Why most CIOs are underprepared for digital transformations

CIOs underestimate digital transformations in these eight key ways


Digital transformations have the power to bring companies into the 21st century with higher efficiency, better products, and a more streamlined approach. But most CIOs end up underestimating the demands of this process or are otherwise underprepared to execute it.

A botched digital transformation sometimes means increased costs and delays, which prevent the digital transformation from taking hold quickly or efficiently. But in worse scenarios, they can compromise the integrity and function of your business, relying on an imperfect system to handle the majority of your internal processes.

So why is it that CIOs are underprepared for digital transformations, and what can you do to avoid these pitfalls?

They prepare for digital optimization instead of digital transformation

Some CIOs misunderstand the true meaning of digital transformation, and instead lean toward digital optimization—a related, but distinct concept. A digital transformation is all about addressing universal business and operational challenges, using technology that completely changes your company. Digital optimization focuses on adopting digital tools that provide short-term boosts in productivity and/or revenue. For example, simply upgrading your staff’s devices to tablets, or switching to a new POS system isn’t a digital transformation—instead, they are single digital changes that are probably only going to have short-term results.

They don’t have (or underestimate) the budget

You know that digital transformations cost money, but too many CIOs underestimate the true costs of adoption—or don’t have the budget necessary to complete a full-scale transformation. They might have the approved budget to buy a fixed number of new devices, or to subscribe to a handful of new services, but there are far more, less easily measurable costs to consider. For example, you’ll need to incorporate the costs of integration, the cost of downtime you’ll need to have when upgrading your systems, and even the costs of training.

They aren’t prepared for training needs

Speaking of training, many CIOs underestimate just how much training will be necessary to get staff members up to speed on a new tech-based system. While some devices and software platforms are designed to be intuitive, and may only take a few hours to learn, when you change a traditional process that a team of hundreds (or more) has relied on for years, there’s going to be resistance. Some people will need extensive training, and others may actively fight against the new system. It takes weeks, and sometimes months, to get an entire team up to speed—and if you aren’t prepared with a specific rollout, orientation, and training program, it might take even longer.

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They aren’t flexible

Your plan might look fantastic on paper, and it might even get off to a good start, but if you don’t leave some wiggle room for different upgrades or new changes, it’s going to come back to bite you. Eventually, you’ll realize one piece of your equation doesn’t fit, or that you don’t have the budget you thought to adopt a specific new solution; when this happens, you need to be prepared to pivot. Have contingency plans for every phase of the transformation.

They focus on short-term solutions

The goal of a digital transformation isn’t necessarily to “catch up” to modern technology; instead, it’s to establish a foundation for the company to continue growing as technology progresses. The rate of technological advancement tends to accelerate, which means it may only be a matter of years before today’s devices, software platforms, and best practices become obsolete. Instead of focusing on optimizing your company for today or the near future, focus on making it nimble enough to continue adapting to new tech in the future.

They underestimate the customer experience

Your tech upgrades might seem intuitive, or inherently better than your previous processes, but what do your customers think? Too many CIOs assume that customers will be happy with the change, or will understand it, without conducting the user behavior testing necessary to truly gauge their reactions. Be proactive, and use surveys and user tests to get a more accurate reading.

They copy the competition

When you see a company similar to yours undergoing a digital transformation, it’s tempting to adopt many of the same policies, upgrades, and approaches. However, you need to realize that every business is unique, and if you adopt the changes of a competitor, you won’t be able to optimize for your own strengths and weaknesses.

They do too much, too fast

Once you start building momentum, it’s easy to put pressure on yourself, and get motivated to launch even more technologies at a faster rate. However, if you do too much, too fast, it can lead to problems in your budget, training, and customer experience. Make sure to keep a careful, deliberate pace, and roll out new systems gradually when possible.

Implementing a digital transformation in a business is more work than most CIOs initially realize, but that doesn’t mean it’s an unconquerable challenge. As long as you’re prepared for contingencies, and you understand the common obstacles you may face along the way, you should be able to navigate this journey, and bring your company into the digital age.

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