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Digital Transformation Frameworks: Why You Need One and How to Start

Marcelo Andrieu, Technical Product Marketing Manager
April 28, 2022

The move to digital technologies has been taking place at a meteoric pace. Many businesses are forced into a position, where they must either deploy new solutions they may not be ready for or risk falling behind the competition. In their efforts to rapidly improve customer experience, enhance internal processes, capitalize on market opportunities, or optimize other operational processes, they often end up taking a more makeshift approach to digital transformation.

At first glance, this strategy seems to make sense. Running with the latest and greatest digital technologies to address urgent business issues can deliver a positive impact. Traditionally, enterprise tech cycles have undergone ebbs and flows, with the market stabilizing shortly after a new solution disrupts the space. When organizations invested in a technology, they could be sure it would serve them well for at least several years. But this is no longer the case. Cycles now tend to come more in spasms as technology seeks to address both sudden, catastrophic events—such as the pandemic, war, and market volatility—and broader, ongoing developments—such as the great resignation and other changes in workforce attitudes and values. In such an environment, it’s understandable that organizations want to adopt new technologies quickly to stay ahead of the curve, but this tends to be a reactive impulse that leads to a disjointed tech stack. The risk here is that organizations find themselves with multiple tools, all geared toward a specific use, with little to no integration or interoperability. This results both in duplicate or overlapping functionality as well as gaps where the needed functionality is lacking. In simple terms, businesses shouldn’t take a piecemeal approach to going digital. If they do, they risk siloed, uncoordinated operations that actually stifle innovation.

What are the pitfalls of digital transformation?

According to a recent article by Deloitte: “While 85% of CEOs accelerated digital initiatives during the pandemic, most can’t articulate their overall strategy and progress beyond that they made a tech investment.” 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.

As the Harvard Business Review points out, the different parts of your business will have different needs and demands when it comes to your digital transformation efforts. Without firm leadership and a solid plan, trying to satisfy these demands individually can lead to a disjointed, ineffective digital transformation process.

 “Digital transformation takes time, and is a series of evolutionary, and occasionally disruptive, steps.”

According to HBR, “The key to success is simply getting clarity that digital transformation is not one thing, but rather many different things. Having the right leader, resources, and measures of success for the journey …” will help you overcome any obstacles on your way to digital maturity.

What are these obstacles? KPIs that are no longer relevant to the digital business model, organizational and innovation strategies that are siloed within business units, expertise limitations, and a lack of effective plans are all central problems for companies trying to achieve digital maturity. For example, deploying a new contact center system should strengthen customer relationships and build brand loyalty. But if you measure the success of the new system against your old KPIs, you’ll find that the new technology is delivering the same old results.

Similarly, keeping large-scale, disparate digital systems in working order can be a heavy lift that requires substantial resources. When resources are stretched thin, organizations can be forced to focus more on reactive measures rather than on innovation. But taking piecemeal steps—such as upgrading old systems individually at the end of their service life, or developing digital data sharing tools to combat the knowledge loss that comes with employee turnover—can also present problems. Often these efforts only succeed in creating a mish-mash of solution deployments that don't fit well with one another.

Why you need a plan.

A digital transformation framework is a formalized plan for how, when, and what kind of strategic upgrades a company should make to core systems and processes. Such a plan is increasingly necessary as businesses try to keep up with the rapid pace of change and create a sense of order amid the chaos that is modern IT operations. When formulating a digital strategy, businesses nowadays must contend with:

  • Legacy apps and services that run on dedicated servers and require a 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.

With all of these moving parts, a coordinated effort is the only way to minimize complexity, overlap, and silos. By laying out a structured plan, organizations can go from reacting to the changes happening around them to taking control of their technology destinies. Deloitte elaborates on this idea with the following points:

  • In both the current climate and moving forward, to be an adaptive business, you have to be a digitally powered business.
  • To achieve this kind of adaptability, organizations need a “playbook” to coordinate digital transformation strategies across all leadership teams and functional areas.
  • If your digital transformation strategy is going to be successful, you need a common language understood by all stakeholders. This language must “transcend any individual technology and go to the heart of their processes and culture, and how people work and interact.”
An effective digital framework will provide a systematic basis for your business to enact cultural and technological change.

Getting started with a digital transformation framework.

There are many digital transformation frameworks, each with its own set of structures, pillars, and steps. Most frameworks have a common theme of aligning people, processes, and technology in a way that defines a vision and goals, emphasizes the importance of appropriate leadership and governance, and promotes collaboration and knowledge sharing. While these frameworks are a good jumping off point, they mainly provide insights on formulating a strategy, design, and structure for your transformation. When it comes to the actual execution, they lack the kind of prescriptive help that many organizations need to make the vision a reality.

Appian takes a much more direct approach to your digital transformation. We offer both the framework and the tools needed to maximize the success of your transformation initiative. And we do so in a way that cuts out the complexity and distills all of the often confusing terminology into something much more manageable. We recommend a “discover, design, and automate” approach with the Appian Low-Code Platform as the means of executing your strategy.

  • Discover: Use technology—rather than manual and error-prone methods—to determine where there is opportunity for improvement, such as eliminating bottlenecks or duplicate effort within your processes. Process mining technology can help you zero in on inefficiencies so you can better address them.
  • Design: Create workflows that maximize the skills of both your human and digital workers, so you can be sure every task is being assigned to the most suitable worker. Designing the most efficient workflows is made easier with Appian’s innately user-friendly process modeling capabilities.
  • Automate: Apply automation technologies to the tasks where they’ll have the most impact. By orchestrating your people, processes, and technologies, you’ll eliminate the overlap, gaps, and interoperability issues that can arise when you lack a coordinated approach to digital transformation.

Appian is designed to serve as a central process, data, and application hub where businesses can integrate diverse, new, and 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 that he or she 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 govern and communicate your digital transformation framework within the platform itself, thereby achieving even greater transparency and control.

Whichever framework you choose to follow, however, you'll want to tweak the strategy for your specific needs. Once you've chosen the technology strategy that works best for you, it becomes a matter of enacting the policies and practices that 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.

Learn more about the ways low-code can drive a successful digital transformation in the Appian Low-Code Guide.