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May 09, 2014
A roadmap and a business case are not enough for digital transformation
By: Mark McDonald

“All I need is a tall ship and a star to sail her by,” Sea Fever by John Masefield

The digital analogy is “give me a roadmap, a business case and a company to digitize.”

Executives believe these make sense at the start of a digital transformation initiative. They are right in wanting to know where you are, where you are going and the resources you have to get there. These are important issues for transformation, but they do not equate to a strategy and without a strategy it is easy for your digital ship to founder.

Founder in the sense that the digital ship cannot sail beyond its business as usual rocks. A roadmap and business case is acceptable when putting the existing business on a sheet of glass. This approach rarely drives digital innovation and transformation. All it does is put a check mark in the digital box.

Digital transformation is anything but business as usual. Getting to the innovative and unusual requires more than a roadmap and business case and that is the point of this post.

Roadmap + Business Case ≠ Strategy

The roadmap and business case combination implies but does not constitute a transformational strategy. Relying on these two deliverables alone easily grounds the case for transformation in familiar terms that limit rather than unleash digital’s potential.

It is a subtle point, particularly at the start of a digital initiative, but an important one. Leaders presume a familiar strategy when they ask for a roadmap and business case. That strategy rests on the usual cases for technology-intensive transformation like technology and channel upgrade structures that make them think they are digital rather than thinking digitally.

This is where familiarity breeds complacency. Presumed strategies result in upgrading old practices with new technology. Leaders feel digital when they touch a mobile or tablet app, but you have not changed the fundamentals of the customer experience, products, services, operations or the economic model.

Possessing digital technology is one-tenth of being a digital business. A digital business creates new sources of value and revenue from digital resources. That requires going beyond digitizing current practices and requires making explicit decisions – a digital strategy – for going beyond dousing the company in digital.

Without an explicit digital strategy, one that sets direction and answers the tough questions, there will be change without transformation. A roadmap and business case predefines a transformational path and assumptions. Without a dynamic digital strategy, every issue, bump in the road or failure calls transformation into question and resets plans that slow progress and agility.

Leaders blind themselves with presumptions by jumping straight to a business case and roadmap. Look about the organization at prior prototypes, plans, demo’s, etc. and see activities that failed to gain the momentum required to realize results. These artifacts tell tales of journeys that set sail but failed to reach a destination as they raised issues that required decisions beyond a presumed strategy.

Digital transformation calls everything into question. It raises fundamental questions about customers, capabilities, capacities, economics, monetization, etc. Without an explicit strategy process, these questions lurk in the shadows and cannot be readily handled by a business case or a roadmap.

Digital Strategy, Roadmap and Business Case: the transformation triad

Initiative and investment are important parts of digital transformation. Combined with an explicit digital strategy, they form a stable platform for dynamic change based on open and transparent statements of direction and decisions. Together the consensus embodied by a strategy, roadmap and business case provides the means for leaders to maintain a balance between Why (Strategy), What (Roadmap) and How (Business Case). An explicit digital strategy provides the means to handle the context changes common in digital transformation as the organization tries new things.

Starting with a strategy forces leadership to set a course based on confronting the hard choices required of a transformation. It defines the ‘star’ that guides the myriad of decisions required for successful transformation. A roadmap and business case alone are simply too inflexible and presume a predefined path to handle the dynamic and evolving aspects of digital transformation.

Where do you want to go? What do you do when you encounter problems along the way? How do you know that your future destination is more than a port you’ve called on in the past?

Without a strategy all you have is a ship in need of change, a chart and a chest of money. That’s enough to fix the status quo but is that all you want to do with digital?

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