22 Top Tips for Successful Digital Transformation Projects

Digital Transformation projects are not your normal run of the mill projects. Unlike many other “Backoffice” projects they have a direct impact on a company’s brand and image. They include the whole online supply chain, marketing, advertising and the company’s actual shopfront i.e. their website, mobile app etc. As more and more people are shopping online – M&S hope to “increase online turnover from £500m in 2012 to £1bn + in only a few years” – companies are realising that multichannel can make a material profit and improve the image of the bricks and mortar brand. The opposite is also true. If an online service promises to deliver by a certain time and fails, looks and feels like it was designed 5 years ago and customers end up with lots of food substitutions or damaged goods, then they may also decide not to shop in the offending retailer’s store.

So what can you do to mitigate the risk of things going wrong and increase the likelihood of a huge success?

1)      The key to all successful projects is to get the expectations right and make sure everyone is aware of them – including the business and your customers. If expectations for delivery times, quality or cost are set too high, then the project is always going to fail to some degree.


2)      Define clear business requirements and scope at the start of the project. Not having clear business requirements  is becoming more and more common. As everyone in historically business focused roles become more tech savvy, they sometimes believe they know the technical answer without defining the business question. This leads a poor strategic decisions throughout  the project as the business requirements are not properly analysed or prioritised at the start of the project.


3)      Don’t just focus on “Like for Like” or “Out of the box”, be pragmatic and solve each business requirement with the best solution, keeping the project as a whole in mind. If your family had grown out of their old home and you wanted to build a new house or build an extension on the old one you wouldn’t build it “Like for like” replacement or you would still not have enough space, bathrooms for teenagers etc. Equally you wouldn’t replace your lovely Victorian house with an “Out of the box” prefab, however big or however many bathrooms it had!
There is an additional risk if the team becomes blinkered by aiming for “Like for Like”. The underlying aim of a “Like for Like” project is usually speed to re-platform. However, in reality it can take longer and cost more to bend a new platform to work the same way as the old platform and may be more difficult to gain real benefit during later “Exploitation” phases. By bending the platform you may also be hobbling the new platform with all the issues you were trying to get rid of with a new platform.

4)      Good customer experience should always be the ultimate goal. Always remember you are doing this for the customer. John Lewis are a good example of keeping customer experience at the core of everything they do and it has paid dividends. It is all too easy to get caught up in the technology and forget the real reason for embarking on a platform project.


5)      Good planning and platform choice. Evaluate the business tools that come with your platform and work out if the platform will meet future functionality requirements. Is your platform vendor committed to improving the platform over time? Is the vendor too big or too small for your business? Would you have greater flexibility if you chose tools not sold by the platform vendor for some of the requirements or can your chosen vendor provide the whole suite of applications you require and provide simpler integration as a result?


6)      Good, reliable partners or in-house staff. Hire external partners or internal staff who have a good track record in multichannel and ecommerce. Some large companies, (we won’t name names) have outsourced to non-specialist software developers and realised they have made a colossal mistake. There are stories of developers not fully understanding the multichannel platform framework and creating their own Java framework, which is not supported by the platform vendor. Pure development companies often do not understand retail and this can bring a multitude of problems if not managed carefully.


7)      Build a “Vendor Forum” and continually re-assess your toolset. All too often companies have a huge amount of contact with vendors during implementation, but after the project ends all contact stops. A huge amount of benefit can be gained by regularly gathering all your key vendors together and reviewing their roadmap and your roadmap. Many tools are straying out of their normal sphere e.g. Search tools are becoming marketing engines, SEO tools, and even mobile delivery platforms. Deciding which tool is best for each task is now becoming difficult. Some tools also “break” functionality in other tools e.g. using some Content Management Systems will “break” Precision Marketing in IBM Websphere Commerce.


8)      Make sure you understand the system integration requirements. It is very easy to draw big ESB (Enterprise Service Bus) blocks on your architecture diagrams and forget that integration with your product catalogue, orders, payments systems and order management systems will take up a big proportion of the total budget and time. Getting integration wrong is not an option and if it is not planned properly you will end up with change requests coming out of your ears and you can throw away your budget forecasts.


