Digital transformation is undeniably complex and often misunderstood. To look at why things go wrong for some firms, lets take a quick look at three high-profile examples of transformation - two failures and one new initiative. These highlight some common mistakes that senior executives make:

1. They think its a technology problem. Take the example of the BBC, in many ways a sophisticated digital player. Under Director-General Tony Hall’s leadership, the BBC’s digital assets, like iPlayer and Playlister, are helping propel the organization into the digital age. However in May 2013, the BBC axed a £100 million digital transformation. PwC, engaged to audit the failure, pointed to a “serious weakness in project management and reporting, as well as a crippling lack of focus on business change”. The BBC saw digital transformation as a technical problem, not a cultural transformation.

2. They can’t handle large-scale change. Take a look at the Co-op bank. In 2013 the bank cancelled a major transformation program, resulting in £300 million of investment being written off, adding to its already crippling capital shortfall. An independent report cited “destabilizing changes to leadership, a lack of appropriate capability, poor co-ordination, over-complexity, underdeveloped plans in continual flux and poor budgeting.” Managing large scale change is a tough task, one that many organizations struggle with.

3. They think they have all the answers internally. Take the example of the not-yet started transformation announced by Veronique Laury, CEO of European DIY chain Kingfisher. The firm has clear opportunities to increase both its digital customer experience and its operational excellence across its multiple brands. However, Laury defines her approach with the statement “I’m not talking about asking what the customers want, I’m telling them about what they need.” Bold, and potentially visionary, but the risk of excluding customer insight and feedback from the design process could result in a lot of money spent delivering experiences customers aren’t particularly clamoring for. Too many firms think they have all the answers. The pace of change in the digital world - your customers, your competitors and the capabilities of the technology - means that traditional approaches to large-scale change management just don’t work anymore. Instead, you must learn to embrace iterative, customer-centric innovation to enhance both your customer and your employee experience. This means managing change in a new way.

In our recent Brief, Audit Your Digital Transformation Efforts To Ensure Successful Delivery, we provide a best-practice framework to assess your digital transformation program structure. We address questions like How do you know if your team is set up for success? Do you have the right senior sponsorship and cross-functional governance in place? Have you developed the right assets, such as customer journey maps and capability maps, to secure buy-in to your plan from the wider organization? Is your CFO on board with the idea of developing prototype products to prove the value of digital transformation to skeptics?

I’ll be talking about exactly this subject at both The Next Web in Amsterdam on April 24, and at Forrester’s Forum for Marketing Leaders in London on April 30.

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