The Digital Transformation Survival Guide

White Paper

The road to digitisation is littered with high profile failures and expensive technology misfires. Gartner has predicted that 75% of businesses will transform to digital by the year 2020, or at least will be preparing for the change. The kicker is, only 30% of those attempts will be successful.

To help you prepare for the challenges ahead, listen to what some of the best minds in the industry have to say about digital transformation, including the best structure for a transformation and learn what can go wrong.

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Essential Gear

Before embarking on your transformation journey, it is important to prepare for all eventualities. Here are some essentials to pack:

Steel Helmet: Be prepared to meet plenty of resistance, from all quarters. Body armour, resilience, healthy breakfasts and yoga are essential to stay match fit.

Loudspeaker: You will need to be a consummate communicator, reassuring people about how they will get there, preferably about how you have achieved it in the past. If not you don’t have personal experience, learn a few second-hand anecdotes to tell in a knowing way. This handbook is full of ‘em.

Jargon buster: The lingo of transformation is a necessary evil, as you need to know what you and others are talking about. If you’re not the CIO, then make him/ her your best friend to help translate human needs into technical requirements.

GPS Makes sure you stay on course by navigating using a map of your target customer’s journey. Orienteering by the customer will be your guide through the most confusing landscapes.

Sturdy boots: Be prepared for a long trek. You may spend months trudging through a flat and featureless terrain, punctuated by the occasional uphill slog

A quick primer on digital disruption

‘Digital’ has driven down the barriers to entry in most industries, so markets are being flooded with cheaper, more fast-moving startups. Venture capital funding and crowd-source funding sites such as Kickstarter have enabled entrepreneurs to raise money and scale quickly.

The pattern of disruptors is often the same. When they first enter the market they are usually dismissed as ‘low quality’, but they will then quickly improve performance to become more than ‘good enough’

This pattern has been repeated again and again as markets are digitised one after the other. In a changing world, the rate at which large companies fail is increasing. Only 63% of S&P 500 companies a decade ago are still in the index today. At current churn rate 75% of the S&P 500 will be replaced by 2027.

Newspaper publishing used to be a hugely expensive operation. Now, low cost open-source web technologies have enabled 1.7 million Wordpress blogs and 576,000 hours of YouTube videos to be published every single day, which undermines the business model of traditional publishers and an advertising model based on scarcity. The closure of the Independent newspaper in 2016 is a sign of things to come.

Blockbuster failed to adjust their business model from physical media while Netflix developed a data-driven streaming service. Kodak ignored digital innovations developed within its own labs to stick with physical film, while Fujifilm diversified into digital printing. Even the once innovative iTunes download service is struggling to prevent Spotify from taking market share through streaming.

What does Digital Transformation mean?

Before we go any further, let’s find a definition we can agree on.


While only a 7 letter word, ‘digital’ is often misunderstood to be a new website, new app, or marketing channel. Digital really means customers now have the tools to take control, to compare products and prices, do business on our own terms, at any time of day.

Customer expectations are rising so that they now expect transparency, and to cut through layers of cost and bureaucracy to receive cheaper, more efficient and personalised service.


Digital transformation means rising to these challenges by moving digital out of its silo so that it can reshape your organisation around the needs of the customer. Digital transformation is business transformation. A business strategy with digital at the heart of it. Technology has created this change, but true transformation to a digitally-native company means:

  • Re-inventing your operating model, re-thinking internal structures to allow the customer to run the show,
  • Creating a more agile culture. Creating an environment and processes to become quicker and more innovative in bringing new products and services to your customers.
  • Becoming a data-driven business. As more and more interactions with customers will take place through software, analytical skills to interpret and act on that data are key.
  • Develop new business models which deliver an improved customer experience and competitive advantage – very often based around bringing down costs to deliver lower prices for the consumer.

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And (sorry) it never ends

Digital transformation does not have an end point - it should be called “the never-ending journey”. Continuous improvement is essential if companies are to remain competitive in a fast-moving digital world. This requires structure and processes which allow the business to evolve during a period of constant change.

Why does it go wrong?

