How to transition from digital transformation to digital acceleration
In part one, we shared two examples illustrating how new technologies can take years or even decades to reach their full transformational potential. To avoid the same pitfall with digital transformation, we believe companies need to switch paradigms from digital transformation to digital acceleration.
The benefits of digitally native approaches
Digital transformation has mostly, for now, been about bringing existing analog (or on-premises) processes to the cloud by replicating one-to-one on the cloud what used to be done by humans, on paper, with Excel spreadsheets, or on legacy software.
The 2020-2021 pandemic forced every company on the planet to digitize many processes. However, those digital transformations were often unexpected or, at minimum, very accelerated. The limited amount of time companies had to achieve those transformations meant they mostly digitized existing processes instead of genuinely transforming them. Instead of digitally native processes, most companies are essentially using an electric piece of equipment where the steam-powered one was or are still designing their dashboards for an ICE cars world.
Companies need to switch from a digital transformation paradigm to a digital acceleration one to truly reap the benefits of all digital processes and augment humans in their day-to-day work. Only then will they reach the potential business value of digital transformation. They must refrain from stopping at only migrating a process to the cloud. They must reimagine the why, what, and how of each process. And they must rethink, reboot, and rebuild to optimize those processes and take full advantage of this new paradigm.
If left alone, as history taught us, it could take years, if not decades, for those advanced digitally native solutions to be implemented across business processes, industries, and companies. Therefore, companies need to be more intentional and switch from digital transformation to digital acceleration. It’s not about digitally transforming your company – that’s a given – but rather how to accelerate this transformation.
Of course, not all processes in all companies will attain the nirvana of the digitally optimized processes immediately. They will fall along the spectrum of transformation as depicted and described further in this diagram and blog post.
Beginning with the end in mind
Customers that fully embrace the concept of digital acceleration by rethinking their processes to leverage all the potential benefits of a digitally native business process will achieve a far more significant return on investments than those that don’t.
However, it does not mean that every project needs to be a massive undertaking that will demand years to achieve an ideal ROI positive state. It means that companies need to take a good look at their processes and, as Stephen Covey wrote, that they “begin with the end in mind,” not with the first step of moving to the cloud alone.
For instance, a health insurance company was using a manual process to check for claim underwriting. A simple digital transformation would have meant migrating claim storage to the cloud. Claim underwriters would still manually and randomly check claims for frauds. However, the customer wanted to improve this process dramatically, so they did not stop at that.
The project started with this relatively simple cloud migration step. But it did not end there. The Neal team then integrated NLP and developed a Machine Learning (ML) model to automatically identify potentially fraudulent claims and spot those that could indicate a patient was not using all the coverage they were entitled to. By doing this, the claim auditing coverage went from a few percent to 100%. It also improved employees’ job satisfaction as the grinding work of parsing potentially false claims from genuine ones was outsourced to the ML models.
At Neal Analytics, we often start digital acceleration engagements by conducting extensive multi-days cross-functional assessment workshops to help define which projects can and should start first and where they should aim to go eventually. It is often a crawl-walk-run approach that can lead to several parallel projects spanning multiple years. However, companies can achieve this ultimate goal by starting with the end in mind and being deliberate about the steps to take at a process level. This approach makes it possible to accelerate both individual processes and company-level transformations significantly.
Technology is an enabler, not a solution
Often, digital transformation leaders can fall into the pitfall of assuming the technology alone will suffice to transform their company by creating so much value and being so visible that all the other elements will then fall into place on their own.
Far from that.
To succeed in switching from individual digital transformation initiatives to digital acceleration, leaders need to pay at least as much attention to three critical business-centric elements: Business model, digital culture, and incentives.
Business model innovation
In addition to tools and processes, companies could re-invent how they engage their customers by redesigning how they monetize the interactions and the value they provide.
Leveraging digitally native business processes almost always open the door to business model innovations from pricing to delivery, packaging, churn reduction, segmentation, and more.
People need to embrace the digital culture
Executives should aim to create a digital culture that embraces the new capabilities and the value of data. For instance, people and departments who exemplify the digital acceleration outcomes should be celebrated and rewarded accordingly to send a clear message about what behavior will mean career success for employees at all levels.
Incentives drive behavior
Humans conduct themselves for self-preservation and monetary benefits. Therefore, it is vital to link incentives to the company’s digital aspirations. Well-designed incentives will accelerate people’s transition to a digitally accelerated company.
How should one think about switching their approach from digital transformation to digital acceleration?
First and foremost, executives need to embrace that this acceleration implies a long-term commitment throughout the organization and across departments and levels. They need to embrace the digitalization and optimization of virtually every business process in the company.
Then, companies need to carefully pick the most urgent, impactful, and achievable projects and do so with appropriate milestones that can demonstrate clear business outcomes at each step.
Eventually, this transformation will become a business-as-usual process where every new or existing business process is constantly reevaluated using the lens of what the latest technology solution could potentially mean for both its “how” and its “what.”
Whether the result is advanced dashboarding and reporting to get a better pulse of the business in real-time, improved forecasting with machine learning algorithms, or new business opportunities using the most advanced AI technologies, such as deep reinforcement learning, technology will always remain a means to an end. Those technology choices, however, can dramatically change what the end capabilities can be.
If you are wondering how to get started in your own company, feel free to reach us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Our experts can help you through proven methods and multi-disciplinary and cross-functional workshops to help identify and select where to start and what those longer-term end goals could be for each project.