Effective transformation requires talent, technology and time

Digital transformation needs to be a carefully thought-out process with an organisation’s people at the core, says Workday.
By: | July 30, 2020

By Rob Wells, President of Workday, Asia.

Far from being the year of hindsight, 2020 has quickly become a watershed moment as the world looks uncertainly to the future. The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic has caused unprecedented disruption to global supply chains, with many governments and businesses reeling in its wake.

If necessity is truly the mother of invention, then the concept of digital transformation has now, more than ever, been elevated as the solution for the pandemic-driven problems faced by the world.

This is exemplified in the headline findings of the recently conducted Workday Digital Agility Index, a comprehensive analysis of digital agility in Asia Pacific which looks at the sentiments of 900 senior business and C-suite leaders in 9 countries across the region. In South-East Asia and Hong Kong, three-quarters (75%) say they have been negatively impacted by COVID-19 and as a result, almost nine in ten (89%) have made digital transformation a top priority for their organisations.

Indeed, there is an amusing if not poignant image which has made the rounds on social media to this effect. It quite plainly asks the reader: Who has led the digital transformation efforts of your company?

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Digital transformation – How to get there?

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many companies are now able to see the benefits of digital transformation with a renewed perspective. However, as the momentum for digital transformation reaches critical mass, it is important that we take a step back and remember just how difficult true transformation is to attain, and what it takes for companies to effectively and meaningful transform, beyond just employing a stopgap measure to deal with the current crisis.

This is because the efficacy of digital transformation hinges on three main factors – talent, technology and time. Effective and meaningful transformation requires 1) the buy-in from management and its talent; 2) adequate technological and infrastructural investment; and 3) both technology and talent to be integrated gradually and seamlessly over an extended period of time.

COVID-19 has drastically changed the world of work overnight, with businesses needing to re-evaluate new ways of working in order to ensure their people’s health and safety in the “new normal”.

Many companies, whose hands were forced by COVID-19, scrambled to initiate continuity and implement measures such as telecommuting or migrating core systems online. These measures, while moderately effective, do not paint the full picture.

Almost half (45%) of organisations in South-East Asia and Hong Kong are not able to adapt their business processes in response to COVID-19, and 64% say that less than half of their people are equipped with digital skills. These figures truly highlight the scale of the challenge ahead.

Firstly, managing talent and bringing teams safely through adversity is a delicate task for any leadership team. Change often fails because it is not driven from the senior management team and not demonstrated through the vision of top talent to the rest of the organisation.

In the context of a pandemic, this demands courage from companies to realise that business cannot continue as usual. This demands the conviction to challenge the status quo, instilling a forward-looking culture that embraces technology, people and change.

Contrary to popular belief, it is really people and not technology that must come first for digital transformation to succeed. Yet, Workday’s findings have found that 80% of organisations in South-East Asia and Hong Kong do not view talent as an important strategic advantage, with over two-thirds (68%) disregarding the employee experience when it comes to enterprise-wide decision-making.

This should not be the case, as adequate training and due consideration for employee experiences are absolutely necessary in ensuring that your talent is on-board and buying-in to your vision of transformation.

Secondly, over the past decade, the emergence of new technologies has been especially profound, with IoT, blockchain, AI and machine learning being some of the more prominent new innovations that are making great steps in the enterprise environment. This has really helped to push the boundaries for how organisations can utilise technology to improve productivity and engagement.

However, while our technological capabilities have evolved with some degree of complexity; the truth is that many companies have been unable to keep up with this evolution.

Workday’s research illuminates this discrepancy clearly – only a quarter (25%) of organisations in South-East Asia and Hong Kong are operating with a single enterprise-wide technology platform. The reality is that many companies currently find themselves with significant technical debt and it is no surprise that they will then feel the full brunt of disruption brought about by a crisis.

Faced with the bleak reality of sink or swim in a COVID-19 world, many companies unfortunately get weighed down by legacy processes and systems that are cumbersome, difficult to change and disparate – the anathema of digital transformation.

Rather, to survive, companies must become digitally agile and shake off the constraints of such archaic systems. This is where the transformative power of technology can really shine – with many modern technologies and platforms providing extensive analytics and comprehensive dashboards to support management decisions.

Digital transformation is for the long-term

It is important to remember that without leveraging people’s support and adaptability, the most brilliant and innovative technologies will ultimately be cast by the wayside. Technology alone is just a means to an end, and without people driving a vision of change, digital transformation is almost doomed to fail.

Finally, we must recognise that meaningful transformation does not take place overnight and it certainly cannot happen on a whim. It is a gradual process that requires significant time and effort from all stakeholders involved.

Companies who wish to harness the full potential of digital transformation should remember that the process is intrinsically forward-looking and designed to future-proof businesses against unforeseen risks and uncertainties. The mindset of trying to “return to normal” is not necessarily the right mentality to adopt.

Rather, these companies should focus on how they can become more digitally agile, inculcate an environment that embraces technological change, and plan for future recovery and growth in what many have called the “new normal”.

After all, given time, even a once-in-a-lifetime event on the scale of COVID-19 will hopefully come to pass and eventually be a hallmark for the tumultuous year of 2020. However, the lessons that we learn in managing change and the actions that we undertake to accelerate digital transformation, will stay with us for many years to come.