Digital transformation: what’s in a strategy?

Sarah Dearden

Sarah Dearden

Sarah is the UKI Regional CPO at Reapit, responsible for the definition and execution of Reapit’s UK product & GTM strategy.She has over 25 years’ experience working in the software and technology industry where she has held senior roles in a variety of technical and operational disciplines including product engineering & QA, digital transformation, delivery, strategic governance and change management. Sarah has a hands-on understanding of software businesses and their differing verticals with a heavy focus on helping teams to leverage facts and data to drive results through an outside in, “delivery first” approach.

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You’re aware of the business benefits of digital transformation. You understand the need for your estate agency to leverage technology to drive competitive advantage. You know that embracing digital change is a mission-critical necessity.

But how on earth do you get started?

The first step in embracing a digital culture is to define your strategy. A lot has been written about how to define and drive a strategy, but there are some fundamental principles that can act as a solid framework to guide you:

1. Outcome as a vision

The vision for your strategy should always come back to your desired outcome. You need to be able to articulate what are you trying to achieve, but more importantly why are you trying to achieve it. All other elements of your strategy, and associated workstreams, should align to your desired outcome.

But where does the vision come from? There’s no value in defining a strategy – regardless of how watertight it seems – that is completely at odds with your overall business plan. A good digital transformation strategy is clearly aligned to overall business objectives.

For example, your business plan may include an objective to break into a new or emerging market. To do this you need to free up bandwidth and expertise within your team. You may consider replacing manual operational tasks with digitised workflows, or provide technology based self-service functionality to your customers, taking the manual operational pressure off team members and enabling them to focus on discovery around the potential new opportunity.

When defining your outcome, consider the impact the programme will have on both your internal and external customers, and identify success measures to help you to understand how you’re progressing and to act as a trigger for pivoting your delivery approach if you need to (more on this later). 

2. Inspect > Learn > Adapt > Iterate

When defining your digital transformation strategy, you should consider how you’ll refine your offering, build improvements and facilitate the ability to pivot your approach to respond to changing business priorities or the ever-uncertain economic climate.

Digital transformation initiatives often fail first time around because businesses try to plan and perfect everything upfront. But it’s really difficult to predict what might happen in three or six months’ time, let alone what your world might look like 12–18 months from now. So build a transformation strategy that provides your business with a mechanism to pull levers at the right point in time to respond to the evolution of your business needs.

When defining your strategy, consider a minimum viable approach. Ask yourself what the minimum amount of change looks like to add an increment of value to your business. By breaking up your digital transformation strategy into increments of value, you give yourself the opportunity to assess the impact of each deliverable, refine or pivot your approach where needed, and in a worst-case scenario provide an opportunity for the business to pause before making any further investment depending on the outcome.

Following on from the earlier example of freeing up team members to work on other projects, if we break down the outcomes of this team based on their current roles, we can start to understand how we might carve up the digital transformation initiative to allow an opportunity to inspect > learn > adapt and iterate throughout the overall programme.

For example, the team might currently be responsible for logging customer requests, providing progress updates and monthly invoicing, but find that the customer request element is taking up most of their time. The overall vision for the digital transformation might be to digitise every element of the team’s work, but by ringfencing ‘logging customer requests’ as a discrete area to focus on initially, we can focus on this value-add area and deliver interim value ahead of completing the end-to-end transformation. 

Which leads us to the next point. When it comes to digital transformation…

3.'s not all or nothing

The need for human interaction and subject matter expertise doesn’t disappear when you embark on, and deliver, a digital transformation programme. Technology solutions should allow us to do more of the mundane with less, allowing businesses to focus their efforts on areas that really add value and set them apart as a differentiator. It’s well worth clearly articulating this in your strategy to foster engagement from the teams involved.

4. A plan on a page

When it comes to documenting your strategy, content quality over quantity wins every time.  Typically, you’ll need to get business buy-in and sign-off for any transformation initiative you want to embark on – and very few senior leaders or execs have the time or desire to review multiple-page documents to assess a strategy proposal! Two key recommendations when approaching the documentation of your strategy are ‘headlines first, detail in back pocket’ and ‘plan on a page’.

A good rule of thumb is to summarise your strategy and high-level approach on a one-page slide; a plan on a page. You should have the detail readily available to refer to and always know your data; if you show something on your plan, be prepared to talk to the detail.  

5. Digital doesn’t just mean IT

There’s a natural tendency to think about a digital transformation strategy in the context of a discrete IT or software deliverable, but businesses that think in this way when it comes to digital transformation programmes will typically fail. A successful digital transformation has clear and visible sponsorship from an executive perspective, and there is ownership for delivery throughout the entire business – for example with the definition of requirements and use cases from the subject matter experts in the business, right the way through to user acceptance testing. 

The role of the business outside of the IT department should be clearly articulated in your strategy, so that there’s a common understanding of roles, responsibilities and deliverables to support a successful outcome. 

Once you’ve got a clearly defined and approved strategy, it’s all about the execution. In our next blog post, we’ll focus on some key principles to help to set you up for success during the delivery phase of your digital transformation.

Learn more: Digital Transformation guide

Find out how Digital Transformation can help you identify and adopt the right technology to meet the changing needs of consumers.

Download our latest guide to learn more about benefits of digital transformation and tips on how to ensure a successful transformation process.

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