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Embarking On Your Digital Transformation Journey: 8 Steps to Mission Success

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Embarking On Your Digital Transformation Journey: 8 Steps to Mission Success

Nov 1, 2023

April Matthews
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Like that historic Apollo mission to the moon, every great achievement starts with “one small step.”

Since Neil Armstrong uttered those famous words, we’ve landed rovers on Mars, stationed crew in orbit, photographed other galaxies and even introduced commercial space travel. But none of those advancements would have been possible without a multitude of small, incremental steps along the way.

While it may not be quite the undertaking that exploring space is, for many businesses, digital transformation can seem like an insurmountable task. We’re here to reassure you that it really doesn’t need to be that complex—you just need a step-by-step plan to navigate your journey.

In this blog, we’ll take you through eight fundamental steps of digital transformation that every business should follow, regardless of the industry you operate in or the technology you’re interested in implementing. But first, let’s briefly cover the basics.

If you’re already familiar with the key concepts, you can jump ahead to the digital transformation process steps.

What Is a Digital Transformation Journey?

The simple definition of digital transformation is using digital technologies to make your operations as efficient, effective and profitable as possible. But that’s not the full story—there’s a lot of jargon in this space, and the nuances of the words matter, so let's clarify a couple of closely related terms.

  • Digitization is the switch from paper to digital. This process began in the 1950s with the replacement of filing cabinets with bulky mainframes to store information, followed by floppy disks, CDs and—most recently—the cloud.

  • Digitalization is all about using digital technology to improve operational performance. A great example is using enterprise resource planning (ERP) software to track all aspects of your business’s operations.

Digital transformation leverages both of these processes to build new and better ways of doing business. Therefore, a successful digital transformation journey also entails a culture shift. It requires the active and eager participation of your employees, and in return boosts collaboration and enhances their working practices.

In addition, digital transformation doesn’t have a fixed destination. It’s an ongoing voyage. Through continuing investment in your company’s digital infrastructure, you can leverage the latest innovations and emerging technologies to capitalize on new consumer trends, implement continuous improvement strategies and boost profitability.

In short, a well-executed digital transformation journey delivers measurable benefits to your business today and drives tomorrow’s growth.


Discover more about what digital transformation entails in these in-depth resources: What Is Digital Transformation? and The Ultimate Digital Transformation Guide


Why Now Is the Time to Launch Your Digital Transformation Strategy

As innovations like artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, the internet of things (IoT) and automation become more widespread, you risk falling behind if you don’t seek opportunities to leverage some or all of these powerful tools. After all, your competition won’t pause in their pursuit of a bigger slice of the market, and your customers won’t hesitate to switch to new brands or suppliers to fulfill their demands. Even your staff may consider other opportunities to broaden their skillsets and find more fulfilling employment.

With worldwide digital transformation spending set to reach 3.4 trillion U.S. dollars by 2026, and 93% of organizations already having or planning to adopt a digital-first business strategy, digital transformation is now a necessity.

And there’s good reason businesses are choosing to invest so heavily. Digital transformation can drive a host of significant benefits, including improved operational efficiency, faster time to market for new products and enhanced ability to meet customer expectations.

So, whether you’re still using some manual, paper-based processes or you’re struggling with spreadsheets and legacy solutions, bringing your data and processes out of yesterday’s archaic systems and into today’s digital world is an imperative.

And with so much of the business world focused on digital transformation initiatives, it becomes even more imperative to build a thorough and thoughtful strategy to ensure success while others may fall short. Simply adding a system here and there or responding with knee-jerk measures will not work. Instead, you must take time to plot a strategic course that’ll help you realize all the potential benefits, achieve optimal return on investment (ROI) and attain lasting success.


Want to find out how a digital transformation strategy can transform your business? Check out this blog: The Top 8 Benefits of Digital Transformation


$3.4

Worldwide digital transformation spending set to reach 3.4 trillion U.S. dollars by 2026.

8 Steps to a Successful Digital Transformation Journey

Just like each space expedition varies in destination and goal, no two digital transformation strategies look exactly the same. While landing humans on the moon and executing a fly-by of Pluto did of course require different tactics, technologies and timelines, both were underpinned by rigorous procedures in planning and preparation.

In the same way, digital transformation journeys will vary across industries—for example, route planning functionalities will be pivotal for a third-party logistics company, while product lifecycle management software would be critical for a cosmetics manufacturer. However, both businesses will need to identify their objectives, assemble the right team and follow a range of other procedural steps to reach their destination.

So, let’s dive into the eight fundamental digital transformation steps that all businesses should follow to smooth the ride and ensure success.

