A complete guide to digital transformation
Your complete guide to digital transformation, including what it is, why it matters, how to get started and how to do it right.
The ramifications of COVID-19 exposed an uncomfortable truth for many organizations: They weren’t quite as far along in their digital transformation journey as they believed.
As a result, decision-makers are more critical of their digital transformation efforts post-pandemic than they were pre-pandemic.
According to a Hyland-commissioned survey by Forrester Consulting, just 48% of enterprise-level leaders rated their digital transformation as “very” or “extremely” successful following the pandemic, representing a 10-point drop over the previous year.
Rather than consider this a failure, consider it a catalyst for prioritizing digital transformation.
What is digital transformation?
Digital transformation is the replacement of manual, paper-based and asynchronous business processes with modern, cloud-enabled digital processes.
When the idea of digitally transforming business processes first entered the scene, the term was essentially synonymous with “going paperless.”
Today, however, many organizations are well beyond the conversion of paper to electronic documents, yet their digital transformation journeys are far from over.
A modern workforce's people and processes are increasingly capturing efficiencies, usually through digital transformation efforts. These enhancements to everyday work evolve alongside technological innovations and open lanes for everything from organizational growth to better experiences for customers and employees.
What launches a digital transformation?
Digital transformation begins either with:
- The introduction of technologies that automate individual steps in business processes (digitally processing an intake form, for example); or,
- Automation of the full scope of processes from start to finish.
Once these technologies are scaled to a significant level across the business, organizations can realize benefits such as time and money savings, compliance and security improvements, and advancements in the customer and employee experiences.
How long does digital transformation take?
Because technology continues to evolve, the digital transformation journey is never really complete. There will always be incremental improvements to be made, new solutions to try and disruptive challenges to overcome.
Different organizations follow different journeys toward and through their own digital transformations as they work to adopt and implement the technologies that meet their own unique needs. These enhancements will expand their information management ecosystems and improve their operational processes.
What are the four main areas of digital transformation?
Digital transformation is dependent on the technologies that support it, but it is not comprised of the technologies alone. A true digital transformation encompasses four primary areas within an organization: Tools, processes, people and offerings.
Updated tools, in the form of new solutions and advanced technology implementations, are applied to old processes and able to complete them more quickly and accurately than when it was paper-based and/or manual. In some cases, the technology render some processes redundant and unnecessary.
Entire business processes can be automated with a digital transformation strategy. While these changes can drive efficiencies in workflows, they can sometimes also impact the work that people do within the organization. Organizations need to consider how their digital transformations will modify all aspects of their operations, organizational structures and budget allocation.
Although some aspects of certain jobs may become casualties of digitization, the World Economic Forum found in its Future of Jobs Report, 2023 that organizations don't expect technology to displace jobs. Of 28 types of technology adoptions, only two were identified as job displacers: Humanoid and nonhumanoid robots (drones, for example).
The large share of organizations surveyed predict technology will create jobs, with net job creation impacts of:
- 58%, big-data analytics
- 43%, encryption and cybersecurity
- 41%, digital platforms and apps
- 34%, cloud computing
- 25%, artificial intelligence
Leadership can prepare their workforces for the changes digital transformation will bring to the workplace by understanding and communicating how employees’ time will be reallocated and what new value their contributions will bring to the organization.
The benefits of digital transformation mean little if organizations don’t use their newfound time and human capital to improve the products, services and experiences they offer employees, partners and customers. The intent of digital transformation is to provide humans with the freedom to perform uniquely human tasks, like creative problem solving, developing new ways of connecting with the people they serve, and bringing innovative new offerings to market.
Why is digital transformation important?
Digital transformation is important because it grants organizations the agility to accelerate, pivot and thrive in environments of innovation and uncertainty.
> Learn more | Forrester study: Prepare for the next business stress test
The 10 benefits of digital transformation
- Speed and agility to adapt rapidly to industry and technology changes with minimal disruption.
- Enhanced compliance and security, thanks to automated retention and regulation tools.
- Employee experience improves due to an enhanced freedom to do work that feels valuable and meaningful.
- Efficiency, including the elimination of many process bottlenecks with automated workflows.
- Faster, more informed decisions made by leveraging insights derived from up-to-date information.
- Accessibility, as digital processes are available to users (both internal and external) from anywhere via connected devices.
- Customer experience improves with optimized tools and accessible platforms focused on user needs and experience.
- Centralized data including customer information, market intelligence and digitized content.
- Transparency and collaboration as information silos are dismantled across the enterprise.
- Increased profits resulting from improved productivity, better business decisions, and customer appreciation.
Digital transformation case study
Noridian Healthcare Solutions, a healthcare administration company and early adopter of a strong digital transformation strategy, was able to shift nearly seamlessly into an entirely remote work environment when the pandemic hit. In just three days, it shut down its in-person operations.
