The COVID-19 pandemic has fast-tracked digital transformation for many organisations, but this has presented businesses with a range of new challenges, explained AGSM @ UNSW Business School Adjunct Faculty Member Max Theseira, who recently spoke on a BusinessThink podcast

"I think that consumers are consuming more digitally than they ever have done before and employees are working more remotely than they've ever done before – our experiences during this pandemic will undoubtedly shape that new normal," explained Mr Theseira. 

In such an environment, he said all organisations must thoughtfully consider their approach to digital transformation, which is a lot more complicated than merely investing in new and exciting technologies. 

Understand what it means to be a 'digital business' 

It is essential to understand that a digital business helps solve customer problems and creates value through the application of data and emerging technologies, explained Mr Theseira.

"Broadly speaking, it's really about the use of data technology to unlock value for a particular target in your market… you could think of digital business as much more about being digital than using digital channels," he said. 

But 'being digital' is not separate to the identity of the organisation.  

"It's about how you think about new products and services, how you offer those to the market and what channels you use,” he added. 

“And so quite often, when I talk to people interested in this space, I talk more about being digital than trying to make digital happen in your organisation." 

Take the first steps toward digital transformation 

"A common mistake is to focus too early on technology,” Mr Theseira explained. 

“When you're thinking of digital transformation, whether you're starting from scratch or you already have some initiatives that you're trying to scale across your organisation, a good place to start is: what is the business problem that you're trying to resolve?” 

So, it is also essential for business leaders to try to cut through the noise surrounding digital transformation and sift out only the things that will be helpful, urged Mr Theseira.  

But business leaders must also be clear on their organisation's business strategy and desired direction before they can start utilising any technology in the process. 

Consider whether you are trying to drive efficiencies in your organisation, take costs out and drive new revenue streams, or perhaps explore adjacent industries and other markets.  

Questions like these are essential considerations, and what you decide will affect your organisation's digital transformation, added Mr Theseira. 

Recognise common mistakes 

Another area business often get wrong is to think of digital transformation as a side project, noted Mr Theseira. "What we are seeing is that companies have a better chance of being successful when they incorporate digital transformation into their core strategy," he said. 

So merely investing in technology alone is not enough to effect a successful digital transformation, because the solution to success is “more about business than it is about technology”, said Mr Theseira. 

Company culture, having the right mindset, management practices, and whether these enable people to be creative in the organisation – none of this should be overlooked. 

"If you don't focus on the softer aspects of the transformation, and just focus on the technology, you're unlikely to be able to reap the benefits of the investment that you're putting in place," said Mr Theseira. 

Importantly, business leaders should not go it alone. Mr Theseira suggested thinking about whether there is a potential partner in your market which could assist in offering new products and services digitally to your target audience. 

"Organisations that orchestrate ecosystems are the ones that are getting the most benefits from digital transformation," he added. 

Continue to educate yourself 

Data and technology are important to the digital transformation journey, what Mr Theseira called "the elastic infrastructures of moving things into the cloud, dealing with your legacy systems, data visualisation etc." – these are the accelerators that can increase speed to value.  

But there are also enablers: factors such as "leadership, culture, mindsets, the right environment for people to flourish in a digital world" that businesses cannot ignore, he said. 

According to Mr Theseira, several educational opportunities are dealing specifically with enabling people to think about digital transformation that offers "a deep dive" into some of the more technical elements. 

"There's a lot of noise out there, and one thing you could do is to come along to some of the courses that are being offered by the top tier institutions," said Mr Theseira. 

For the full article and podcast on How can business leaders accelerate digital transformation?, please visit the BusinessThink website.