise to survive. In many areas, travel restrictions translated into productivity restrictions and the businesses which had already adopted a digital-first approach appear to have weathered the storm more successfully.

But what does digital transformation really mean?

If it’s just about technology, the chances are that there will be significant expense and little material change, as simply swapping out tools will not help an organisation to transform.

I’m going to share a few reasons why this doesn’t work; explore some of the most common challenges and explain why real change requires us to look beyond the tech.

Realistic expectations for material change

I want it NOW!

Unfortunately, the urgency for change does not mean it will happen any faster. Unrealistic expectations can be a catalyst for many of the issues I will elaborate further through this article.

In my experience, this demand for speed often results in the nemesis of paying someone to transform for you. Using this approach, I’ve seen several failed attempts which leads to cultural damage, and that is far harder to fix.

Outsourcing the problem

Outsourcing a digital transformation project seems very attractive, because you can buy the skills and capacity you don’t have yourself. The plans and roadmaps are drawn up, the comms plan is rolled-out, and you may have some shiny new tech and processes.

But what happens afterwards? Where are your lasting skills and competence when the outsource leaves? Have you built enough of a core capability that the transformation can continue?

Transformation doesn’t need to be about eureka moments, it can be a continual series of small steps that add up to something remarkable, owned and driven by your own people.

This is because they already know what’s not optimal. Usually, they just don’t have bandwidth or aren’t empowered to make the required change.

Culture and politics

Picking change advocates to lead the transformation process may seem like a great way to gain momentum, and in the formative stages it usually is.

However, taking this approach can quickly lead to a “them and us” situation at your organisation. Those who aren’t on the same journey become restless, then passive, then detractors, and ultimately you may build a group of people who will resist change.

Combine this with competing agendas and incentives from the top, and I’m sure no-one would be surprised when this becomes a top challenge.

Focus on technology

In many ways this is like outsourcing the problem, but it can be much worse.

Distracting core competence from maintaining existing systems and keeping revenue streams alive, whilst not providing a reasonable framework supported by the wider business community, leads to disenfranchisement and usually a brain-drain of your key people.

The creation of a ‘Them and Us’ situation is very often a problem in taking this approach. As those selected to focus on the future will quickly create a mental model that doesn’t include those left behind generating the revenue that enables the transformation.

Skills and competence

This is where many businesses think they need to spend the most time, and in some cases it can be. Lasting change must be driven from within and this requires the necessary skills and abilities.

But in my experience, most people simply need the permission to do what they already know needs to be done, and leaders need to trust and empower their colleagues across the business for any significant organisational change to be achieved.

DIGIT Expo 2021 | Join the Conversation

Dave McHugh will explore the solutions to some of the most common hurdles of organisational transformation at DIGIT Expo on 23rd November.

DIGIT Expo is Scotland’s largest gathering of senior IT and Digital personnel. With 1000+ delegates, 40+ speakers and 50 exhibitors, the event is an unmissable opportunity for knowledge exchange, networking and business development.

For information on how to register a FREE place, visit:

Dave McHugh

VP, Technology Strategy & Architecture at Wood Mackenzie

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