How your business can reach digital success in the next decade: 5 tips

Past business decisions can act as guidance for the future. Here are five ways companies can use past experiences as lessons for the new digital age.

The secrets to a successful digital transformation initiative Ben Shea spoke with TechRepublic at the 2019 SAP SAPPHIRE NOW conference about how communication and teams determine successful digital innovations.

As the enterprise prepares for Fourth Industrial Revolution, or Industry 4.0, business leaders are looking ahead at long-term operational goals. This latest wave of digital transformation is driven by the Internet of Things (IoT) technology, comprised of artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, cloud services, and more. 

SEE: Digital transformation: A guide for CXOs (TechRepublic Premium) 

An evolving tech market requires an evolving mindset for businesses, requiring leaders to shift priorities and responsibilities to fit both new technology and current business ventures, according to a recent Deloitte report

To best prepare for the next digital revolution, businesses should consider the mistakes and successes of the previous era, said Mimi Brooks, CEO of consulting firm Logical Design Solutions.

"My intent is not to look back. It's not a rear view mirror," Brooks said. "My intent is to try to help people and motivate them to look forward. Let's roll up our sleeves and act like we learned something here so we can be successful going forward."

After studying common trends in digitally transforming business throughout the past decade, Brooks compiled the following five lessons companies should consider moving into the next decade: 

1. Digital transformation is about more than the technology 

Focusing too much on the digital of digital transformation is one of the biggest pitfalls in any digital initiative, Brooks said. 

In the most recent digital transformation era, organizations kept adopting technology for the sake of technology, without any alignment with business strategies, which would lead to failure. Looking forward, organizations must use business initiatives as the driving force behind digital adoption, according to Brooks. 

2. Vertical structures and siloes conflict with and overwhelm necessary horizontal structures 

Companies with hierarchical business structures—typically large companies—often fall into siloes when working vertically, Brooks noted. 

"We needed to better understand that our hierarchies and our vertical structures are almost an anti-pattern in a new digital organization, where everything is much more horizontal than vertical," Brooks said. "Unless you are a company that found other management structures to knit the organization together horizontally so we could all work together, we end up in digital silos."

3. Work culture without context is unsustainable

Work cultures must evolve with a changing tech culture, Brooks said. And oftentimes, especially with legacy businesses, this can be a difficult shift. 

"We needed to spend more time imagining the work of the future and our workers in it so that when we said change, we painted at least an idea of the direction that we saw the organization moving from their vantage point," Brooks said. "How does [digital transformation] affect my work, my job, my teams, my career?"

4. Human and machine work allocation and design must be prioritized

The past 10 years saw the implementation of basic automation in many companies, Brooks said. This basic technology use came from a pressure to automate processes for the sake of automation, which ties back to the first point. 

Moving forward, however, companies must consider how humans and this technology can work together, along with how humans can prepare for the integration of these tools, Brooks added. 

Brooks suggested considering the following questions: "How is the real work of the organization likely to change, and how do we help people get from here to there at least iteratively?"

5. Leaders need better strategies for adapting to change

Spearheading change is in the hands of leadership, Brooks said. While leaders did their best in the last digital era, there is much room for future improvement. This improvement lies in accepting the technology and change. 

"Leaders need to know that the digital economy, the digital future, requires us to let machines do everything they reasonably can and to have people do this new human work in the future," Brooks said. "Instead of running away from that, we need to run into that so that we can shape it."

For more, check out What digital transformation actually means for an organization on TechRepublic. 

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By Macy Bayern

Macy Bayern is an Associate Staff Writer for TechRepublic. A recent graduate from the University of Texas at Austin's Liberal Arts Honors Program, Macy covers tech news and trends.