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Where to Focus in Order to Realize Your Digital Potential

Sept. 12, 2017
Analyzing survey results shows businesses how best to strategize for digital transformation

Digital Transformation is coming of age. In the recent IFS Digital Change Survey of 750 professionals across a range of industries, 80% saw themselves as “enabled,” “enhanced,” or “optimized” to leverage DT. Even more impressive, 89% said they had “advantageous” or “adequate” funding in place for digital projects—a clear acknowledgment that the time of disruptive technologies is here, and that the vast majority of firms are realizing that they need to invest. But why are businesses investing? Where do they see the profits? And, how successfully are they selling digital change throughout their organizations?

Look beyond quick efficiency gains — The survey found that over a quarter (27%) of businesses say digital transformation “makes them more competitive,” giving them a vital differentiating edge. 29% see the main benefit as “accelerating innovation” and 28% “growth opportunities in new markets.” All these are encouraging. Businesses taking this opportunity to ask far-reaching strategic questions like, “Can I use DT to gain a bigger market share, or expand the product portfolio?” are making the most of the long-term, strategic opportunities of the technology. They’re sensing how it can transform even small, tactical decisions (“How often do we service equipment, and how does this impact competitiveness?”) into key strategic differentiators.

But these businesses are in the minority. The largest group in the survey, 47%, still see the main benefits of DT as “improving internal process efficiencies,” which makes me wonder: Do these businesses really see the full potential of what disruptive technologies can achieve? Innovation can make or break a company and study after study foregrounds it as a C-level priority. So why doesn”t it appear to be a driver for digital transformation?  Considering technology investments, this could mean that the majority of funds are invested in making internal processes more effective and thereby failing to enable innovation.

Seeing “improved internal efficiency” as the key reason to explore DT is too shortsighted. It fails to exploit the strategic benefits and makes it more difficult to win the understanding and commitment of the staff.

Overcoming fear of change — Despite plenty of good news, the survey still reveals that 42% of respondents view ‘aversion to change’ as the main barrier to digital transformation. Businesses need to think carefully about how they position IoT and other disruptive technologies, how they tell the story of why they are using them, and how they communicate the benefits to their entire workforce, transforming staff from ‘data-phobes’ to data fans.

The most successful technology shifts are embraced from the bottom up, as well as the top down; people drive them. The buy-in from staff is mission-critical. The opportunities for growth and improvement for all need to be communicated clearly and openly. Imagine a service engineer hearing predictive maintenance is to be deployed. “That’s going to put me out of a job” would be a common reaction—even if closer questioning found them in need of new inspiration and working methods and open to new opportunities! In this scenario, stressing the big-picture, long-term strategy (‘we’re going to be more competitive / accelerate innovation / win growth opportunities in new markets’) would be more inspiring than the short-term tactical benefits (‘we’re improving internal efficiencies’.)

Digital transformation is like many other big change projects all about winning the confidence the people who are actually going to enter the data or use the system hands-on. It needs to be managed on a human scale. We all understand that no amount of short-term savings will make our jobs, or businesses, more secure if the firm isn’t staying competitive in the long-term. Portraying digital change as strategic not tactical, as inspiring not invasive, is vital.

Upskilling and reskilling — One in three businesses in the survey are “unprepared to deal with the digital skills gap.” Smart businesses are already spotting potential data candidates like the service engineer above, who have the appetite and skills to expand their role. How can business bridge the skills gap affordably, sustainably, and creatively?

•  Consider how your organizational structure needs to be developed to foster digital development. For large businesses, there is the option to create new departments dedicated to digital initiatives, hothousing analytic skills and nurturing them in-house

•  Conduct digital competence inventory: There is a huge need for training staff in managing and analyzing data; this must be met for businesses to succeed with digital initiatives. Establish what technology in your company is key to development, starting by identifying individuals who have the drive to upskill.

•  Developing skills properly is paramount. HR teams need to decide what current roles need to be developed and where new talent is needed. Bring in external trainers to provide new perspectives.

•  Work with local universities, both to attract talent and to influence the schools to focus education programs in the right areas. Placement schemes offer undergraduates real-life programming experience, growing the firm and the student. Apprenticeship schemes discover local talent and give them support and a place to grow

Three areas of focus — There are three pillars to succeed with digital transformation: technology, investment and people. Technology is often mastered most successfully, as technology experts with clear responsibilities drive it. The main question is whether you are focusing on the right technology at the right time. Do you want to be the pioneer taking risks, or jump on the bandwagon when the technology is more mature?

Regarding investments; as seen in this survey, businesses think that they are investing enough in digital transformation, but are they focusing on the right areas? The results indicate that there is a heavy focus on process efficiencies, so there could be a need to steer the focus toward more innovation-focused investments.

Finally, people are the forgotten factor in digital transformation. This is important for talent and communications: If over 40 % view ‘aversion to change’ as the main barrier, employee communications is of utmost importance to ensure that your staff knows the purpose of change and how they are affected. 

So it’s high time to ask: Where do you need to focus to build these pillars and be successful in your digital transformation?

Antony Bourne is vice president for IFS, a developer of enterprise software for manufacturers and distributors. He has over 20 years of experience in IT, including in manufacturing, and he held business analyst positions with Ford Motor Co. and AlliedSignal. Contact him at LinkedIn, or visit

About the Author

Antony Bourne | Vice President

Antony Bourne is vice president for Global Industry Solutions at IFS, a developer of enterprise software for manufacturers and distributors. He has over 20 years of experience in IT, including in manufacturing, and he held business analyst positions with Ford Motor Co. and AlliedSignal. Contact him at LinkedIn, or visit