Step 1: Understand Your Mission and Destination

Before you make any changes, you must take stock of why you’re embarking on this journey and where you’d like to end up. Do you have excessively time-consuming processes that could be automated? Are you experiencing recurring customer experience issues? Can you monitor your supply chain and track inventory in real time? Do your employees have the digital tools to stay connected with other departments? Consider your current pain points and imagine how purpose-built software solutions could alleviate them.

As part of this process, it’s pivotal to check in with all of your stakeholders to see what they need—including individuals in the finance, sales, marketing and product development departments, as well as those on the shop floor and in the warehouse. All of your teams will have important insights into how your business could run better. Whether you do this using a decision matrix or old-fashioned roundtable discussions, you need to ensure that your strategy is not exclusively driven by your executives and IT department, as you’ll miss critical considerations and fail to make your digital transformation as effective as possible.

Step 2: Secure Executive Buy-In

As we mentioned earlier, truly successful digital transformations must encompass a cultural shift, and a future-focused company culture can only be secured with a top-down approach. If you don’t accomplish this step, you could fragment your strategy, with each department pulling in a different direction—slowing overall progress and burning valuable resources. Therefore, each company executive must be bought in from the start so they can promote adoption throughout their teams. After all, every department in your organization stands to benefit in the long run.

This step should also take into account financial planning. Before researching systems and considering process changes, your leadership team will need to agree upon what your company is willing and able to spend on this endeavor, from capital expenditure to recurring costs. Remember, while digital transformation is an investment, it’s also an ongoing journey, so you can spread costs out over multiple years.

Step 3: Win Hearts and Minds

Discussion of automation, AI and new technologies can be concerning for staff who fear change. Securing team buy-in may seem less critical than lining up the shiniest new tool on the market, but trust us, it cannot be overlooked. You must devote time early in your journey to reassure staff, hear their concerns and illustrate the benefits of this initiative, not only to the business but to them, too.

If everyone feels like the vision is achievable and helpful, it’s more likely to succeed. You’ll streamline change management, secure quicker adoption and gain fuller realization of benefits. As part of this step, you may also want to identify digital accelerators or super-users that can advocate and educate within their specific functions—ensuring proper training of other team members and gathering feedback as your initiatives progress.

Step 4: Assemble Your Crew

Now that everyone is fully bought in, it’s time to decide who will be directly involved in your projects. Ideally, you’ll assemble a cross-functional team, including managers and staff in finance, operations and IT. With the right people on board, you can ensure your company’s digital transformation journey matches your unique operations, business environment and goals.

Of course, you’ll need to strike the right balance between dedicating enough resource to secure success in your initiative and retaining enough staff in their day jobs to ensure business continuity. This may mean bringing in new hires or investing in outside consultants, so you’ll need to factor this into any budgetary planning.

Step 5: Identify Key Solutions

The next step in your digital transformation plan is to identify exactly what digital solutions your company requires. While your industry and business structure will influence this choice, the pain points and goals you defined in Step 1 should shape your ideal technology stack. From ERP and PLM to enterprise asset management (EAM) software and business intelligence (BI) tools, you’ll need to research which pieces of the software puzzle suit your business needs.

When evaluating systems during this stage, be sure to prioritize two important characteristics—cloud deployment options and industry-specific functionality. Cloud software offers many benefits, including enhanced cyber security, quicker implementation, greater scalability and broader accessibility. And choosing specialized systems designed for your industry can ensure your unique challenges are solved straight out of the box—without costly customizations or cumbersome workarounds.


For more insights into the software solutions included in typical digital transformations roadmaps for your industry check out these resources:


Step 6: Plot Your Course

Next, you’ll need to draw up a strategic plan that outlines the various procedures you must accomplish and changes you must make—considering all requirements, redundancies and contingencies. For example, is there one task that you must complete before you can begin on others? Are there any physical or process-related decisions to make before certain systems can be implemented? For example, if you’re looking to leverage the accessibility of ERP software to empower some remote working, does your staff have sufficient hardware to facilitate this?

In this step, you’re really just trying to mitigate the risk of unexpected issues arising. But don’t worry, digital transformation isn’t a singular, finite event. It’s a constantly evolving process. So, the plan you create right now does not have to be set in stone and can flex as your business progresses over the coming years. Starting with a concrete plan will help everyone focus on the tasks that need completing, but it’s not binding.

Step 7: Get Ready, Set, Launch

While planning is crucial, you cannot delay the inevitable, so now it’s time to roll up your sleeves and get started in earnest. With its cross-functional capabilities and “single source of truth” database, many businesses pinpoint ERP as their starting point. Whether you want to upgrade a legacy system, migrate to the cloud or implement an ERP solution for the first time, finding the right ERP system can secure a solid foundation for your entire digital transformation process.

