Digital transformation is the process of integrating new and emerging digital technologies into all aspects of a business. One example is the ongoing move to the cloud where data and business processes are managed online by third-party providers.

As such, digital transformation is seen as a way to take advantage of technology to streamline operations and remain competitive. But the road to digital transformation has been a bumpy one for many organizations with a number of challenges stifling the process, according to a report released Wednesday by Couchbase.

SEE: Digital transformation in 2019: A business leader’s guide to future challenges and opportunities (TechRepublic Premium)

Surveying 450 IT decision makers in the US, UK, France and Germany, Couchbase found that the vast majority are still hitting failures, delays, or diminished expectations in their digital transformation projects. Among the respondents, 81% said they’ve seen a digital transformation project fail, suffer a major delay, or get scaled back over the past 12 months. Some 42% said they were behind schedule or at risk of falling behind with their most significant digital transformation project.

Further, 73% said they often talk about the great potential of digital projects, but most of the time such projects fall short of being truly transformational or revolutionary. However, this percentage has steadily dropped over time from 80% in 2018 and 90% in 2017, suggesting that more companies are realizing the potential of their digital projects. Also, a full 73% of respondents said that digital innovation made a significant improvement to their end-user experience, a percentage that rose from 64% in 2018 and 52% in 2017.

In the survey, organizations pointed to specific benefits as a result of digital transformation. The top benefit reported was more efficient working processes, lauded by 58% of respondents. Improved customer experience and increased worker productivity were each cited by 50%.

There are also risks involved in not moving forward with digital transformation projects. A full 87% of respondents said they feel at risk if they fail to digitally innovate, with 46% worrying about becoming less relevant in the market, 42% fearing the loss of IT staff to more innovative rivals, and 32% concerned about losing staff in other areas of the business.

Yet, digital transformations aren’t necessarily being driven by the right motivators. Some 52% of the respondents said their digital transformation process is set by the IT staff, while only 36% said the strategy is established by C-Suite executives. Though the IT team naturally plays a huge part in this process, the C-Suite needs to take a more active role to fully transform and benefit the entire organization, according to Couchbase.

Further, many of the factors driving digital transformation are more reactive than proactive. Looking at the primary drivers for digital transformation, 23% of respondents cited it as a reaction to advances by the competition, 23% pointed to pressure from customers for new services, 23% to changes in regulation, and 22% to pressure from the C-Suite. Only 8% of digital transformation projects came about from original and proactive ideas within the business.

So, what challenges and obstacles are standing in the way of organizations starting and completing successful digital transformation projects? Some 40% of respondents cited the complexity of implementing technologies, 32% pointed to the lack of resources, 31% to the lack of skills, and 30% to a reliance on legacy technology. Other obstacles included the inability to get the necessary funding, the perception that the risk of failure was too high, the lack of buy-in from across the organization, and the lack of buy-in from the C-Suite.

“In order for organizations to reap the rewards from digital projects, they have to approach them in the right way,” Couchbase CEO Matt Cain said in a press release. “Transformation is ultimately achieved by the right application of people and technologies, so enterprises must have the technical and business skills to make it truly successful. It needs to be driven by the entire organization as a strategic imperative, not left in the sole hands of the IT team. Organizations must direct their energies in the right way and overcome the challenges they face.”

The results were based on an online survey conducted in May and June 2019 by market research firm Vanson Bourne on behalf of Couchbase. The survey targeted 450 heads of digital transformation, such as CIOs, CDOs and CTOs, in organizations with 1,000 employees or more in the US, UK, France, and Germany.