Stop Groaning at Digital Transformation

You’ve probably heard the term ‘digital transformation’ before, but, just in case, here is a simple definition: Digital transformation (DT) is the process of using digital technologies to create new, or modify existing, business processes, culture, and customer experiences to meet changing business and market requirements. This reimagining of business in the digital age is digital transformation.

Sounds simple enough, and ever since mainstream adoption of computing and software DT has been progressing, but the phrase itself really started to enter the common lexicon in the 2000’s. We’ve all attended conferences that had DT keynotes, and pretty much all software enables DT.

Unfortunately, today, when someone mentions digital transformation, it is likely to bring a groan or even an eye-roll, and we are more likely to experience the Delirium Tremens!

But why?

According to InfoWorld 84% of DT projects fail! They lay out 3 broad reasons for this failure:

  • The digital technology just “does not work” as advertised and cannot be made to work. This can be the software itself or  as a result of the complexity of the integrated components. This is almost a math problem, two configurable systems of purpose with x and y number of potential configurations respectively need to talk to each other through middleware and support a use case that nobody had thought of before, because that is what makes the company unique! This is the story of many Enterprise software projects, it leads to failure, loss of faith, delays, and spiraling costs.
  • The digital technology “might work” but the deployment teams “leave the scene of the crime” before the technology is embraced by the end-users. Complexity drives different teams being involved, teams change, and people on those teams move on. The more time it takes, the more likely you’ll lose people along the way. At a previous company, I remember pitching a 9 month implementation project, before SaaS was so fully accepted,  and my audience was in silence at the end. What had I said wrong? Turns out the concern was how to integrate our 9 month plan into the 12 year SAP harmonization project.
  • The digital technology “does work” but we underestimate the difficulty, time, organizational structure, commitment, and cost required to ensure a true digital transformation. Projects last months or years, cost large sums of money. By the time the project is complete the problem has changed and compromises were made due to budget overruns. A Global 500 company I was speaking to is 10 months into their 3 year project to stand up a single field-service solution, they’re already 6 months behind schedule and realizing they’re still building the foundation. All of the big-ideas that will help them differentiate and compete are all slowly sliding into the future, meanwhile their competitors are capitalizing on these capabilities today.

Transforming from what?

If failure is virtually pre-ordained, then why even begin? The answer is simply out of necessity.

Most companies are still running critical business processes on antiquated technologies that have become too fragile to change:

  • Paper has been used for 1000’s of years and is still prevalent in the modern digital age. Complex business processes are collapsed into forms that shuffle around and wind up filed away. Data is not backed up, sometimes re-keyed, unsearchable, and falls foul to poor handwriting or a misplaced coffee mug. New field required? “No, we’d have to add a second page!” One such company shared with me 600 different documents that they collect for the same or more processes throughout their organization. Imagine the amount of documents created when you have 600 possible templates to use. 
  • Excel became the next major technology, launched in 1985. Excel is powerful, and a power user can pretty much build anything in Excel. New field required? “No, there are so many related fields and calculations, we’re afraid of what will break!”. A company I was working with in industrial batteries would attach a photograph of hand written “supplemental” notes to the spreadsheet form they’d submit that even went so far as to change the pricing calculations. The “Excel guru” had moved on to a different company and nobody dared make changes because the last time it had taken days to clean up the problems that had been caused.
  • In 1999, Salesforce was launched, driving the shift to cloud, and as the platform opened up and the AppStore gained popularity it became the low code platform of choice for many Enterprises. But, Salesforce has failed to keep the same innovation in mobile, complexity has led to fragility and it still requires highly skilled expensive resources to update or maintain. Some companies struggle to even call it a CRM anymore, it is ring-fenced by IT, and is typically the second highest IT expense after the ERP. A prospect I’m speaking to had even built a full blown e-commerce solution in Salesforce, and when I asked if they still considered it a CRM there was some nervous laughs followed by a 10 minute debate by the people on the call as to the answer.

The COVID pandemic amplified the fragility and lack of agility of these systems and processes. According to Forbes 97% of executives say COVID has accelerated transformation. At its simplest, essential service businesses needed to deploy checklists to make sure their employees were safe. At the most extreme, a company’s customer base evaporated, and they needed to rapidly pivot to doing something completely different.  

Imagine walking away from the software you have invested years and $10’s of thousands into because it just doesn’t work anymore. The “new-normal” led to so much change across all business processes – and some of it was very painful. 

What now?