Alternatively, you may identify some quick wins or process-based improvements you can make while you finish researching systems. These could include getting your data ready for migration, digitizing some paper-based processes and/or implementing shop floor devices ready for eventual integration with your solutions. However you execute this initial push, getting the ball rolling and starting to see some positive improvements can oust any lingering doubts and spur everyone in your organization on.

Step 8: Look to the Next Frontier

Now, it’s full steam ahead as you continue on your digital transformation journey, and you can look to the horizon. What are your broader goals? How can this voyage increase your profits and disrupt your industry? Always be sure to look back at your progress and constantly reassess. How has the process gone so far? What lessons have you learned along the way?

Ensuring that reporting and analytics functionality, as well as BI tools, are part of your digital transformation plan can help in this endeavor by providing the data visualizations and insights you need to identify issues and power continuous improvement efforts.

The change your organization will undergo along the way will be transformative. It may at times create some friction or require a flexible approach, but every improvement you make will serve your business well in the future and pay out in better results. And the progress never has to stop—the more you explore what technology has to offer your company, the more you’ll benefit from it.

93%

of organizations already have or are planning to adopt a digital-first business strategy.

Finding the Right Digital Transformation Partner

Just like every flight crew needs a team of experts on the ground to ensure they achieve their mission, you’ll need support and guidance from a proven partner to ace your digital transformation strategy.

But, how do you identify the partner that will be the best fit for your business? Here are five key characteristics to look out for when evaluating vendors.

  1. Industry-Specific Expertise – As we mentioned earlier, choosing software tailored to your industry is critical to drive the best ROI. That means your vendor needs to know your industry inside-out. Any provider can claim their solution is “industry-specific,” but you’ll need to gauge if the team understands your challenges and check whether they’ve worked with similar businesses in your industry. Also, make sure to get a product demo to see for yourself if the software really has the granular functionality required.

  2. Established Reputation and Recognition – Whether it’s peer reviews, customer testimonials or awards from industry bodies, you’ll want to find evidence that your potential partner is well established and respected in their field. You’re not looking for a vendor who will simply sell you a product off the proverbial shelf, but a long-term partner committed to mutual success.

  3. Availability of Deployment Options – Here, we’ll return to another point we made earlier—cloud–based solutions are preferable if you want to get the most out of your digital transformation strategy. As such, you must ensure that your provider offers innovative and flexible cloud deployments as standard and Software as a Service (SaaS) models that will suit your needs.

  4. Provision of Multiple Solutions – You’re already working with lots of third parties across your organization—from supply chain partners to equipment suppliers—so it’s ideal to choose a single software provider that offers multiple solutions so you don’t further complicate matters. From built-in integrations to greater accountability, keeping everything under one "digital roof" simplifies each of your digital transformation journey stages.

  5. Excellent User Experience – When you’ve gone to the trouble of winning the hearts and minds of your staff, you don’t want clunky, unintuitive systems to diminish buy-in, delay adoption and ultimately reduce potential ROI. Use product demos as a chance to identify user-friendly solutions with simple navigation and a pleasant look and feel. For example, choosing an ERP system built on the Microsoft Dynamics platform can optimize user experience using familiar functions.

Hopefully, armed with these simple steps for digital transformation excellence and some factors to consider when finding the right partner, you’re ready to set off on your journey to streamlined processes, improved customer experience and greater profitability. All you need to remember is that while the end destination may seem far off, all you need to get there is a series of small steps.

Space shuttle breaking through clouds

Aptean: Ready to Fuel Your Digital Transformation Journey

Here at Aptean, we’re relentlessly committed to helping businesses just like yours drive significant business growth. And to do that we combine innovative software solutions with a comprehensive and dedicated approach to support.

Our industry-specific solutions are designed by experts that “speak your language” and account for the complexities of your sector. We don’t do generic. We don’t do cookie-cutter. And we don’t do one-size-fits-all. Whether you’re in discrete or process manufacturing, food and beverage, distribution, apparel or cosmetics, we can deliver a range of solutions to fit your specialized industry requirements. Plus, many of our solutions are cloud-based and available on the SaaS model to drive your digital transformation and future-proof your business.

When it comes to support, we’re a by-your-side partner, with a team of in-house experts ready to provide best practice guidance, technical know-how and innovative thinking to help your business grow even as the industry landscape changes.

Ready to take that “one small step”? Get in touch with our experts today to find out how our solutions can fuel your digital transformation journey. Or, take our digital transformation assessment to understand if you’re ahead or behind the curve.

Ready to transform your business?

We’ve got the specialized industry software to help your organization thrive.

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