Ditch the large digital transformation programme and try a ground-up approach

Envitia’s CEO Nabil Lodey discusses four steps that could save time and cost when considering large digital transformation programmes.

How often are large digital transformation programmes actually successful? Of course, project sponsors and the suppliers delivering the programme will always claim success when it’s obvious to the internal organisation and external observers that the programme is a mess. For the last 20 years we’ve seen large IT programmes fail to deliver the ROI that was aligned to the original investment case and the same can now be seen with Digital & Data programmes. So is there a better way?

Below are 4-steps to try something different when considering a digital transformation programme:

Step 1: Business-First

Often a data initiative is either:

  1. Senior leadership “top down” mandate, 
  2. Tech looking for a problem to solve, or
  3. A “good idea” that builds momentum

These are all fine as the initial source for an initiative but should never deviate away from the business outcomes that the initiative will deliver.  Any data initiative needs to be prioritised around a business case with some clear and measurable outcomes that the leadership team and the accountable person (see below) signs up to delivering.

The business case and the measurable benefits should be open and transparent and shared across the organisation.  This transparency needs to be maintained throughout the initiative lifecycle so the organisation understands why it’s needed and can get behind it, throughout all the inevitable ups and downs.

For example, if an automation initiative will double productivity in 12 months to deliver to £4m revenue pa, at a cost of £500k, then the organisation should measure the productivity at the start, and at the end, so the organisation can see exactly how the business case has been met. The same with the cost of delivery.  

This sounds obvious but unfortunately many data initiatives are implemented and no-one wishes to revisit the original investment case for fear of embarrassment.  As they say: “Success has many parents, but failure is an orphan!”

Step 2: Have True Accountability

In principle (i.e., in the absence of exceptional circumstances) would someone lose their job if those business outcomes are not achieved? If not, then they’re not truly accountable and the organisation will simply bend to accommodate failure. 

These individuals need to be paid well and/or incentivised for holding that level of personal risk.  Only with true accountability will the person not just care about the outcome but will also care about every step of the journey along the way from process to suppliers, to the team working on the project.  

Step 3: Start small and build 

Any change will be difficult, and it is therefore worth the effort to work through the following steps:

  1. proof of concept – to demonstrate the initiative could work
  2. proof of value – to demonstrate the business value and build a business case to justify investment
  3. trial – to deliver on a small scale
  4. transition to scale – a staged approach to enterprise roll-out
  5. production – the final switch to an enterprise-level switch

Noting the Accountability requirement, from at (a) to (c) above – there should be a no-blame approach should the delivery not live up to expectations. It’s designed to fail fast and therefore save on enterprise level costs. 

The final sign-off is before (d) and, by then, the team needs to be enhanced with a broad range of subject matter experts including cultural change and communication, as well as the more traditional enterprise level integration skills. 

Step 4: Vendor-neutral work streams

Allowing suppliers to lock you into their technology or services is the worst thing a customer can do unless there is an incentivised contract that works for both parties. By creating work-streams that demand interoperability, using something like open data standards, a customer can maintain a competitive tension in the programme and have the benefit from multiple expert industry relationships.

If the business case has been completed correctly, there is no confusion when it comes to the value that each work-stream needs to deliver.  Industry can then innovate as suppliers know exactly what the customer is trying to achieve and why that is of value. This will move away from requirements-based procurements when no-one quite knows why the requirements were written or, even worse, when the written requirements won’t deliver the business value envisaged.

There are plenty of great examples of delivery in the public and private sector. This blog doesn’t aim to replace any processes around solution or product delivery just offering 4 simple steps that could save time and cost, whilst keeping the focus on operational challenges, opportunities, and strategy.

By Nabil Lodey

CEO of Envitia

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