The continuing momentum in the market and conversations going on suggest Digital Transformation is still proceeding despite high likelihood of failure, because companies must transform, the need is real and the pandemic tore the band-aid off for many businesses. There are new global competitors all the time, and businesses must be in a constant state of self disruption to survive. We’ve also seen that size is not a guarantee for survival, look at the story of General Electric in the last 5 years, or that only 52 of the Fortune 500 have been there for 50 years

In one of many articles from IT leaders, the top 5 tips for accelerating transformation were:

  1. Solve problems today, plan for tomorrow, repeat
  2. Build resilience and nimbleness through automation
  3. Clearly define and evangelize your mission/vision to the organization
  4. Recognize and pay off technical debt
  5. See your people; measure your data

I particularly like the first as it mirrors what one of our customers said to us “our industry is always solving the problem in front of us right now. But then we get stuck in something that won’t help us with the problems or opportunities in the future”. 

This also speaks to the “face-palm” moment that happens in my conversations almost every week when companies recognize all of the above to be true and then move into the talking about performing a needs analysis, pilot project, and the 6+ month buying cycle. This is old thinking, because 6 months from now, the challenges will all have changed again.

No-Code offers a new way of thinking

But unlike the technologies of the past -the complicated enterprise software solutions that take from 6 to 18 months to implement- no-code is a relatively new way of thinking that may very well be an answer to our digital transformation woes.  A no-code app platform can be quickly deployed on top of whatever systems you already have which avoids the rip and replace conversation and side-steps any hand-wringing about a future replacement project. After you deploy an enterprise no-code app platform, you can almost instantaneously deliver modern apps – either web or mobile – to digitize whatever business process needs help. IT is able to deliver solutions to their business counterparts much more quickly than ever before and, in some organizations, process analysts and business owners can create their own solutions.  No code app platforms deliver mobility and access via devices that are in common place use, it enables process automation, and there is no technical debt because there is no code. This comes together to make your people more connected, more efficient, and truly digitally transformed. 

A no-code app platform can be quickly deployed on top of whatever systems you already have which avoids the rip and replace conversation and side-steps any hand-wringing about a future replacement project.

-Jonathan Skelding, VP Business Ops

Appify’s approach to no-code is very different from others because we are focused on giving IT the controls they need to create and manage these apps, combined with an elegant user experience that makes it easy for a subject matter expert to create apps that can then be managed by IT. We reject the notion of a free for all, which would only serve to deliver the same chaos that every organization is experiencing with their SaaS explosions. The Appify solution embraces IT , and our connector approach helps IT manage data security, systems access, authentication and authorization leading to increased security in the environment. Rigorous controls make it easy for IT to determine who can develop what and how it is released. A standard platform means consistent user experiences which lowers training and maintenance costs and lowers the chances of human error. 

Appify also rejects that no-code equals compromise. You do not have to choose between a no-code solution that is fast-but-simple or a custom built solution that is slow-but-complex. The Appify no-code platform brings the agility and speed necessary, while also delivering a complex set of functionality for many of the most complicated business processes a company may have. Add onto that our commitment to deliver the enterprise-grade security, privacy and administrative tools that will make any IT team comfortable.

Start building your success story

The Appify platform also offers an incredible opportunity to catch up and leapfrog. Traditional thinking is to update the backend systems of record in order to support the new front end experience, but this is the traditional ‘digital transformation’ that is failing to deliver. With Appify you can put a modern app experience on the front end for your employees, seamlessly integrating your partners, and enabling a modern customer facing experience without changing your backend. Suddenly you are ahead of the game, and can now modernize the backend using the Appify connector methodology without interrupting your industry leading customer experience. In one example, it took just 5-weeks on the Appify platform to build 5 mission critical apps for TataMD’s COVID testing platform from doctors to patients.

With the Appify no-code platform, companies have built apps for field service, CRM, warehouse management, parts and logistics, facilities management, sales compensation management, generating quotes in the field, to name a few. But it also can help you get a fresh cup of coffee.

Really? Not quite, but Appify doesn’t just help big companies. The Appify no-code platform not only makes digital transformation a reality for enterprises, it makes it accessible to smaller organizations as well. Appify has helped: 

  • Business operations at a North American Coffee chain (so yes a fresh cup of coffee)
  • A New York HVAC company who got sick of being told “No” everytime they wanted a feature that would help their business: “if we do that for you, we’ll have to do it for everyone!”
  • A 170 truck haulage company with everything from safety checklists to vehicle maintenance
  • An irrigation district manage everything from maintenance to approvals to land access grants

If your business is either struggling with a digital transformation project, believes there is value in digitizing your manual or spreadsheet process, or is wishing you had a clear solution for digital transformation that doesn’t take months or even years to deploy, the no-code platforms should be your next step. For an enterprise no-code app platform that has the security, tools and management that your IT team needs, look no further than Appify. 

Jonathan headshot
Written by Jonathan Skelding VP of Business Strategy & Ops at Appify. Jonathan has been in the software industry for 30 years in a variety of global roles from engineering to services, alliances and sales.