Digital Transformation: What it is, why it's important and how to get started

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Digital transformation is a hot topic that many businesses and charities are trying to understand. It’s being talked, written and tweeted about on a regular basis. What does it mean, and how do you do it?

For many Canadian businesses, digital transformation is a mystery. In fact, according to a study by IDC in 2016 only 17% of Canadian businesses had integrated a digital transformation plan into their corporate strategy, even though 60% of corporations expected the digital economy to have a major impact on their business in the next three to five years. For charities, digital transformation seems equally challenging. A 2017 Charity Skills Digital Report in the UK confirmed that of the 500 fundraising professionals surveyed, 50% of charities didn’t have a digital strategy, and only 27% had aligned their digital and organizational strategies together. With limited resources and technical know-how, for many charities understanding how to transform in this every changing technology based world seems unthinkable.

This series of articles will talk a look at digital transformation and ways to understand and embrace it, and will provide some information on how to build a digital framework to support organizational growth and prosperity.

First off, what exactly is digital transformation? Digital transformation has three components that interconnect to create a digital ecosystem: systems integration, enterprise solution and user experience. Systems integration is the basic plumbing: do all of your processes and software applications work well together without overlap, duplicated data or wasted effort? The enterprise solution is strategic: is your digitally-assisted workflow best able to allow your organization to succeed, be efficient, and to grow? The user experience wraps it all up into a digital model that works for the organization’s staff, members, and donors. Usability must be a joy and easy to use. Without that, nobody will do what they are “supposed to do”.

Let’s look at a scenario that happens in many charitable organizations. You are member of a senior leadership team at your organization. Your fund development manager wants to look at how you can digitally transform your business model, secure more donations, and reach more people. The program team is trying to understand how to transform programs through digital program access and enhancements. Senior management is most worried about how up-to-date the website is, if it has a donation button, and links to all of the social media channels.

Everyone in the organization has embraced some sort of digital ecosystem, and yet, there seem to be so many pieces to what the organization believes a “healthy” digital organization is, and if and why it should transform. Prior to your next meeting, why don’t you ask your team, the program manager, and your president to list their ideas about what could be done to digitally transform the organization? This is the beginning: learning how to understand digital transformation, which many companies and organizations ignore.

Stage one: Reveal, absorb and learn

The first stage of digital transformation is to understand and learn how the organization is already using digital technology. Information about all of the touch points of how technology impacts your daily work and the organization's mission should be defined and measured. Perhaps you will want to understand how visitors are entering your offices and tracked, how you engage with donors before and after they make a donation, how you are using social media, how you let people register for your programs, how you communicate internally as a team, etc.

Uncovering and mapping out all aspects of your digital touchpoints is an essential part of understanding your strengths and weaknesses. You should also do an audit and include all of the software your organization currently uses or subscribes to but doesn’t utilize. Many times, this process is left to a digital consulting company who will instruct an organization on the best type of technology available, but won’t understand how to advise on building a customized digital ecosystem. Taking the time to workshop and understand every part of the an organization and the digital components is key to understanding both areas of deficiency and opportunities for growth. Creating a digital map, use case diagram or business process map of how technology touches all of your staff, constituents and internal and external stakeholders is essential. Be creative and try mapping it out with post-it notes on a large wall at every meeting, creating a google spreadsheet that is shared which records digital touchpoints, having a presentation by each area of your organization, or creating a Slack channel that records feedback. It is recommended that you have a digital stewardship group within your organization that helps track and report back on this process to your organization.

Stage two: “ If we started our work today what would our programs and services look like?”

Once an organization has had a chance to understand how everything is connected digitally through years of technology iteration, it’s good to take everything away and imagine what it would be like if you were founding the organization today in 2018. Think about how technology has evolved and will evolve. Fifteen years ago, the world didn’t have YouTube and the first apps and the app store weren’t invented. Looking at creating the digital ecosystem now can provide an organization with the chance to see the possibilities of using digital technology to enhance mission, products, and services. And vice versa. Going back to step one and creating a scenario where digital technology is inserted into the way you would do business today considerably changes the way you would conduct business and build your mission.

Get your digital stewardship group together and create a map of old and new, and brainstorm how you could better improve in delivering your mission. Spend time looking at little changes and improvements. Many of these types of digital changes are easy to do, and could have a huge impact on how efficient your organization can operate. Once you’ve thought of improvements, go out into the community and see what industry and other charities are doing. It might be as simple as looking at how people check into your offices or program space. Do you need to create more security and efficiencies? Do you want to look at a digital check-in systems where you can track these people? Does this help you make your programs more efficient? What about data? Don't ignore that scary term Big Data. Understanding your data flow process and how they are all connected will allow leaders and stakeholders to better understand your constituents, programs and services.

Going out into the community and researching digital enhancements can help you understand ways to impact your digital transformation. For instance, when you visit a corporate donor do they sign you in digitally on a tablet? When you reserve dinner at a restaurant online, what is the process? Give each of your teams a few exemplar scenarios to uncover in the corporate world that would help you improve your organization through digital technology. Then look at mapping these onto your organization today, with all technology available to you.

In the case of Gilda’s Club Greater Toronto, a cancer support charity, thinking about technology in the now has allowed the organization to begin to understand how to better deliver programs and services.

In the next article we will look at this organization and how they are building digital transformation cost-effectively and organically without the big or risky investment costs historically associated with IT projects.

Lee Rennick is Vice President Business Development & Insights at Six Trends Inc. - a Toronto-based digital transformation business. She is Executive Director, Development Gilda’s Club Greater Toronto.

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