Why Do Digital Transformation Projects Fail?

When a business’s dated technology stack starts stifling innovation and hindering growth, it’s time to undergo digital transformation.

But while around 80% of businesses are in the process of digital transformation, it’s been shown that one in seven big and complex change programs fail to reach their goals.

So why is digital transformation so challenging to get right?

For one, people often mistake digital transformation as being just a technical exercise, but in reality, it has to incorporate process changes built on a cultural shift. If there’s one thing we know about technology, culture and process, it’s that they are intrinsically linked. If one isn’t given focus, the others will suffer.

Let’s explore some of the most common factors that can make digital transformation projects fail.

Culture is ignored

Culture is key. If you want digital transformation to succeed in your organisation, culture is the foundation of its success. Culture is the shared values and beliefs that guide people’s behaviour within any business. Culture helps define how teams work together and make decisions on a day-to-day basis – and it can completely erode your digital transformation efforts if ignored.

When change is perceived as a passing fad rather than a critical, ongoing process, business leaders might launch a few initiatives but never go far enough.

When you’re trying to change something at your company that’s deeply entrenched in tradition and history, like how it does business, the words “digital” and “transformation” can be met with scepticism.

But a commitment from everyone in your organization is necessary for long-term success – otherwise any change will be temporary at best and confusing at worst.

When digital transformation is seen as just the IT team’s job, they’ll be tasked with implementing specific technologies while the rest of the organization keeps doing what they’ve always done. This sets you up for failure because technology is only one part of the puzzle. Remember, digital transformation also needs a change in culture and processes, which IT can’t do alone.

Changes in culture start with the senior members of your business – particularly the CEO and CTO. The CEO, for obvious reasons, has a large amount of sway and influence throughout the organization. The CTO also has influence but needs to be seen as a technical leader, inspiring belief in the choices the business makes.

No CTO can be up to speed on every cutting-edge technology, so sourcing expertise to support with governance and decision-making can be a great help in winning hearts and minds.

Communication is poor

Whenever we help customers with digital transformation, we ask them to be fully transparent with stakeholders from across the business and to bring them into the process. It’s not even about having input from every direction, but about showing everyone that you’re serious about this, that they should be aware of it, and that they should embrace it – because it is coming.

If a convincing vision isn’t communicated clearly by leadership, employees won’t see the relevance or benefits. There is some basic guidance that if you follow can make a massive difference in getting everyone’s buy-in and encouraging them to take on the change.

  • Communication must be clear, frequent and authentic
  • It must flow both ways between leadership and employees
  • It must be respectful to those affected by the change

When buy-in from the team is assumed and not directly sought, key parts of the business will function like their own silos where people don’t see how their work fits into the larger picture.

As a result, the team will resist change, feel disconnected from the overall strategy, have little sense of belonging or ownership in their organization’s mission, and feel like what they’re doing has no impact. Not what you want.

Teams aren’t equipped with the right skills and training

Lack of skills and training can also pose a threat to the success of your digital transformation efforts. When new technology is introduced, it’s crucial that team members are given appropriate training and guidance on not only how to use them, but also on how to make the most out of them.

Enabling your team shouldn’t be treated as a one-off “tick-box” exercise. It should be ongoing and evolve according to the needs of the business and team members. You’re also more likely to see the training successful by making it active, engaging, and tailored to the audience.
Finally, it’s crucial to educate team members on not just the how, but also the why, and to highlight the individual-level incentives to change.

Legacy transformation doesn’t happen overnight, and even the most powerful, state-of-the-art tools are useless unless your employees know how to use them.

When driving digital transformation initiatives, you should make people feel empowered, not burdened.

You can’t sprint to digital transformation

Corny as it might sound, digital transformation is a journey, not a destination. It’s a continuous process, and the work involved in keeping it going can sometimes seem overwhelming. You might find yourself questioning your vision and whether it’s even possible to achieve it. But if you want to succeed, you can’t give up.

Many legacy transformation projects fail because companies try to go it alone and spread themselves too thin.

Changing the culture, processes, and technology inside your business all at once without experienced help is a recipe for disaster.

In the age of Digital Darwinism, only those who evolve will make it.

Reach out to us for help. Don’t go it alone, do make it happen.

With over 2000 projects under our belt assessing, advising on, and building technology for growing businesses, we are experts in digital transformation. Whether you are looking to get started with change, or need support with an existing project, get in touch with our team of experts.

Also in Intechnica


Get in touch with our technology experts.

Talk To Our Team