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Barriers to digital transformation and how they can be overcome

By: Matt Weston, Founder and Managing Director, Vantage 365

Over the past 18 months, the coronavirus pandemic has brought an unprecedented level of change to the ways that businesses across a wide range of sectors work and engage with their clients and customers.

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Matt Weston, Founder and Managing Director, Vantage 365

Social distancing and lockdown measures introduced in response to the crisis meant that thousands of workplaces were forced to close temporarily, with colleagues separated and confined to working from their kitchens, dining rooms and even bedrooms at home. 

Not only did this lack of physical interaction present considerable challenges to effective workforce collaboration, it also made face-to-face exchanges with customers impossible for many businesses that had previously relied heavily on this sales strategy.

To futureproof against any similar disruption, a growing number of companies are now embracing digital transformation and the benefits that it can bring to them. 

For example, in a European survey conducted by DMEXCO, 70% of executives from Austria, Germany and Switzerland said that the pandemic was likely to accelerate the pace of their digital transformation. 

However, considerable barriers to greater digital adoption still remain, and IT providers must consider what they can do to make solutions easier to implement.

Legacy systems

Among the biggest barriers to wider digital adoption is the prevalence of legacy IT systems. 

Indeed, research collated by Global Data found that 64% of public sector IT spend is consumed by legacy IT – meaning many organisations are wasting their budgets on outdated systems that are no longer fit for purpose in the constantly evolving digital landscape.

What’s more, even if firms have people on board who understand the need for digital transformation and know how to achieve it, there are limitations to what they can achieve if legacy systems are still in place.

For many businesses, therefore, digital transformation represents a major overhaul of the ways in which they operate – but because the significant disruption caused by the COVID-19 crisis has shined a spotlight on the need for embracing new technologies, companies should consider how they can modernise their systems.

Inability to work across silos 

In some cases, the ways in which teams within a company are structured presents a significant challenge to digital transformation. 

With a silo business model, for example, different teams are made to compete with one another for resources and funding, meaning communication between them can often be scarce. 

Although this strategy may once have been effective, it is fair to say that in the current climate – in which flexible working has become the norm – it no longer has much of a place.

Because digital transformation requires end-to-end changes across the entire business, organisations must ensure that teams are working together rather than in silos if they are to evolve. Collaboration lies at the heart of digital transformation; it does not exist in silos; it is a uniform strategy that exists across an entire organisation.   

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Lack of corporate vision

Even if business leaders know that they should be making the move to digital, do they know how to go about doing it?

True digital transformation requires vision and planning, and companies must have a set of clear goals in place. 

However, many businesses still hold the belief that planning to protect their core business, rather than expanding into innovation and embracing digital adoption, is the key to achieving longevity. 

This may partly come down to firms having a risk-aversive culture that means they are unwilling to deviate from traditional business practices for fear that doing so may result in failure. 

A survey conducted by the Harvard Business Review, in which 47% of respondents said that a risk-aversive culture was a real barrier to their digital transformation, supports this.

By its very nature though, digital transformation necessitates risk, and those businesses that have a clear vision in mind and are willing to experiment will undoubtedly see more success than those who view digital as an ad-hoc need.

How can digital adoption be made easier?

It is evident that there are still a number of key barriers that are preventing many businesses from getting fully on board with the concept of digital transformation.

With the need to embrace digital strategies growing all the time, as the business world at large becomes increasingly reliant on technology, it is important to consider what can be done to make digital adoption easier for those firms who are more resistant to change. 

Firstly, greater efforts should be made to educate business leaders about why they should view digital transformation as a positive change that will help to future proof their organisation. 

Having a larger online focus makes it simpler for teams to access shared resources and communicate with one another, which is crucial for effective remote working or in the event that a sudden and unavoidable closure of business premises occurs again.

Not only that, but being online will enable firms to reach a wider target audience than would otherwise be possible, with the trend in online sales having soared during the pandemic and seemingly being here to stay. 

In order to make the transition towards digital transformation smoother, businesses must increase their efforts to hire those individuals who are experts in digital, can guide the organisation through its journey towards fully embracing the technology, and provide training to staff on how to understand and operate their new system.

Although there are ways of making digital transformation easier to implement for businesses, the key to its success ultimately hinges on the ability and willingness of business leaders to understand the technology and what benefits it can bring to their organisation. 


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