The most important question in digital transformation--why?

Richard Lord, global head of enterprise applications, Publicis GroupePublicis GroupeAnchor is now well into our digital transformation journey as a team, coming up to two years driving this important change. Our program is like most others in that we are rethinking how we provision applications, data, services, communities, connections, knowledge and collaboration around the world. It’s also a little different, as the structures, dynamics and operations of the businesses we serve are a little unique.

There is plenty to write about the science and art of driving digital transformation. We are working with businesses of all sizes, in over a hundred countries, on everything from the underlying application infrastructure to the end user experience. We’ve already seen things which have had success beyond our expectations, and we’ve had to go round-the-block on a couple of things as well. It is all part of the iterative approach that successful digital transformation requires. I want to start though with what I believe is one of the most important foundations you need for successful digital transformation.

Where activities and programs are most successful, they have all had one important element in common. Every successful program has started with a clear understanding of why the digital transformation effort is being undertaken.

Too often, we see digital transformation initiatives getting kicked off for the wrong reasons. In some cases, it will be the “conference effect” where a business leader has seen a technology on show and is convinced that this will resolve current operational challenges. In some cases, it can be the “shiny new toy” effect, where the hype and media noise around a new technology drives some business leaders to be convinced that that they need that new technology now. In some of the more challenging cases, it can be “FONHI” (Fear Of Not Having It!), where the conversation usually goes along the lines of:

“We must implement this awesome new tool / technology urgently!”


“Because we don’t have this awesome new tool / technology!”

In all these examples, the conversation starts with the end solution. In my experience, this is a surefire way to end up with a project which will struggle to succeed.

For any digital transformation initiative to be successful, you will need to stand back from the end solution and ask one fundamental question first – Why? What is the driver for the change that you seeking to achieve from your digital transformation? Are you trying break the nexus between location and work? Are you trying to increase the effectiveness of your teams by enabling better collaboration? Are you trying to liberate knowledge and information in your business? Are you looking to save money? Drive competitive advantage? Deliver services in a new way?

It is important that the business has a clear sense of the drivers behind the digital transformation, and that this is known by, shared with and committed to by the whole team. This includes the people in the business and those who will deliver the technology. A shared sense of understanding, and a commitment to deliver the "why" are strong foundations for a successful digital transformation initiative.

Doing digital transformation right means some big changes. To be successful, your program will force changes in the way your company sees and manages data, people and their roles, and the way that you deliver applications and services to them. Successful digital transformation is not about putting a web / mobile interface over existing applications and processes. It’s about rethinking the way that the business works, leveraging new opportunities in connected systems… but that’s for another time.

Richard Lord is the Global Head of Enterprise Applications for advertising and public relationships company Publicis Groupe. Leading a global team delivering world class technology to businesses in over 100 countries, Richard is based in Hong Kong and his remit includes digital transformation. Richard is veteran of the digital industry, having started his first online tech company in Australia in 1993.