How to Get Past Today’s Problems to Solve Tomorrow’s

Digital transformation describes the process where – in theory – companies change their business practices and models to take advantage of new opportunities and stay ahead of their competitors, writes Bryan Kirschner, Vice President Strategy at DataStax. However, COVID-19 spurred many companies to take a hard look at digital and cloud-native approaches in order to survive during, and fight back after, the pandemic.

Companies instituted mass work from home policies, changed from in-store to online ordering, and made changes to how they operate. Microsoft’s Satya Nadella described this as two years’ worth of work, achieved in the space of two months. These projects were delivered as fast as possible, so they put the emphasis on what would work right now, rather than long term consequences.

The challenge now is that those initial decisions – taken under pressure and with short-term goals in mind – are now becoming long term ones. If we do not examine them now, then they become entrenched patterns for the future. This should always be a conscious decision.

This doesn’t mean that you should not make changes at scale and quickly. In fact, these kinds of big events can mean there is no option, but to make changes and forge ahead. However, there are three mindset requirements that should be in place as you transition from making the most of a bad situation to operating as an increasingly digital, cloud-native organisation.

Conviction, not consensus

Traditional change management approaches focus on how to deliver successful outcomes over time. They start with goals, go through process updates and building consensus, and pull teams along so that everyone supports the change.

In the current climate, we don’t have the time to achieve this consensus. Secondly, this incremental approach to change normally faces resistance from those internally that raise objections or point out potential problems. These objections may be valid – for example, using data in a different way that does not currently have customer approval. However, many of these changes can be subjective assertions of “what we think customers want”  instead.

In the current climate, encourage decisions based on conviction that customers will embrace new digital experiences that are delivered with their interests and values in mind.

What is needed here is a change in mindset around leadership – rather than a single decision, this approach requires a willingness to experiment, to commit where successes are found, and to embrace failure with learning. It does require an overall plan and vision, but adaptation along the way is part of the overall journey. Most decisions are reversible ones that can be tested with customers and stakeholders and changed, so we have to recognise this in our thought processes too.

The current COVID-19 situation is an example of where conviction is needed due to the situation involved – making changes in this current economic environment means having that vision, sticking to it, but not being afraid to make changes along the way.

Urgency is a good thing – use it

Alongside conviction, it is important to instill a sense of urgency within a team. Taking a slow and steady approach to change can seem reasonable, particularly in larger companies that have employees in multiple business units or locations around the world. However, this can also be a reason why urgency is required.

Making any kind of change can take time, but it also requires that actions take place. Too often, these projects can be put off or delayed simply because they involve longer timescales. The question “Why start today” should be replaced by saying “What is stopping you?”

A good example of this is Target in the US – the retailer had a team of 10,000 mostly outsourced IT professionals that covered a range of internal infrastructure and applications. In 2017, they decided that this approach would not be suitable for the future, and instigated a mass shift to internal software development teams that numbered around 4,800 people.

This earlier change meant the retailer could urgently make any changes when situations demanded. The result when COVID-19 hit? The company was able to flex its IT strategy and support more online ordering and buying – the firm saw purchases spike by 282 percent in April 2020, and that growth has not slowed down since.

Ambition is important

The last digital mindset change needed is around ambition. For many projects, it can be easy to settle for smaller goals that can be converted into wins quickly, which prove the project approach is the right one. Over time, these little victories can count towards a bigger overall objective.

However, these victories can themselves become the focus. Rather than looking at a larger goal that is ambitious and market-changing, smaller projects can become less about making a difference and more about risk avoidance. This is a subtle change that is important to avoid. It makes choosing to aim high and be ambitious feel risky by comparison. This can lead to underinvestment or scoping out services at lower levels over time, rather than being ready for growth or expansion.

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