How to kickoff digitalization?

Let’s face it, starting something new is hard. Postponing or setting aside lofty ambitions in favor of more pressing matters is often seen as the only viable option. There is usually only one way to approach such daring tasks and the Greek goddess of victory summarized it best: Just do it! But is it really that simple with digitalization?

There are literally dozens of different approaches to digitalization and each is hailed as the path to salvation by at least one staunch supporter. However, as these paths may proof perilous, unsuspecting companies often find themselves stuck in a digital purgatory. So, let’s have a closer look at some of the more common approaches to digitalization. For illustration purposes and to make this topic a bit more exciting, we separate these different approaches into the following five Kung Fu inspired categories:

  • Way of the ostrich

  • Way of the parrot

  • Way of the frog

  • Way of the cat

  • Way of the eagle

Digitalization efforts have many similarities with classic Kung Fu movies as they are often unsynchronized, unrealistic, over-choreographed and sometimes even a bit silly. Luckily, digitalization turns out to be a lot easier than catching a throwing knife with your teeth or jumping for three minutes straight. Let’s dive right into it:

The way of the ostrich

One approach to digitalization is to just ignore it all together and hope that your company will thrive – for some reason – even without all these fancy digitalization knick-knacks. This certainly is the most irresponsible approach, but not as uncommon as one might think. This approach should be avoided at all cost, as there is no industry, which won’t be affected by digitalization sooner or later.

The way of the parrot

Many companies actively talk about digitalization. However, these companies often struggle with putting words into action. One reason for that may be the lack of a clear vision or no common understanding of what digitalization actually means. These companies usually provide a wonderful opportunity for playing some casual rounds of Buzzword Bingo.

The way of the frog

The bitter truth is, that not every frog turns into a prince when kissed (I would even argue, that no frog will ever turn into a prince, but this will be difficult to prove). It seems, however, that many companies haven’t come to that realization yet, as they move from one potential digitalization partner to the next, in hope of finding the perfect match. The order in which these potential suppliers are approached is either completely random or follows a highly scientific method, such as just asking your colleague Peter, if he knows someone who “does digitalization”. Both approaches result in dozens of workshops with nice PowerPoint presentations, a lot of promises and miserable outcomes. There is a chance of course, that these suppliers are bringing the requested toolbox, critical experience and needed vision for your digitalization initiative, but I would argue that the odds might not be in your favor.

The way of the cat

Many companies are desperately trying to digitalize their business but have lost their focus – similar to a cat that is following a red dot on the wall instead of doing something productive like spreading their hair everywhere. This lack of focus often results in many half-baked digitalization projects without a clear vision of what needs to be achieved. The German Poet Christoph Martin Wienland said it best back in the 18th century - and I’m paraphrasing: “Sometimes, it is impossible to see the forest for the trees, especially when it comes to digitalization”.

The way of the eagle

It’s not called “the way of the eagle” just because it sounds cool, but due to the eagle's impeccable vision. What does that mean in the context of digitalization? There are literally hundreds if not thousands of suppliers out there providing digitalization services or systems, and most of them will have similar sounding claims:

"Our system is highly modular and can therefore cover as many requirements as you want by the simple method of pick and choose, which dramatically reduces your implementation time"

"Our system is low-code and easily configurable with a few clicks, allowing even non-technical users, such as you, to expand and refine your system without the need for specialized developers from IT"

"We follow the agile manifesto since years, which allows us to provide you with an MVP (minimum viable product) in mere weeks and at least 20% faster than any competitor out there"

So how do you know, if you can trust those claims and how can you see through the often times very convincing-sounding arguments from suppliers? The solution itself actually does not really sound that exciting:

Requests for Information (RFI) is the not so exciting buzzword that may have come a bit out of style in recent years but proofs to be a perfect vehicle to address a range of issues. We use so-called advanced RFIs (or RFI+) to a great effect by challenging suppliers to demonstrate their systems, capabilities, and experience a proof of concept in a very limited time-frame. Thereby, the proof of concept is not just something pre-prepared by the supplier but is to be based on a real life (although simplified) use case defined by the company.

Such an approach of evaluating software suppliers has many advantages:

  • The company learns what digitalization can do for them

  • The company develops an understanding of what digitalization means for them

  • The supplier can showcase their capabilities

  • The supplier can support their claims regarding flexibility, ease of use and agility

  • The supplier better understands the company’s business area and needs

  • The company can decide on an actual proof of concept

  • The company gets a taste of how the collaboration with the supplier would look like

  • All is done before a single coin changes hand

Our Conclusion

Going through a digital transformation is challenging enough but going through it alone and unprepared almost always ends in a disaster. However, as many prominent examples have showcased in the past, not starting the journey at all should not be an option.

As the ancient Kung Fu wisdom taught us, we need to be as courageous as a tiger, as agile as a cheetah and as well informed as an eagle with a degree in digital transformation. We therefore highly recommend going for the last approach, as it is – in our experience - the most reliable starting point for any digitalization initiative.

In the end, this is just our view and we are very interested in hearing your perspectives and experiences. Let’s discuss!

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