Charting your digital transformation journey

Tony Barnes and Dena Moore
Charting your digital transformation journey

Originally featured on for Crowe BrandVoice.

If there was ever any doubt about the irreversible immersion in the digital economy, the COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated such by forcing people to learn, practically overnight, how to conduct much of their lives online. Although pandemic restrictions on our daily lives have eased, the acceleration of technology continues apace.

In this era of digital transformation, companies are under immense pressure to rethink their business models, embrace experimentation, and become more agile as they respond to the continual change that accompanies technology advancement. Adapting to change involves volatility, but with strong leadership and an openness to ongoing, incremental progress, companies can reap the benefits of a true digital transformation journey while keeping employee and customer satisfaction high.

Starting a digital transformation journey

At the outset, leaders need to contemplate the underlying purpose and goals of their digital transformation journey. Whether the goal is to incorporate more artificial intelligence (AI) and automation, to improve employee satisfaction or customer relations, to address operational inefficiencies, or something else entirely, setting a clear direction is an important first step. While this can sometimes be accomplished using internal resources, many leaders find that a third party can bring a valuable, impartial perspective on how to proceed.

Technology-based adaptations will look different for different industries and different companies, so while there are common threads between, say, a bank, a hospital system, and a metals manufacturing company, it’s important to start the thought process with an industry-specific lens.

Leaders should not be afraid to consult with others in their industry. A company’s approach to tech adoption is generally not proprietary, and people want to connect and share what is working well as they go through their own digital transformation journeys. Others likely are experiencing similar challenges, and colleagues up and down the supply chain, from suppliers to customers, can offer perspective that can influence a company’s approach.

From a tactical standpoint, it helps to have a small team within a company’s governing structure, with members that cut across the business who can take responsibility for implementing a digital transformation strategy and set parameters for the process.

Technology and the pandemic

The use of technology to enhance productivity and employee engagement is one example of a digital transformation that applies universally. Technology has been important in enabling working from home, but companies have had to play with how to use existing tech solutions in order to boost productivity and to keep teams engaged.

Changes to the manufacturing sector during the pandemic show how technology has upended both remote-work environments – such as for white-collar workers – as well as some of the workplace norms for people whose jobs could not be moved online.

When the pandemic started, people in back-office jobs in sales, procurement, and finance were suddenly working at home when doing so had never been considered an option before. Like so many other knowledge workers, these employees had to learn how to be successful in their jobs while working off-site. Cloud-based platforms from companies such as Salesforce and Microsoft were already in place for these employees, but companies had to reexamine their use cases and explore how the technology could be altered or expanded upon to better serve employees.

On the manufacturing floor, workers were still needed on-site to produce goods. However, these jobs changed during the pandemic as well. Some employees left their jobs out of fear of being exposed to COVID-19 at work; in other cases, workers were spread out to create social distancing. Technology was important in supporting operators, forklift drivers, and receiving dock employees, who had to work together to get material out the door.

Whereas the manufacturing sector has long prioritized initiatives focused on internal optimization – managing inventory, supply chain visibility, and delivering high-quality product – emerging technology solutions have put increased attention on improving the customer experience. From the ordering process to customer communications, companies today are using technology to make interactions smoother, less transactional, and more connected.

Champions of technology and a culture that welcomes feedback

Strong tech leadership can make companies more nimble and better able to adapt to continual change. As much as possible, leaders need to adapt to new processes and engage with technology in the same ways they’re asking of their teams. Leaders should be championing technology, even when they don’t have the same in-depth knowledge or are not as “in the weeds” with tech as members of their teams.

Consumers have come to expect that technology will be easy and seamless, and this principle applies in the workplace as well. The rise of Generation Z means that the next generation of workers are digital natives who grew up with the internet and smartphones. In today’s tight labor market, workers have a great deal of power, and that means employers can’t get away with pushing cumbersome processes and technology on their workforce.

As technology tools and requirements evolve, employees need to have opportunities to express their opinions and give feedback. Leaders should take this feedback seriously when evaluating systems and processes. This kind of continual feedback loop is good for employee relations and also smart for business, as employee feedback can help to provoke meaningful innovation.

There’s a growing recognition today of the importance of technology governance, where representatives from all areas of the business can review suggestions and make critical decisions together – not just from the top down. Good governance can enable companies to move faster and help them continually refine their approach to technology. When faced with difficult choices about how or whether to proceed with a new initiative, for example, a strong governance framework can facilitate solid decision-making.

Building tech for the future

Tension exists between deploying tech solutions that solve today’s problems and thinking about what will be needed in the years to come. Considering the rapid pace of change with technology, however, it’s important for leaders to remain flexible in their long-term planning. If an organization is embarking today on a fixed five-year journey, things will likely change by the 30-day mark, making the entire initiative moot. The path will twist and turn over time as the business, markets, and products evolve, so agility should be built into the plan.

Even while thinking longer-term, incremental steps can add up to tremendous progress over time. It is overwhelming to undertake a large, amorphous digital transformation journey, but leaders should remember that they don’t have to boil the ocean. Accepting that there will be unknowns and taking steps that make sense can help move business forward.

Related articles: Crowe digital transformation article series presented with Forbes

From data management to talent management, our specialists explain recent trends and provide ideas on how to make digital transformation work for your organization. See our articles, originally published on, to learn more.

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Tony Barnes
Tony Barnes
Principal, Microsoft Cloud Solutions Leader
Deena Moore
Dena Moore
Principal, Consulting