For almost all organizations, digital transformation has become not a case of IF but WHEN and HOW FAST. It is a journey every organization will need to take if they hope to build on past successes and maintain their competitiveness and market share.
The benefits of a successful digital transformation are significant. Increased revenue, profit, engagement, future growth, higher membership satisfaction levels, improved efficiency — the list goes on, touching every aspect of an organization. However, getting a digital transformation wrong is also pricey. Time, resources, and capital are all required. A McKinsey report from 2018 estimated 86% of all projects will fail to achieve their stated goals.
Choosing the right transformation partner is critical to the success of a project, as those that failed are almost always due to a gap in expectations between users, stakeholders, and delivery partners. A digital transformation partner must ensure users are bought into and see value early to ensure the long-term success of any project.
Many companies offer the ‘perfect’ digital transformation experience, all with a great team of marketers telling an enticing story about why you should pick them. So how do you decide which will be best for your organization?
Why Do You Need A Digital Transformation Partner?
Resolving the 'why' in the question of 'why you need a digital transformation partner' will help in defining business-critical priorities.
- Do you have the resources in-house to complete the project or part of the project? If not, what skills are your team(s) lacking?
- Is it a case of extending an already existing team with a third-party partner or looking for an entirely new skillset?
Answering those questions will give an organization great insight into the kind of transformation partner they need.
Every digital transformation is different, as is every transformation partner. If you are looking to extend and upskill an existing team, the overriding concern will be finding a partner compatible with your current working methodologies. On the other hand, if you are looking for an entirely new skill set that becomes less important.
Suppose your digital transformation involves strong strategic overtones. In that case, it may even be mission-critical. Finding a transformation partner experienced in your sector becomes just as important as the technological skill-stack they can bring to the table.
It also never hurts to get to know a potential partner beforehand. Many organizations factor in development costs and fees at an early stage but completely overlook other possible expenses such as personality clashes, incompatible work methodologies, vendor delays, among others. Getting to know who you will be working with and how they work will often pay dividends in the end.
Where To Start The Search
True digital transformation is not about digital or about cutting-edge tech or the latest trends. True digital transformation is about the organization, the challenges it is facing, the plans for the future, and how those plans can be empowered.
True digital transformation will always be about mapping all the problems facing an organization and prioritizing them based on desirable business outcomes, not just investing in tech for the sake of tech.
A digital transformation can take many forms, and many of the most pressing issues may not be related to 'tech' at all. The correct transformation partner will always start with the most urgent problems, be it procedural, operational, or technical, and only moving onto the digital part of the project once the most immediate needs have been met.
The right partner will also take many steps and measures to avoid Vendor Lock-In. A true digital transformation will revolve around building an ecosphere of partners, all offering a varied array of tech and non-tech disciplines that will allow the organization to upskill their staff and be dependent on any one company (and it's associated retainer fees).
Start The Search With Yourself
As contradictory as that might sound, it is important the search for a transformation partner starts internally. Some important questions need to be answered before even beginning the search for a partner.
- What are you hoping to achieve?
- What are your end goals for the digital transformation?
- How will you measure success?
Once you have an idea of what you would like to achieve, you can start to narrow down the type of partner you will require by asking questions such as:
- What are the current blockers to change? Are they technical, operational, or procedural?
- Do you know which platform for the change you would like to use? I.e., Microsoft, Google, others.
- How much data do you hold, and how much data analytics will you require?
- Is this a short-term, one-off project or a multi-year transformation requiring a complex roadmap?
- Is their culture a good fit for yours? Can your staff engage with their staff on all levels? Not just CEO to CEO but executives to executives or developers to developers etc.
How Well Do You Both Communicate?
Effective communication between both parties is probably one of the most important factors in a digital transformation. It is important that the transformation partner effectively communicates with you and everything is a two-way process. Many transformation projects run into delays, with developers awaiting responses or decisions from project stakeholders. Having potential transformation partners go through their onboarding as though you are already a customer can help with that. It will highlight what is expected of everyone in terms of effective communication.
Agreeing ahead of time on everyone's level of involvement and responsibility is vital in setting expectations. It is also worth documenting and planning how communication will work if you are operating across a different time zone to your transformation partner, as that can add additional layers of complexity. Do not be afraid to ask how they intend to handle that issue and how they have handled it in the past for other clients.
Many of these questions may seem secondary to your main goals but again, addressing them ensures you end up with a transformation partner you will be comfortable working with. Leaving these questions unanswered until after the signed contracts will often create a frustrating loop of "we can figure it out as we go, " which is hardly efficient or desirable.
How To Most Effectively Access Potential Transformation Partners
By this point, you should have an idea of why you are looking to transform digitally and the kind of partner you will need to help accomplish it. You may even have a shortlist of potential transformation partners. How, though, to distinguish between them?
The first thing to evaluate in any transformation partner is the culture of the business. A transformation partner's culture can massively impact your organisation and your transformation.
Always make sure you ask potential transformation partners the following:
- Will they be upskilling your staff?
- What experience do they have in your sector?
- What are their core beliefs as an organization?
- How will they be handling key stakeholder buy-in?
- Will they be a partner or a vendor? How will they help avoid/mitigate vendor lock-in with themselves?
Always Ask For A Reference
This may seem too obvious a point even to mention but when looking at a digital transformation partner's references, the trick is to pay attention to the personal references, not the marketing-generated 'corporate' ones.
Working one-to-one with various teams across a digital transformation requires a tremendous amount of collaboration, so it's crucial to find a partner that can not only deliver your change but will be pleasant to work with while doing so.
Spotting Red Flags Early
While most of this advice is positive when looking out for in a transformation partner, there are, unfortunately, several red flags that are also worth being aware of.
When speaking to potential transformation partners, try to involve the people you will actually be working with in the negotiations. While these may feel like very different departments, it is important to get a feel of who you will be working with to ensure you are compatible and that problems do not arise where matters discussed in the negotiations are not explained by the developers fully.
Another red flag to look out for would be projects that are too big or too fast and require a considerable commitment early on from both sides. There is nothing wrong with being ambitious, and some organizations might require a considerable amount of transformation in a short amount of time. Still, there is something to be said to test a partnership with a smaller project to better evaluate how much of a ‘match’ you both are for each other. Having the opportunity to do this will reduce the risk of committing to the 'wrong partner' and suffering huge costs or delays further down the line.
Where Is Your PAO On The Digitalization Journey?
IFAC recently teamed up with cloudThing to offer our membership a free Digital Readiness Assessment Tool that would assess an organization's digital readiness ahead of a digital transformation project. The Digital Readiness Assessment Tool has been designed to measure how digitally 'mature' an organization is, or where they already are on their individual digital transformation journey.
If you have not leveraged this free Tool, we encourage you to do so!
Locate the email sent on behalf of IFAC Membership, with the subject line, "IFAC PAO Digital Readiness Assessment Tool Launch." Your organization's unique access link will be located within.
Check out IFAC's PAO Digital Transformation Series webpage which houses helpful resources, articles and videos on Digital Transformation and is regularly updated!
cloudThing, based in the UK, is a technology company that help organizations such as the British Red Cross, The South African Institute of Accountants, and the Institute of Chartered Accountants (England & Wales) to name but a few, digitally transform by taking advantage of the automation technology available to them on the cloud.