Digital transformation? Make the future visible!

By Heiko van Eldijk

If you can't get the people in your organization on board, every attempt at digital transformation is doomed to fail. But how do you do that, getting your organization on board? Partner and consultant Heiko van Eldijk of Highberg shares his key learnings. 'Digital transformation starts with a compelling story.'

digitale transformatie
Heiko van Eldijk
organisatie

At the intersection of new technology and large amounts of data, more and more possibilities for data-driven optimization and new revenue models are emerging. It's no wonder that more and more companies and organizations are exploring how to make their work easier using innovative technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), cloud computing, process automation, and robotics. While this sounds promising, real change can only begin once the digital foundation is laid. After all, digital transformation isn't just about IT and technology alone; at its core, digital transformation is not a technical challenge but a question of change. Partner/consultant Heiko van Eldijk of Highberg has guided multiple organizations in their digital transformation and shares his key learnings. How do you get the people in your organization on board?

Informal leaders

At the intersection of new technology and large amounts of data, more and more possibilities for data-driven optimization and new revenue models are emerging. It's no wonder that more and more companies and organizations are exploring how to make their work easier using innovative technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), cloud computing, process automation, and robotics. While this sounds promising, real change can only begin once the digital foundation is laid. After all, digital transformation isn't just about IT and technology alone; at its core, digital transformation is not a technical challenge but a question of change. Partner/consultant Heiko van Eldijk of Highberg has guided multiple organizations in their digital transformation and shares his key learnings. How do you get the people in your organization on board?

#1: Provide an attractive perspective

According to Van Eldijk, every digital transformation begins with an attractive perspective; a compelling story about what you want to achieve that gradually gets your employees excited about all the changes coming their way. "Start with a joint exploration of the future, bringing together IT specialists, product experts, marketers, and preferably customers. This often generates a wealth of ideas. Internally, you can usually find plenty of people who are well-informed about what's happening in the technological landscape and who enjoy brainstorming about digital opportunities. And customers often have a good idea of what they expect from you and where optimization opportunities and chances lie. You can use such a session to develop one or more possible future scenarios. What could the future of your organization look like?"

Informal leaders

This compelling perspective must then be "charged" and communicated, Van Eldijk continues. "It's important to get the 'informal leaders' on the shop floor on board with your plans. Let one of these informal leaders – not a marketer – for instance, talk about the plans and the operational advantages they will bring. Such a straightforward presentation on the shop floor increases the chance that the rest of your staff will also get excited. Another idea is to create an (animated) video that illustrates the concrete benefits of digital transformation on the shop floor."

Automated problem analysis

Van Eldijk gives the example of a crane rental company that largely digitized the entire work process of its maintenance department. Nowadays, data analysis is used to predict equipment maintenance needs. In this way, the company shifted from purely reactive to preventative maintenance. Based on automated problem analysis and historical data, the system can accurately estimate the likely underlying issue of a fault report. The required materials are then placed in the technician's van overnight, so they can immediately drive to the customer in the morning – without unnecessary delays.

Make the future visible

According to Van Eldijk, this digital transformation became a success because people were excited before the actual implementation. "Ultimately, the heart of the technicians lies not in all the planning work, but in working on machines. When they saw how these digital innovations would give them more time for their passion, they naturally became enthusiastic. This made them willing to think along and accept any teething problems that came with it. Make the future visible, and the chance that your people will get on board will increase significantly."

#2: Seek inspiration

The challenges that organizations face in terms of digital transformation are often far from unique. Therefore, it's a good idea to visit other organizations, Van Eldijk suggests. "Of course, your biggest competitor may understandably not be eager to share their insights with you. But most other organizations are often more than willing to talk about how they shaped their digital transformation journey and what it has brought them." "It can often be very useful to visit a company with similar processes, but in an adjacent industry. So, don't hesitate to learn from someone else and get inspired!"

Fresh perspectives

A fresh external perspective can also provide interesting new viewpoints, Van Eldijk continues. "Use the outside world to improve yourself. For example, invite other companies or organizations to come and observe your organization. This often leads to various interesting questions. Why do you actually do things in a certain way? And could you perhaps try it this way instead? A good example is automaker Toyota, which frequently invited other companies. They noted down all the questions asked during such visits so that they could potentially benefit from them later."

#3: Research and experiment

The most successful digital transformation begins with research and experimentation. Therefore, find out which part of the company or which department is most open to change and start your search there, advises Van Eldijk. "Make good use of ideas that may already exist within your organization and start with a small-scale pilot. Scaling up is always possible if the initial experiences are positive. And if ideas turn out not to be as fruitful as initially thought? Then it's not a big deal."

Think outside the box

However, organize such a pilot as much as possible outside of existing frameworks, stresses Van Eldijk. "Otherwise, there's a big risk that the initiative won't even take off because you immediately get bogged down in time-consuming procedures. Free up people and give them space and resources to experiment freely, on a small scale, with new technology in a 'laboratory' environment. Dare to think outside the box!"

Pull the plug

In doing so, provide a clear time limit, Van Eldijk advises. "Set a term of, for example, three or six months. If there is still no clear application visible after that time, dare to pull the plug on such an experiment and move on to something else. If there is a potential interesting transformation in sight, then scale up and promote it internally. This increases the chances that the shop floor will pick up on a new digital initiative."

How does this help the organization's performance?

The insights in this article show that in order to truly succeed in digital transformation, it's essential to get the shop floor on board. Therefore, provide an attractive perspective, exchange experiences with others, and create the right conditions for a small-scale pilot. This way, you ensure that digital transformation truly comes to life within your organization.

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