Noridian began its digital transformation journey by implementing Hyland's OnBase platform in 2002. That early move away from manual and paper-based processes (and continued evolution) positioned it to react quickly and effectively to the changes necessitated by COVID-19.
“Like everyone else in the United States, we faced the reality of transitioning to a completely remote workforce in March of 2020,” said Todd Knain, senior vice president and CIO at Noridian Healthcare Solutions. “Because of our digital transformation efforts over the last several years, about 48% of our workforce was already working remotely.”
> Learn more | How to fortify your remote workforce management approach
Like everyone else in the United States, we faced the reality of transitioning to a completely remote workforce in March of 2020. Because of our digital transformation efforts over the last several years, about 48% of our workforce was already working remotely.
— Todd Knain, Senior Vice President and CIO, Noridian
Thanks to the company’s existing online, digital work environment, Noridian was able to transition its remaining 900 employees to work-from-home in just three days.
Knain credits his organization’s success to three key components of Noridian’s OnBase solution:
- Ability to track and reassign work: Noridian knew its staff wasn’t home alone; the company recognized many employees’ families had been sent home as well. This created a unique situation where many employees were serving both as full-time caretakers and full-time employees. Noridian’s OnBase solution allowed them to adjust work assignments on the fly as staff situations changed; this kept crucial work in motion.
- Tools to run reports and monitor workload balance: OnBase also provided Noridian with the tools it needed to monitor work processes and staff workload at-a-glance. This empowered Noridian to get ahead of any potential roadblocks. These tools tied directly with the business agility necessary for the many families working from home.
- Immediate, remote access to workflows: Secure, online access to critical workflows was a huge piece of the smooth transition to a remote workforce. OnBase provided Noridian access to all front-end mail and electronic submissions, giving staff complete, secure access to processes from beginning to end. This became particularly important when the time came to provide billions in advanced payments to healthcare providers so they could stay afloat during the pandemic. Using OnBase, Noridian accomplished this in only two weeks.
Noridian’s 6-step digital transformation framework
Noridian’s commitment to digital transformation provided excellent outcomes for the organization. It also gave their leadership the luxury of figuring out what worked and how to approach new challenges in the wake of the pandemic.
According to Knain, Noridian created a blueprint for both digital transformation best practices and how to empower a remote workforce.
- The earlier you commit to new technology, the better.
- Get user buy-in early.
- Commit to regular process reviews with your technology team.
- Make user experience a priority.
- Start small when building and leverage incremental improvements.
- Focus on employee engagement to avoid work disruption.
How to get started with a digital transformation strategy
Digital transformation initiatives succeed when there is a holistic approach to standardize the way information and content is managed, used and shared across the organization.
That means even the most transformative technologies won’t move the needle without the support of an outcome-based strategy.
“Just because you’re implementing AI or RPA doesn’t mean you’re doing digital transformation,” says Valt Vesikallio, senior vice president of global services at Hyland. “That’s just another IT project.”
Begin the next phase of your digital transformation journey
- Identify the primary business problem your organization needs to solve. Perhaps your customers regularly report friction with one specific aspect of your product or service.
- Define a clear value proposition based on the business problem. It isn’t enough to want to “make that aspect better for customers.” Figure out how, how much better it needs to get, and what success will look like.
- Determine which current processes contribute to the perpetuation of that problem. These are likely the processes you’ll need to dismantle and rebuild with the support of new transformative technologies.
- Create a plan for use case identification and project execution. Likely, this will involve a cross-departmental group including leadership, the IT department and appropriate knowledge workers.
- Develop a change management plan for internal and external stakeholders. Ensure you communicate any applicable changes to affected customers well ahead of time, and avoid “frozen middle” syndrome — resistance that comes from middle management — well ahead of time by communicating the value behind the initiative.
- Think ahead to how you will scale your digital transformation initiatives beyond pilot mode. Use the momentum you gather with the success of this initiative to drive additional digital transformation initiatives across the enterprise.
What drives digital transformation?
Digital transformation is often driven by the desire to modernize systems and processes, improve employee and customer experiences and increase the freedom to innovate.
11 digital transformation tools
Effective digital transformation is dependent on a uniquely tailored combination of the following advanced (and still advancing) technologies:
1. Content capture
Gain control over incoming information, no matter where it’s located or what format it comes in. Capture content right at the source and organize it — and the data it contains — into a single system with minimal human interaction.
2. Content management
Manage content and digital assets organization-wide. Simplify how users interact with the information they need by keeping it organized and accessible, so they can focus on getting their jobs done rather than managing folders and files.
3. Cloud computing
Provide secure, scalable access to the information your people need, when and where they need it. When IT leaders were surveyed about the biggest advantages of cloud-based enterprise solutions, they cited benefits that directly relate to the advantages of digital transformation, including disaster recovery, data availability, cost savings, incident response, security expertise, geographical disbursement and expert access.
