Future Proofing Digital Transformations - Where Do The Answers Lie?
Large scale digital transformation projects.
Massive cost… Massive timelines…
Massive waste of time?
No, that’s far too negative.
Large-scale digital transformation projects are often billed as an “exciting opportunity” for IT Architects. Perhaps, for C-level IT professionals, they were once thought of as a satisfying way to spend 2 - 3 years of your professional life; seeing a business critical project through from concept to delivery.
But with a widely reported (McKinsey) 70% failure rate you could be forgiven for having trepidatious or even pessimistic thoughts at any stage of the process.
The reality of a large transformation project, as described by ITWeb, is that “it makes sense on paper, yet implementation falls short, resulting in wasted time and resources, finger-pointing and diminishing faith in digital investments.”
Success metrics have evolved (sometimes with the times, sometimes lagging behind them), and unfortunately milestones-reached and milestones-missed aren’t always a reliable indication of whether a project will be an overall success or failure.
This leaves IT Architects in increasingly uncertain situations and therefore impacts their ability to fully buy-in to the overall vision which was set at C-level.
"It is conceivable that the technology
has moved so far forward... the solution
is not needed anymore." - Mike Ettling
A 2014 study done by Oxford University’s Saïd Business School found that 1 in 6 ICT projects go ~200% over budget.
In 2016, Forbes revealed that reportedly 84% of Digital Transformations fail. In 2022 as reported by The Drum, a cross reference of research done by McKinsey, BCG, KPMG and Bain & Company found the risk of failure to be somewhere between 70% and 95%.
There are of course success stories and the demand for businesses to keep up with technological advancements is not slowing, quite the opposite.
As the CEO of Rocket Software Milan Shetti said on CIO, “in order to meet ever-changing customer demands, it’s critical that companies understand why and how to successfully modernise their tech stacks.”
The reason why IT transformations have failed in the past is put down to 3 things by ITWeb, and it’s described as The Gap: “the distance between the technology investment vision, technology trends and enterprise architecture strategy.”
"Trying to learn the lessons of failed transformations
has been considered the linchpin of future
Digital transformations could be considered future proofing tools for businesses. But when the future becomes increasingly unpredictable and unrecognisable from the current, it is hard to keep up with the pace of change.
As remarked upon in the Forbes article with Unit4 CEO Mike Ettling, ‘It is conceivable that the technology has moved so far forward in the time the project has taken that the original purpose has been superseded and the solution is not needed anymore.’
That scenario is a hard one to learn a lesson from. And with the scarce ability to handover with each individual during a project or to retrospectively seek answers from those involved - learning the lessons from past projects is an uphill struggle.
Trying to learn the lessons of failed transformations has been considered the linchpin of future transformation success. But if the situation is unlikely to ever be replicated and time has moved on then perhaps a more forward thinking approach is required.
Tackle the potential problems of the future whilst simultaneously tackling the current reasons for digital transformation.
Instead of being guided by vision, be guided by a realistic and true view of the technical ability and limitations of the team.
Embark on a project with an expectation that an industry disrupter is just around the corner. And question if and how it could be overcome.
Large scale digital transformation projects are not a waste of time. They are essential to modernisation and (hopefully) improved customer experience.
But trying to find out why projects fail by looking at a past that’s unrecognisable, is untenable and calls for a new approach.