Change management in digital transformation: backbone of the new reality?

in Advisory, 10.05.2021

An interview with Jean-Christophe Denis, Associate Partner in IT Advisory at KPMG Luxembourg

 

The current pandemic has reshaped the way we work. It has also reinforced the importance of being technologically well-equipped to keep up with the new reality’s flexibility and on-the-go requirements.

Sophie Dubroca, Manager within KPMG Luxembourg’s People & Change team, sat down with colleague Jean-Christophe Denis, Associate Partner in IT Advisory, to better understand the challenges of digital transformation and what companies need to focus on when designing IT strategies in these unprecedented times.

Sophie Dubroca (SD): Jean-Christophe, we hear a lot about digital transformation being at the top of companies’ agendas nowadays. What are the most important key success factors for digital transformation?

Jean-Christophe Denis (JCD): Firstly, digital transformation is a journey, not just the “go-live” of a new tool or solution. It is crucial to properly prepare for it, to avoid expectation gaps and, more importantly, to decrease the chances of low adoption by end users. So of course, dedicating enough time to defining business requirements or “user stories” is the first key success factor. But surprisingly, not the most important.

A comprehensive change management strategy to accompany the transformation each step of the way is truly essential. And that means ensuring early engagement of all relevant stakeholders and sponsors, a clear definition of the future solution and its benefits, as well as the deployment of clear communication and adoption plans. On top of that, proper monitoring of user adoption is key to measuring the transformation’s success and ensuring sustainability.

Of course, all this needs to happen whilst strictly respecting cybersecurity and data protection rules in order to gain both user trust and comply with the applicable regulatory requirements.

SD: What has the COVID-19 situation changed in terms of the change management approach? What are the main pitfalls to avoid?

JCD: The situation has forced many companies to drastically accelerate the pace of their digital transformation. And as they quickly modernized infrastructure or services, they sometimes forgot to focus on delivering a desirable user experience. New tools can’t just be useful: they also need to be usable and desirable to give users an enjoyable experience and gain a sustainable place in their work habits.

From a user point of view this time, homeworking has made it more difficult to feel connected to the changes happening in their companies. Therefore, the different emotions people naturally go through during a digital transformation are exacerbated. When it is enthusiasm and excitement, that’s positive of course; but when it’s anxiety and stress – which are perfectly normal and understandable feelings – it’s a bit more complex to manage. It is also more challenging to organize remote training sessions and to ensure they are properly attended by users and are effective in terms of knowledge transfer.

All these aspects need to be seriously considered in the change management approach so as not to jeopardize the digital transformation’s success.

SD: What are the most common misconceptions people have regarding change management in digital transformation and how can we tackle them?

JCD: Firstly, people sometimes think that since we’re dealing with technology and have a go-live moment, change will be quick. Like an on-off switch. It’s actually a much longer and more complex process. It starts way before the solution to be implemented is chosen and continues way after its release.

Secondly, companies tend to look at the best products on the market. That seems quite legitimate, but it is not always the right way to go. Indeed, what matters the most is having a product that matches the company’s culture and that people will actually be able to work with more efficiently. So, once again, the key is to focus on identifying business requirements and selecting the appropriate products and features to be deployed.

Next, digital transformation tends to be perceived as “IT project”, when it actually impacts every single employee. It is, therefore, critical to emphasize the need for collective ownership of the change at the very early stages of the change management strategy deployment. And this cannot be done without proper support from leaders and sponsors.

And finally, a digital transformation does not only mean an IT upgrade. In fact, it is also a deeper journey into a digital corporate culture. And this goes hand in hand with employee values and behaviors. The bottom line? Never forget that the IT journey needs to be aligned with the corporate culture!

SD: How can the communication strategy leverage and boost user adoption?

JCD: Communication determines what people understand from the IT transformation and, therefore, influences the perception they hold about the solution to be deployed. To get the best out of it, it’s essential to clearly distinguish the different audiences and reach out to them with the right channel at the right moment. Only an early and proper understanding of the tool and its functionalities will lead to good user adoption and usage when the time comes. But to deliver this, it’s crucial to popularize as much as possible the language used and to avoid technical references that might scare some users away.

From the very beginning, appoint a couple of spokespersons outside the IT and project team – the so-called change champions or ambassadors. Asking them to spread key messages about the transformation is a good way to promote it in accessible language that speaks to everyone and, consequently, maximize user adoption. On top of that, change champions help to break down silo mentality, offering a friendly face and reassurance to the most reluctant users.

SD: In one sentence, how would you summarize why change management in digital transformation plays a central role in the new reality?

JCD: Companies will continue to adapt to the new reality by pursuing their digital ambitions and initiatives, and a proper change management approach is simply the main decisive factor which will make digital transformation a sustainable success.