9)      Create a roadmap showing the long term schedule for the re-platform project and other relevant projects.  A clear roadmap can help when making difficult decisions around prioritisation and align the Multichannel platform project with other enterprise projects. Critical business windows such as Christmas trading and IT freezes should be added to the roadmap so buffers can be planned for important targets. If unexpected issues occur a roadmap can help with contingency planning and dissemination of the new plans.


10)   Don’t give up after phase 1 and plan for continuous change. A platform project should be about continuous improvement in iterative steps, not “Big Bang” and forget. A good platform will allow easy changes and not require long periods of downtime to publish changes. A good team will expect to be making constant changes. In fact change should be built into the platform  in the form of A/B or Multivariate testing. More on this later.

11)   Design the platform to be as flexible as possible as you never know what will be asked of you next. Where possible use standard interface mechanisms (such as an ESB) so you can re-use interfaces for tasks you have not dreamt of yet.


12)   Keep things as simple as possible and create bite sized chunks – especially during planning. This is easy to say and very hard to do. We find drawing high level diagrams helps us and others to understand how everything fits together. We then create lower level diagrams for each function and continuously refer back to the overview diagram to check it is correct and we cannot do things in a simpler way. Then we write “Key Decision Documents” on each area that has several options that need to be evaluated. If a clear winning option does not surface we will perform more detailed cost benefit analysis to empirically decide on an option. All this is backed up with workshops for each function in which all options are considered and documented.


13)   Even with such a technical project, people are still your main asset – budget appropriately. If you put all your money into software and hardware and then have no budget for good people to run your platform, you will obviously come a cropper! It is amazing what you can do with a few good people and adequate software and hardware. If your budget is tight consider Open Source software and different ways of funding your hosting solution (e.g. renting instead of buying, virtualisation instead of hardware) before you look at cutting back on good people.
Build a tight team with previous experience of multichannel and platform projects. Don’t skimp on quality, if you have to, cut back on the quantity of team members.


14)   Clear governance and regular sign off from the top is key. By having a clear sign off procedure no one – not even the CEO – can make radical changes to the scope of the project once it is underway. Without clear sign off from the top, you will end up with changes not being tracked and costs and timescales getting out of control.


15)    Find a “Champion” business owner who is an evangelist for the project and can help get buy in for changes in business process, customer experience and business strategy.


16)   Communicate with all the key leaders in all the functional areas of the business. Multichannel projects affect all areas of the business, so it is essential to gain support from all the cross-functional areas. Many companies set up a Leadership Board with representation from IT, merchandising, marketing, operations etc.


17)   Set out clear goals and tell everyone how you will be measuring success


18)   Content is still king. Don’t create an amazing looking site and then use standard product descriptions that all your competitors have also bought off the shelf. Enhance and personalise your content before publishing and keep SEO in mind form the start. If Google sees the same product description on your site as all the others, you will not do as well as having carefully crafted copy with keywords that work.


19)   Have a clear operating model with well defined processes and roles. However, don’t create an impossibly complicated operating model that no one wants to follow. As a general rule – if people think your operating model is useful and saves time in the long run, you have the right model. If people complain constantly that the operating model is hindering the project, then maybe you should rethink your model.


20)   Don’t skimp on testing and create an environment where continuous testing is the norm.


21)   Don’t underestimate the importance of reporting, analytics and A/B or Multivariate testing. A lack of quality reporting can lead to poor understanding of your customer experience and the efficiency of your business processes. Together with Analytics and some sort of A/B or Multivariate testing you should be instantly able to answer questions about why your conversion rate is low or even which colour buttons improves click-through rates.


22)   Your bricks and mortar store can be your greatest asset for your online store. John Lewis, Halfords and some of the supermarkets have realised the importance of their high street stores for advertising and stock. Halford’s Click and Collect has been a huge success and John Lewis actively encourage customers to browse in store and then purchase online by having little printouts of product details that customers can take home. The key link between both these companies is the fact they reward stores by allocating all online sales to individual stores. This encourages the in store staff to tell customers about their multichannel offering and means staff treat online customers with equal respect to high street customers.


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