Why Your Digital Transformation Has Stalled Out (And What to Do About It)

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Competitive business leaders have heard, if not always understood, platitudes urging digital transformation for years now. Since the Internet of Things has become a core facet of our everyday lives, the importance of updating and adapting organizations to survive and thrive in an increasingly digital world and market has become obvious.

And to their credit, many businesses have tried. About half of businesses have attempted a formalized transformation process, according to a Gartner survey. But even among those who have tried, success is limited. According to Forbes, about half of digital transformation initiatives fail entirely, while another 35% fall short of their goals.

It’s no secret that digital transformation is vital for most organizations to grow into the future. So why are so many attempts falling short or failing altogether?

Diagnosing Your Transformation Woes

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If you feel your own digital transformation hasn’t brought you to where you need to be, one obvious reason is that the goalposts have moved–and continue to slide forward on a daily basis. A few years ago, if you had an updated website and a Twitter account then you were on or ahead of the digital curve. But today’s customers expect much more–and who knows what the consumers of tomorrow will want?

Another reason is the lack of true organizational buy-in. It’s one thing to pay lip service to the idea of digital transformation. But unless it’s given the right resources and cooperation from key stakeholders, it’s all but doomed to fail.

But the most crucial–and most common–shortcoming for digital transformation efforts is putting the wrong person in charge of seeing it through.

So much is required for this responsibility–leadership, digital expertise, mastery of the customer experience, and much more. That’s a tall order for even the most competent, experienced leaders.

Most businesses don’t have someone available in-house who’s capable of taking on that mission. And even if they do, they often don’t put it in that individual’s hands, instead passing it off to a less qualified “digital transformation specialist” or similar consultant.

In reality, it turns out that the best person to initiate, oversee, and maintain your digital transformation is probably a CMO–a really good one. A recent study by SAP indicates that Chief Marketing Officers may be the best-suited for this responsibility–even more so than the Chief Information Officer or Chief Digital Officer (a role that was essentially invented specifically for transformation management). The research found this to be true across all industries.

Vivek Bapat, SVP of Marketing Strategy and Thought Leadership for SAP, puts it beautifully:

“The first thread was that the [successful] leaders looked at [digital transformation] as not another IT project so they didn’t just relegate it to the IT department. They looked at it as true transformation, as a way of changing the way that they did business. The second thread was that they almost exclusively began with transforming the customer-facing functions first. This goes to show you that the mindset was not about operational efficiency but about the customer. The third one was the recognition that there was an enormous amount of upscaling and retraining that needed to happen. They needed to bring in people with new digital skills to fundamentally change the talent mix within the company.”

On all three counts, the CMO (or whoever serves as Head of Marketing in your organization) is the best-positioned to succeed. Of all the senior executive positions, they have the most influence over your brand and culture, understand your customer the best, and have the most experience bridging the gap between technology and enterprise.

Next Steps for Businesses Falling Behind

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What does this mean for you if you’re among the majority of businesses who are struggling to create or maintain momentum in their digital transformation?

First, it’s time to make sure that the right person is in charge. Your CMO won’t hold sole responsibility–as previously mentioned, this is an organization-wide initiative that requires comprehensive buy-in. But the Head of Marketing need to take the reins and become the endpoint for key decisions and strategy calls.

But what if you’ve already done that and you’re not seeing the internal change you need? Or what if even your highest-ranking marketing leaders lack the leadership, experience, and authority to take on this mantle? Not all Chief Marketing Officers are created equal, and you need great–not good–when it comes to matters as important as this.

If that’s the case, it’s probably time for the addition of some new leadership at the top of your marketing department. Whether that takes the form of a CMO executive search for a new marketing chief, or a Chief Digital Officer executive search for someone who can serve as the CMO’s right-hand adviser and provide some much-needed technical expertise will depend on your situation.

One thing is for certain; this is not an issue you can expect to go away. Digital is changing everything, and if you’re not keeping up you’ll get left behind sooner or later. Make sure lack of leadership isn’t what holding your organization back.

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