Digital Transformation Frameworks: Why You Need One and How to Get Going

Marcelo Andrieu, Technical Product Marketing Manager
September 10, 2018

The move to digital technologies has been taking place at a meteoric pace. With businesses thrust into a world where they must either deploy new solutions that they may not be ready for or risk falling behind the competition, many organizations have ended up taking an improvisational approach to digital transformation.

At first glance, this strategy may make sense. Technologies have a widely varied maturation cycle and traditionally, enterprise tech cycles tend to ebb and flow, with the market stabilizing shortly after a new solution disrupts the space. That isn't happening this time. New IT capabilities are emerging relentlessly and becoming popular quickly. What's more, many of these solutions incorporate shared value - particularly creating and using more varied data types - making them naturally complementary. In simple terms, businesses can't take a piecemeal approach to going digital. If they do, they risk divided, uncoordinated operations that actually stifle innovation.

Why You Need a Plan

Digital transformation frameworks are increasingly necessary as businesses try to keep up with the rapid pace of change. An MIT Sloan Management Review summed the situation up thusly:

  • Digitization is happening faster than most industries can change, leaving executives scrambling to figure out the best way to adopt new technologies.
  • Technology is driving the change, but consumer demands are similarly pressing and forcing organizations to adjust quickly.
  • Many companies still lack a formalized strategy for digital transformation.
  • Organizations that neglect to get more strategic and purposeful in their digital efforts risk missing out on the potential offered by emerging solutions.

These broad findings are, to some degree, backed by findings of an IDC study. The research firm found that 59 percent of businesses are currently mired in the middle stages of digital transformation. The translation: Many companies have started to deploy new technologies that are capable of changing the business, but they are stuck as they try to make the underlying cultural and operational changes needed to truly transform. What's more, most organizations haven't overcome the hurdle of getting digital technologies to work well together in clear, integrated ways.

Meredith Whalen, senior vice president for IT executive programs, software, services and industry research for IDC, explained that companies need to take a broader view of their digital transformation initiatives.

"Moving to a more mature digitization stage isn't easy, and it is going to take time."

"When organizations look at their individual digital programs, they may feel like they are making progress. But they need to take a step back to see whether the overall enterprise is digitally transforming," said Whalen. "If the answer is 'no,' they need to address the challenges impeding their progress."

Moving to a more mature digitization stage isn't easy, and it is going to take time. According to the IDC study, the majority of businesses - 75 percent - will have digitally transformed by 2027. While that may seem like a long time to wait for full transformation, the urgency is real as 80 percent of enterprise revenue growth will stem from digital solutions by 2022.

So, what's the hold up? The study found major factors included KPIs that are no longer relevant to digital business models, organizational and innovation strategies that are siloed within business units, expertise limitations and a lack of effective plans to be central problems for companies trying to achieve digital maturity. Creating a digital transformation framework is essential.

What a Framework Should Achieve

The simple goal of a digital transformation framework is to create a sense of order amid the chaos that is modern IT operations. Think about it, businesses must contend with:

  • Legacy apps and services that run on dedicated servers and require a local network connection.
  • Cloud applications that IT departments often don't even know about.
  • A diverse array of endpoints ranging from smartphones to old laptops.
  • Data workflows that cross organizational, geographical and regulatory boundaries on a regular basis.

Keeping such large-scale, disparate IT capabilities in working order is overwhelming, and many businesses try to innovate on a reactionary basis. If an old system is reaching the end of its service life, then it's time for an upgrade. If a user with lots of institutional knowledge leaves the company, then it's time to develop digital data sharing tools to spread information across the business. This kind of approach leads to a mish-mash of solution deployments that don't fit well with one another.

"An effective framework will provide a systematic basis for your business to enact cultural and technological change."

A digital transformation framework is a formalized plan for how and when a company wants to make strategic upgrades to core systems and processes. By laying out such a structured plan, organizations can go from reacting to the changes happening around them to taking control of their technology destinies. For example, the IDC's findings about current barriers to digital maturity point not only to a lack of strategy, but KPIs that don't align with new goals. If you deploy a new contact center system in the hopes to strengthen customer relationships and build brand loyalty, but maintain your old KPIs, you are putting your employees in a situation in which new technology can only get the same results.

An effective framework will provide a systematic basis for your business to enact cultural and technological change in a logical, cohesive way.

Getting a Framework Off the Ground

There are many digital transformation frameworks out there for organizations that want to see examples. Ultimately, however, you'll want to make sure you eventually tweak the strategy for your specific needs. Once you've chosen an option, it becomes a matter of enacting the policies and strategies that will support your short- and long-term goals and enforcing them across the business. This is where digital transformation platforms, such as Appian, can be especially beneficial.

Appian is designed to serve as a central process, data and application hub where businesses can integrate diverse existing solutions and deliver information to users from across the business. If your warehouse manager wants to check a sales order, the data will be in Appian, not siloed in a customer relationship management system the warehouse manager can't access. Within the platform, you can create policies, user roles and workflows that automatically enforce best practices across the business. Furthermore, with Appian providing a hub for your various technology plans, you can use the platform to govern and communicate your digital plans.