Many definitions of digital transformation are extremely broad, suggesting that it requires bringing a digital-first approach to all parts of a business, or true business model change. But many professionals whose mandate includes digital transformation are lacking the authority within their organizations to undertake enterprise-wide change – let alone the resources.
While it may be true that digital transformation – once complete – impacts a business as a whole, defining it in this way at the start of the process is stultifying, making it appear that any smaller changes can’t constitute transformation because their individual impact is too insignificant. The impact of many such smaller changes together, however, may well add up to organization-wide transformation over time.
Don’t Boil the Ocean – All at Once
If you are someone whose role within an organization involves digital transformation, and you don’t have the authority to initiate an enterprise-wide initiative, where do you start?
Most people working in business or law have heard the phrase “don’t boil the ocean”, suggesting that rather than tackle a large project all at once you should break it down and approach it in manageable steps. It’s also true, however, that spending some time to understand the bigger picture before delving into narrower initiatives can pay dividends down the track.
In spite of your perceived lack of authority on the business as a whole, there is value before undertaking any digital transformation initiative in performing thorough discovery exercises to understand the way that relevant departments operate, and to start to build support and momentum towards a broader initiative. Understanding what systems are in place and where they are being used in other parts of the business, for example, will ensure that you don’t replicate efforts or duplicate technology investments in your own department. Understanding how data and information travel between systems (or where those connections are lacking but necessary), will give you better insights into what initiatives your team could undertake that might have impact beyond your own department. By engaging in these discussions, you will also build support amongst a network of stakeholders that might enable you to amplify your influence in the organization and generate additional inter-departmental resources to support your projects.
Making an impact
While undertaking discovery and understanding the systems and data landscape of your organization is important before commencing any digital transformation initiative, this doesn’t mean that those efforts must be similarly broad.
Instead, consider what parts of the organization you and your team are able to directly impact, and what the most important needs are in that area. Instead of buying a fancy technology system because it is high in the hype cycle and promises to achieve digital transformation, look at the business needs that are of highest strategic priority to the organization. In particular, look for:
- Processes that are manual, unnecessarily onerous, and causing frustration.
- Areas where there are “too many cooks”, in other words there are so many hand-offs within the same process as to make it needlessly complicated.
- Processes around which there is confusion, or where efforts are being duplicated.
- Areas where work-arounds have been developed because there is no system in place to support a necessary process.
- Areas where it would save time and improve decision-making if data was connected, but system integrations are unavailable or haven’t been built.
- Areas of low efficiency or realization, or pockets of unprofitability.
- Parts of the organization from which repeated complaints are made to leadership, or where an unusually high number of calls are made to IT support or the organization’s help desk.
In identifying the right project to take on, consider whether:
- You have the ability to instigate and drive an initiative of this kind;
- The initiative is linked to the strategic goals of the business and your department;
- The project is high value and will provide a meaningful return on investment; and
- You have the resources (both financial and human) to tackle this project now.
Your aim is to identify the right initiative through which you can realistically drive digital transformation from your position within the organization and in light of the broader context of the organization. Only once you have selected this initiative should you consider whether new technology is necessary at all, and if it is, what work must be done before selecting the relevant technology in order to ensure that the organization is ready to onboard that technology.
Watch out for the next edition of LTH Insights for more practical guidance on digital transformation in legal practice.