In today’s digital business landscape, if you aren’t innovating, you’re falling behind. The competition for a robust digital presence is fiercer than ever before, and companies across industries are looking for a leg up.

So how do you build and implement an effective digital transformation strategy that satisfies all of your stakeholders?

Aaron Duncan headshot

Aaron Duncan

There’s no easy answer, but Aaron Duncan, teaching assistant professor for the Daniels College of Business, said there are some simple ways to streamline the process. Duncan is an expert in digital transformation and teaches courses at the College that help students ideate, integrate and implement big ideas.

What is digital transformation strategy?

While it can be an overused and misunderstood term, Duncan defines a digital transformation strategy as “a long-term effort for organizations to create value for its rapidly evolving stakeholders.”

“At the crux of it, it’s about the idea of creating value and an opportunity to succeed for my organization and my customers,” he said. Depending on the industry, companies may look at integrating emerging technologies including AI, machine learning and augmented reality as part of their digital implementation strategy.

Global consultant McKinsey said that digital transformation is “critical for organizations to not only compete but survive.” It should also provide a competitive advantage for companies by deploying technology to improve the customer experience and lower costs.

Why is a digital transformation strategy important?

While companies have been implementing digital transformation strategies since the 1980s and 1990s, Duncan said the COVID-19 pandemic has been a catalyst for increased importance in this space.

“All of a sudden COVID-19 hit, we went deep into our technology, and that’s when it blew up,” he said of digital transformation. “Now we expect these organizations to be able to do this.”

“Customer needs changed, and organizations are creating new ways to meet them either through digitization (converting analog information into digital) or digitalization (adapting existing processes to new technologies),” he added. Companies most frequently embark on digital transformation to keep up with competition, make investors and customers happy, and stay on the cutting edge.

Four steps to implementing a digital business transformation strategy

There is no one-size-fits-all strategy for digital business transformation, but Duncan offers a few helpful tips to create an efficient and effective process for your business. Before you do anything, you must understand and account for the wide-ranging impacts that result from this process.

“You have to be able to bring process, people and culture along with it,” Duncan said.

1. Understand your business

Duncan’s first step in digital transformations starts with a comprehensive evaluation of your business. You might be a company that sells a service to your customers, but what does that really mean? What are you best at? What differentiates your offerings? Where are you weak?

These are just a handful of questions you should know the answer to before strolling down the road to digital transformation.

“Digital transformation is an opportunity to enhance what an organization does well by leveraging technology and people as value adds,” Duncan said.

2. Support your staff

“It’s a culture shift for management, and change is hard,” Duncan said about implementing these breakthrough technologies. So, he recommended that companies take it slow with their employees and support them throughout the process.

“Remember that these are tools and not transformative ways of replacing people,” Duncan said. “It’s there to serve the customer needs now and anticipate their needs in the future.”

Companies must give their staff ample time and opportunity to gain fluency with the new technology if they hope to succeed in their transformation.

3. Keep the end goal in mind

With competing interests often impacting business decisions, it can be easy to take your eye off the prize during a digital transformation journey.

Duncan said companies should continue to remind themselves of why they’re undergoing this transformation and what value they’re looking to gain from it. Along with that, they should remember to serve all of their internal and external stakeholders.

4. Don’t be afraid of failure

With changes like digital transformation bringing tremendous risk, Duncan said that companies can’t avoid this move out of fear.

“We struggle with the idea of change, and now we’re being told we have to change faster, be more adaptive and be okay to fail,” he said, adding that the primary hurdles include data privacy, lack of essential technology skills and insufficient resources to change.

“You need to embrace change, resilience and technology, as well as a bit of humility,” Duncan said.

Learn more about digital transformation

If you’re curious about emerging digital technologies and how to navigate them for your company or yourself, contact Duncan and consider a graduate certificate in digital transformation at Daniels.

The college provides two unique certificate offerings related to digital transformation, ensuring students learn more than just the basics. Instead, they leave with a deep understanding of effective digital transformation strategies and how to implement them in their work.