Digital Transformation – It’s All About the People

In her new book, The Human Side of Digital Business Transformation, Kamales Lardi delivers an essential and practical exploration of the real-world implementation of digital transformation.

Not surprisingly from the book’s title, her approach is focused on the people side of transformation. This can involve managing internal stakeholders, such as leadership teams and employees, as well as external stakeholders, such as customer, partners and supplier.

To hear more about this unique perspective, we reached out to Lardi, who consented to the following interview.

Question: Why did you write the book?

Answer: Over the past 23 years of business advisory, I have observed that companies are still underestimating the value and impact of the human factor in digital business transformation. Digital transformation is an end-to-end change in how an organization creates, delivers, and captures value by leveraging technology solutions. A common misconception is that digital transformation is rooted in technology, disruption, or new digital channels to market. Companies tend to place the focus on the ‘digital’ part, rather than the ‘transformation’ part. The digital part opens doors to exponential possibilities, but it is the transformation part, the journey that an organization goes through with the ecosystem of people, that creates the solid foundation to accelerate these exponential possibilities:

  • board members and management teams that drive change;
  • employees that adopt, embrace, and advocate for change;
  • customers that trigger the change;
  • external stakeholders such as partners and suppliers that support the implementation of change.

Understanding and engaging with this ecosystem of people is the true secret to driving sustainable digital business transformation success. This was the fundamental trigger that pushed me to write this book. I wanted to create a playbook for human-centered digital transformation and building an interconnected ecosystem, a guide business leaders could use to lead transformation in next-generation organizations. I also realized that very few books on the market offered a comprehensive guide on how to drive transformation in an organization successfully, and those that did exist focused on change management elements. As I describe in the book, change management on its own falls short in ensuring success, and a broader organization with transformation is required.

Q: What are some of the keys to a successful digital business transformation?

A: Purpose: Digital business transformation is a fundamental change of an organization’s culture, operations and ecosystem by leveraging technology to create value. It is about transforming value creation, capture and delivery of the business through the intelligent use of people, processes and technology solutions. Critical success factors to jumpstart digital business transformation starts with an integrated strategy with clear transformation goals, where the why, what, and how of the strategy is clearly described and linked to quantifiable business outcomes. The transformation should describe meaningful change that aligns with the purpose of the organization and the values embedded in the culture and people. The purpose is critical in bringing stakeholders together, collectively moving towards a common direction.

Customer: The customer is at the core of any organizational transformation. In this crowded digital environment, companies truly struggle to stand out, and customers’ behaviors and preferences are evolving rapidly. Consumers are shifting away from product-based interactions, demanding more meaningful experience-focused interactions across channels and touchpoints. Digital business transformation initiatives help organizations expand reach, engage on deeper levels, and scale personalized interactions at minimum costs.

Process: Any transformation in the organization is supported and driven by changes to the business process landscape and operational infrastructure. New elements in the organization, whether it involves a technology solution implementation, shift in digital products and services, or even digital revenue stream will involve process changes to scale and deliver sufficient business outcomes. This will include related policy changes, as well as effective monitoring of progress around processes and outcomes, with sufficient data availability and quality.

Data & insights: Transformation in an organization is guided by the data and often involves analyzing structured and unstructured data from a variety of sources to gain rapid insights. Organizations will be able to use these insights to determine key focus areas, strategic priorities, as well as opportunities that will guide the development and implementation of the digital business transformation efforts. In the current digital market, there is an abundance of data from various sources, including users, platforms and devices. The combination of data and technology can help organizations review and streamline experiences across customer journeys, as well as optimize internal operations.

Technology: Identifying and implementing fit-for-purpose technology solutions that create a modern architecture driven by business needs. Sustainable digital business transformation will depend on creating this environment – one that is secure, scalable, deploys and adopts changes rapidly, and able to seamlessly interact with a range of solutions. Technology is an enabler for digital business transformation, and in many cases the trigger for change as new solutions and capabilities allow organizations to create and deliver value faster and at lower cost.

Q: What are some of the digital transformation trends that you expect in 2023?

A: This past year, I have observed the global business community shift focus towards the next ‘shiny thing’, including Web3, metaverse and virtual digital economies, and most recently generative AI solutions such as ChatGPT. For most organizations, application of these and other emerging technology solutions will require acceleration of digital business transformation efforts. In 2023, companies will need to focus on establishing the right foundation to ensure sustainable success in more ambitious efforts implementing emerging technology solutions. This includes creating connected experiences with customers, optimizing and digitizing processes and operations, as well as application of data and technology reshape the business for the digital economy. As companies mature in their digital transformation efforts, business leaders will increasingly recognize that success or failure heavily depends on one key element – the people side of the transformation journey.

Q: Tell us about your own journey as a woman in male dominated field? Was it challenging? Why is the issue important to you?

A: My journey started in the mid-1990s, it was a challenging environment to enter as modern digital technologies were still developing and diversity in the industry was certainly scarce. Personally, I faced conscious and unconscious bias, particularly as I moved up the ranks. I am an advocate for diversity and inclusion in the technology industry. The lack of diversity in the tech space has significant consequences for the world. Development in major technology areas, such as AI-based solutions or the metaverse, already suffer from a lack of diversity. These technology areas will have a transformative impact across the global business landscape, but also society in general. If these solutions are not built by a diverse set of people (diverse of thought which includes gender, culture, thoughts, sexual orientation, education or backgrounds), the solutions risk being designed only for a specific homogenous subset of people. Also, decision making in companies are at risk, where homogenous teams lack the diversity of thought to rigorously test and question the decisions being made, particularly when it involves ethics or tech solutions that impact lives. This results in some of the actions that we are seeing in the tech companies, as well as may be to root cause of the malicious, fraudulent outcomes e.g., FTX etc.