4. Process automation
Make your business processes better, not just faster, with smart process automation. Technologies like intelligent document processing (IDP), robotic process automation (RPA) and hyperautomation optimize your structured processes while delivering meaningful exceptions to the right people.
5. Artificial intelligence
Artificial intelligence (AI) uses supporting technologies like machine learning and intelligent data analytics to drastically boost organizational productivity, uncover hidden insights and inform your business strategies.
6. Customer communication management
Improve the customer experience by embracing powerful tools for customer communication.
Enable sharing and collaboration without sacrificing control with simple, secure, easy-to-use ways of sharing information.
8. Case management
Effectively manage customer relationships, documents and processes with smart case management tools. Get a complete view of all the related, relevant information in a case while ensuring continuity, increasing productivity and optimizing collaboration.
9. Reporting and analytics
A single platform to manage date relationships, documents and processes can support the dynamic and often unpredictable processes involved in real-world operations.
10. Intelligent enterprise search
Quickly find the exact information you need, when you need it, even within the massive volume of content at your organization. High-powered and intuitive enterprise search capabilities allow you to access cross-system results, seamlessly and immediately.
11. Secure information governance
Automate the secure retention and destruction of documents and records from the beginning of the content lifecycle to the end. Reduce security and compliance risks with intelligent, automated and federated information governance.
How do you know your organization has the right culture for digital transformation?
Digital transformation thrives in organizations where modernization is prioritized, mistakes are seen as catalysts for growth, and the business is committed from the top down.
“When I’ve seen digital transformation go well, executives have been deeply involved,” says Vesikallio. “They provide clarity to the business case, remove barriers and play a key role in change management. Because a successful digital transformation involves just that — transformation — organizations and industries that are traditionally slower to adapt may face greater hurdles than those that have historically prioritized innovation and customer experience."
Digital transformation challenges
Here are three common digital transformation challenges to look out for:
1. Lack of clear vision
Approaching digital transformation without a business-aligned strategy or without big-picture drivers is a recipe for failure. Combat it by asking tough questions throughout the planning and implementation processes, like:
- Why are we undergoing this transformation?
- How will this transformation change the business?
- How extensive could this transformation be in terms of changing job roles?
- How extensive will this change be in terms of changing processes?
2. Trying to do too much, too fast
Successful digital transformations start small.
Trying to transform everything at once can be chaotic and more disruptive than helpful.
Try beginning with a process that should quickly and easily show ROI. Examples include:
- Implementing an intelligent capture solution in a department with paper-based intake
- Automating mindless, time-consuming steps in a business-critical process
- Introducing cloud-based document sharing for remote workers
The initial success and tangible ROI can make the entire vision much easier to sell to stakeholders.
3. Focusing only on technology, not on people
"People” often come up as the leading roadblock to successful digital transformation initiatives. Organizations that successfully overcome this challenge say the key to solving it is to get all relevant players' buy-in on the strategy of the transformation.
> Learn more | 70% of IT project implementations are not successful. Yours can be.
3 signs your digital transformation efforts are working
When you’ve been on your digital transformation journey for a significant amount of time but still feel like you have a long way to go, how can you measure your progress?
Look at how your organization interacts with its information. Here are three things to look for:
1. Content drives itself
When you have fully transformed, content will start to drive itself throughout the enterprise. Once captured into a central repository, it will find its way to the appropriate personnel, wherever they might be, with specific business criteria automatically pushing it through its journey.
At this stage, any predictable queries should be answered by technology. This includes questions like, “Who should this document go to for approval?” or “Is there a related document already in our systems?”
2. Content speaks to those who need it
A milestone on the digital transformation journey is when systems send notifications to the appropriate staff or audience when something has changed, such as someone submitting a form. Moreover, as someone needs to review or act on a piece of content, that content should find its way to that user — through notifications that give them all they need to complete the task at hand, including all related content.
3. Content transforms in accessibility
Digital information, meaning information stored in a computer rather than a filing cabinet, does not equal digital transformation.
Consider an old, handwritten contract that’s scanned, labeled correctly and stored as a PDF in a digital folder with other contracts from the same year. You can read it on your computer or other device, but you can’t extract the text, use it to find related contracts, or share it with a colleague without downloading the PDF and emailing it to them. The contract is available digitally, yes, but that’s about it.
A sign of a digitally transformative process is the accessibility and usability of information across formats and in different contexts. The solutions you use to foster your digital transformation should put context around content and utilize tools that make that content useful beyond storage in a repository.
What comes after digital transformation?
Feeling good about your digital transformation initiatives?
We hope so! But no matter what, your transformation is never really complete.
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Companies in the top quarter of workforce experience are typically 25% more profitable than competitors in the bottom quarter.
— Deloitte, Employee Experience: How to design a more engaging and productive Future of Work, 2021