Which departments should be prioritised for digital transformation?

In this day and age, as all sectors are seeing some sort of digital transformation, all departments within an organisation may have a case for being prioritised for this change.

All manner of company is trying to keep up with the competition by digitising its customer service, product development, culture, and other aspects of business, but the question remains: Should some departments be prioritised over others when it comes to digital transformation? Let’s explore some opinions on this from across tech.

Pain points and demand

According to Kevin Schwarz, principal, transformation strategy EMEA at Zscaler, which departments to prioritise for digital transformation depends on the kind of business in question.

However, he stated that a consistent aspect to consider is which departments would experience the most major problems if they weren’t involved in transformation plans.

“There’s no perfect, one-size-fits-all plan for prioritising departments when it comes to digital transformation,” said Schwarz, “and any organisation needs to assess different teams’ demands versus wider business needs.

“For instance, in which department are the pain points from a lack of digitisation the biggest, and where is the demand to innovate coming from? Are departments faced with end of life products, and is scalability needed to keep in step with the growth of the business?

“This ultimately means some will feel they’re getting the short end of the stick. It’s important then that all departments are brought together with IT, networking, and security teams to transparently talk around the digital transformation roadmap and why key decisions have been made.”

Digitising the frontline

When it comes to digitally transforming customer service, software such as chatbots, behaviour analytics and social media engagement platforms can be beneficial ways to improve this particular department.

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However, some experts believe that this nowadays, technology such as this isn’t just nice to have, but is essential to maintaining a high level of service, and should be used to cultivate meaningful relationship with customers.

“The primary focus of digital transformation needs to be on the customer and employee experience,” said Don Schuerman, CTO and vice-president, product strategy & marketing at Pegasystems. “Departments like marketing and customer service are hugely important targets.

“Initiatives here cannot be skin deep. Adding a new chatbot is cool, but so what? Instead, focus these areas and their IT partners on specific customer journeys – microjourneys – that are tied to specific outcomes like onboarding a new account or resolving a service request.

“Focus on streamlining those experiences from end-to-end in a way that connects across all channels and insulates users and customers from the complexity of legacy systems.”

Greg Hanson, vice-president EMEA at Informatica, added that prioritising the frontline can be particularly important given how much customer activity is present online in this day and age, but must be quick to stay ahead of the curve in order to remain competitive.

“A typical B2C company will attempt to prioritise the front of house operations, such as marketing and sales, because improvements in these areas provide a digital channel upon which companies can trade electronically with their customers,” said Hanson.

“Often a gateway like this can enable organisations to take the first steps on an improved digital channel, but in reality this is just a nice looking façade which will not address the more complex challenges a large organisation needs to address in order to become market leading in the digital space.

“Leaders in this space demonstrate innovation through new products and services at a rapid pace and offer hyper-personalisation through tailored services, offers and engagement. This they do by having high quality, integrated and available data combined with an agile architecture enabling them to make changes quickly.”

Prioritising pricing

According to Will Lovatt, general manager EMEA at PROS, addressing the pricing process within an organisation can be ideal for setting up future transformation projects for smooth operation going forward.

“An often overlooked but hugely impactful area of business to tackle first is how to digitally transform pricing, taking it from static and passive, to dynamic and proactive,” said Lovatt. “Historically, pricing was largely an arcane back-office function, the output of which was calculated only periodically and then buried in one of the systems of record, but the new reality is that a dynamic customer facing business needs to adjust and personalise price in almost real-time.

“The responsibility and ownership of price is therefore under significant scrutiny by multiple stakeholders. Business process and systems must span all elements of calculation, approval and presentation of price, across all channels. It should consistently apply updates, promotions, volume discounts, where appropriate respecting existing contracts and agreements.

“Only a well-informed and data-rich process considering numerous dynamic inputs available to all stakeholders is capable of providing a reliable basis for pricing in this new environment. The cross-functional nature and impact of pricing isn’t yet necessarily reflected in organisational structures, but technology can provide a collaborative approach to span those potential gaps – without that inclusive approach the business risks missed opportunity, loss of customers, and lower margins.

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“Once achieved, the impact for early adopters is significant, allowing new business models to be explored, and well-informed decisions to be made on the back of newly available data insights.”

Acknowledge fragmentation

For some experts, the idea of digital transformation is impossible to separate from that of fragmentation within a business.

“I often see people talking about digital transformation as if it were one big project run across the whole organisation, when in reality, this is far from the case as digital transformation by its very nature is characterised by fragmentation, meaning some departments are likely to be prioritised over others,” said Lee James, CTO EMEA at Rackspace.

However, James went on to explain that digital transformation can be achieved bit by bit, with some departments being prioritised over others without those that are planned for change later feeling alienated. The two factors needed for success in this? Communication from the chief information officer (CIO), and collaboration across the organisation.

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“The purpose of digital transformation is to support new technologies that drive more engaging, transparent, and targeted customer interactions,” he said. “This means a digital transformation project will often start in a particular business unit to develop a new application that serves a particular customer segment.

“All departments won’t be equally prioritised, and different parts of the business will start projects at different times, meaning they may operate in siloes, but the key is in acknowledging this fragmentation. It is up to the CIO to bring the different business units together to break down siloes and foster collaboration, bringing everyone along on the broader journey, even if it originally started in a particular department.

“A way to achieve this is to align all of the business units with the central product offering and the same end goal; cross-collaboration across teams can be encouraged on a regular basis by understanding each individual unit’s needs for a successful transformation and using a digital management office to help break down these siloes. IT can help by delivering a common user interface, data management platform, or in sharing data for business benefits, for example trends across users, to help everyone across the business come together.”

Digitising across the board

A final point of view to consider here is ensuring that all departments are transformed together can be vital for security, as well as a generally positive consensus across the workforce.

“One of the main challenges we’re seeing organisations face is that they forget that digital transformation must also be embraced by the people securing these applications, infrastructure and networks,” said Ofer Or, vice-president, products at Tufin. “Otherwise, they end up either putting themselves at risk because a lot of the infrastructure and IT changes that are now happening quickly by digital transformation are not secured; or that security is becoming a bottleneck which hinders their ability to enjoy the benefits of digital transformation.

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“Instead of compromising between speed and security, organisations should embrace digital transformation across the board – including in the security departments and in this way have security become a business enabler rather than a bottleneck.”


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Aaron Hurst

Aaron Hurst is Information Age's senior reporter, providing news and features around the hottest trends across the tech industry.