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3 Biggest Things on the Minds of Digital Transformation Leaders Right Now

Strategy   |   Steve Brodrick   |   Apr 24, 2023

I recently spent a day in a room with 30 digital transformation leaders. These are change-makers, digital transformation leaders representing a dizzying array of industries, from banks and healthcare companies to upstart rideshare services and even the US military. Unsurprisingly, these people have a lot on their minds. If you’ve ever wanted to be a fly on the wall in a setting like that or if you have an interest in how tech is shaping the future of business–read on! 

The OPEX Week World Summit offered deep dives on timely topics like change management, process design, transformation strategy, and operational excellence. I was there to share the Alteryx story around how analytics and automation can accelerate those efforts. During many far-reaching conversations that day, a few themes emerged.  

Every forward-thinking company is in the midst of a digital transformation. Their leaders are seeking to unlock the power of analytics to create value and drive transformation. Some companies are farther along the path than others but they all share challenges and realities. Against what seems like a constant backdrop of economic uncertainty, companies are trying to find the right balance between speed and control. They are trying to survive in the short term while steadily laying the groundwork that will help them thrive in the long term. 

How are the best companies doing this? I have some thoughts. 

1: Digital Transformation – It’s Not Just About Technology 

We’re all guilty of pretending that digital transformation is only about technology. It is, of course, to a large extent but to focus too much on the tech ignores the larger picture. It ignores two things: people and process. How so? Let’s put it this way: the best technology in the world can’t help you create effective change if your people aren’t on board and your processes aren’t aligned.  

The leaders I chatted with came back to this theme again and again. Yes, now is the time to prioritize turning data into insight. But it’s also the right moment to begin on a parallel track communicating expectations to your teams (much more on change management in a bit) and do some business process optimization to ensure your entire organization is aligned to support and maintain the changes you’re intent on making.  

2: Building Resilience During a Downturn 

In challenging times, very few companies focus on the things that will make them better coming out of it. It can be done but you have to have strategies that don’t just produce short-term results they build resilience.  

Coming out of COVID and dancing on the edge of a recession, you can easily see how a “thrive vs. survive” mentality takes hold for some. And while it’s obviously important to survive the many short-term challenges we face, we must always be building for a future in which we thrive. As a result, the idea of building resilience becomes critical.  

When we are in a survive mindset, we tend to focus on what’s right in front of us. Unfortunately, this may not be the same thing that determines our long-term health. It’s just as important to keep taking a long view and crafting strategies that are focused on building resilience. 

We can do things that create value now but we are wise to understand that sustaining those things involves changing processes and transforming the way we approach things. 

How do we move from survive to thrive? We can leverage tools like Alteryx that create value now, but creating sustainable value involves not just automating something that was clunky yesterday but really changing the process to transform it.  

Not just bringing data together but creating new ways of working. 

To build resilience, we must look at digital transformation as a deliberate, long-term initiative. It’s very hard to engage teams when something is a priority in a fleeting moment and then fades away. 

Resilience cannot live in one department – in one silo. It should be connected to a broad, consistent company quest. Of course, the role of analytics and data in building resilience cannot be overstated. As you consider how you are making decisions now and how you wish to make them in the future, listen to your data. 

3: Change Management = People Management 

Though talking to fellow leaders about what most often defines the success (or failure) of a broad digital transformation effort, two things stand out.  

The first is correctly anticipating the impact of change on people at every level within your organization.  

The second is winning support from senior leadership. Nail one of these but not the other and you are likely to fall well short of your goals.  

Anticipating the Impact of Change on People 

One thing that sometimes gets overlooked when we talk about transformational change? The individual people that comprise an organization.

Understanding the human psyche is a huge part of understanding how to manage the change you are implementing. And understanding how different people react to the same changes can be the difference between success and failure.

As a leader, you must be empathetic while sticking to strategies for bringing people along. You need to create an environment of inclusion and understanding, one that acknowledges people’s perspectives are often different. 

Being tuned into the impact of change management matters at every juncture of a transformation – from initial awareness to full adoption and then consistent advocacy. Culture is important here. I heard a cautionary tale from someone who worked at NASA at the time of the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster. While processes were followed leading up to the launch, engineers who had concerns about the O-rings (the eventual cause of the explosion) didn’t feel psychologically safe raising them.  

Winning Support from Senior Leadership 

Senior leadership support is critical to have, both from a buy-in perspective and because a commitment to what you’re doing can often unlock sources of funding. Without this type of support, it’s very difficult for your people to do the testing, learning and innovating they need to do to drive transformational change.   

I learned a lot of lessons in the years I had the opportunity to lead transformation Stanley Black & Decker. (I was an Alteryx customer when I was there, and the company executed a multi-year $500M value roadmap centered on driving performance resiliency. This was underpinned by data and analytics and influenced by automation, data integration & modeling from Alteryx, and other technology enablers.)

Based on my experience driving digital transformation at SB&D, I think the most sensible place to start is with the group of people who are closest to the data. Talk to them. Make them ambassadors for what you are doing before while you build support with senior leadership.  

There you have it. Hopefully, my takeaways from a day spent with leading change agents spark some ideas as you lead your own digital transformation.