Badly bungled projects have been an undeniable theme for the ICT industry for decades. Digital transformation initiatives can easily join the roll call of shame if the processes and practices of good governance aren't put in place at the outset.
Almost every veteran of the Australian consultancy and systems integration sector has a war story of a project they worked on which ran grossly over budget, was besieged by bugs, derailed by stakeholders or just flat out failed.
Here are three examples.
First example, a local state government unsuccessfully tried to migrate its public hospitals to a new payroll solution back in 2010.
Cost of the exercise blew out from an original $6 million to more than $1.2 billion, after the new system saw thousands of staff incorrectly paid, or not paid at all.
A second example of a failed digital transformative government initiative had a price tag of $1 billion, which included a not-so-smart smartcard ticketing system leaving taxpayers out of pocket to the tune of an additional $550 million.
And a third example, a local city council's failed government systems project to replace an array of standalone solutions with a single integrated platform.
It culminated in the local authority suing a software vendor for $50 million in damages.
Today, ambitious digital transformation initiatives have become as ubiquitous as multi-million-dollar enterprise resources planning projects were, a decade or more ago.
The price tags are just as high – and the stakes are arguably even higher.
Australian consumers have become accustomed to completing a vast array of tasks online – from booking bi-annual parent-teacher interviews to buying pet food.
They're increasingly demanding that organisations across all sectors offer them the convenience, security and speed of doing business digitally – and those which fail to respond are likely to find themselves tailing the competition.
As a result, we're seeing Australia's public and private sectors alike racing to embrace digital technologies, to keep the customer satisfied and realise the efficiency dividends these solutions promise to deliver.
Digital technologies are expected to contribute $139 billion to the Australian economy by 2020, up from $79 billion in 2014, according to Deloitte.
A quarter of the local CIOs polled by Gartner in its global 2019 CIO Agenda Survey identified digital initiatives as their top priority.
How to achieve a return on investment (ROI) from your enterprise's transformation initiative without becoming embroiled in expensive digital disaster?
It's simpler than one might think.
The secret lies in something that may be counter to the notion of automation technology: people. And they matter if you want to digitally transform your business.
Building a project team, and a wider workforce, that's ready for change rather than poised to buck against it, is critical.
Organisations that fail to do so may struggle to realise the benefits of what is often a significant investment in infrastructure, solutions and time.
It all starts with leadership – from business chiefs who throw their support behind the push, to project managers who are able to explain the benefits of transformation to employees across the enterprise, and technology champions whose job it is to reinforce the message to their colleagues.
It helps if they're aided by a change management team with experience in guiding organisations through periods of significant operational upheaval.
Digitisation frequently results in longstanding practices and processes being overhauled and discarded.
Effective communication and a clearly-defined transition plan increase the likelihood the exercise will be completed effectively.
Townhall meetings, workshops and even regular email bulletins all provide opportunities to discuss the progress of the project, deal with employee concerns and garner feedback that can lead to improved outcomes.
Harnessing internal expertise
Treating staff members as valued partners in the transformation exercise, rather than stakeholders to be managed, can make life easier for transformation teams and increase the success of a project.
Employees' expertise is likely to prove invaluable, particularly when it comes to capturing and mapping existing processes and the variations for which undocumented workarounds are used.
They'll also have insight into which processes are worth keeping and which have become obsolete or are duplicated across multiple systems - information that can be used to inform the planning process.
Making a successful shift to digital
‘Digitise or die' is a catchphrase-slash-truism which sums up the position for many Australian enterprises in 2019, as technology continues to disrupt traditional industries and new competitors make inroads on their previously-secure customer bases.
Making people an integral part of the digital transformation equation ups the odds of achieving an acceptable return on the time and money that the exercise is likely to demand.