Here are the top 3 reasons that digital transformation programmes fail:

Lack of support from the top

Without support from the CEO and executives, there is no point continuing any further. It really is that important. When seeking the CEO’s sign-off, make sure you also make the case to the entire leadership team. A trip to the CEO’s office with the CIO, HR Director and Finance Director all together is far more likely to succeed than any one function in isolation.

Expensive CRMs/Automation that just don’t get used

One of the most common failures is when expensive new technology is brought in and no one adopts it.

“Time and time again, the system rejects new tools. A CMO who is not close enough to the day-to-day problems imposes a technology solution which doesn’t help. The temptation is always to blame the technology, when really the fault is solving the wrong problem.”

- Parry Malm

Lack of engagement

Tumbleweed response from the organisation. Lack of engagement with announcements, lack of interest or resistance. The typical response is to blame the people, accuse them of being risk-averse, when the reality is that the communications and training are not hitting the mark.#

Superficial changes and ‘business as usual’ continues

‘Business as usual’ is often a juggernaut of institutionalised culture, annual targets and incentives. It is far easier to pay lip service to change, to say “we are fully 365 digital now” - an exercise in rebranding - than it is to make meaningful change.

It is far easier to say a shiny technology platform will solve a problem, because changing behaviour and culture can be just too hard.

- Matt Ballantine

Bad for your health

Healthcare has proven to be one of the most challenging sectors to digitise, with high profile failures on both sides of the Atlantic. The NHS’ catastrophic IT implementation was scrapped after costing tax payers an estimated £12 billion. “This saga is one of the worst and most expensive contracting fiascos in the history of the public sector,” said Richard Bacon MP.

Meanwhile, the ‘Obamacare’ website in the United States,, was budgeted to be built for $93.7 million but costs escalated until it cost taxpayers $1.7 billion The Government Accountability Office investigation concluded the administration has “inadequate management oversight and coordination” that “prevented real-time decision-making and efficient responses.” Both these very public failures were mired in confusion and a lack of ownership.

How to build a business case for transformation

Unless you get the full support from your board, the whole project is dead in the water. Here is how to build a business case for digital transformation:

1. Defeat complacency

At a time of unprecedented change, not taking bold steps is one of the greatest risks companies face, as they sleepwalk into irrelevance. So instilling a healthy fear of ‘business as usual’ is often necessary, sometimes using the Burning Platform (see page 17) analogy, so that the costs of inaction outweigh the costs of change.

Put a financial value on the risk or opportunity you face in your marketplace. In most markets pureplay startups are growing market share at expense of traditional players. If your market share has already started to decline, then forecasting this forward over 3 or 5 years should be a healthy motivator to change

- Dave Chaffey

2. Stay technology agnostic

The word ‘digital’ can be misleading as it suggests that technology is the solution. In fact, the main reason transformation projects go wrong is when people are fixated on the technology, rather than thinking about their business.

Perhaps the best advice on this came from Steve Jobs when he said: “You have to start with the customer experience and work backwards to the technology”. While you and your technology team will probably have your favourite platforms, your preferences should be deliberately ignored – or at least put on hold – until the last possible moment. When it is time to decide on a platform, future-proof yourself by making sure the tech can be easily replaced when improved technology comes along, as it inevitably will.

3. Bring together teams early

Technology has become too important to be left to technologists. Real change is only achieved by bringing together a multidisciplinary group with a variety of perspectives to get behind a single goal and sense of purpose. The earlier you can get people to co-create the better as it doesn’t just come up with better solutions, it gets their buyin from the start.

It doesn’t just have to be internal teams. Barclaycard is a good example where they bring customers together with technologists, customer service and marketers to work together and solve problems.”

- Matt Ballantine

4. Create a customer-centric vision

The customer should be the guiding light, so start by mapping the customer journey. What are their current interactions with you, and how can this be improved. Any decisions on what to do and what not to do can be made by reference to the customer journey, keeping you lazer-focused on the real problems.

Customer experience is the competitive battleground and the route to differentiation.

- Alex Wright

5. Find your data points

In a digital world, it is important to base your decisions on data, where possible your own current data and how this compares to competitors.

Look at all the touchpoints across the customer journey and try to identify any stages which can be improved? For example, are you remarketing, expanding reach through acquisition, losing people due to poor conversion rate optimisation from basket abandons or landing page improvements. This can tell you where you are leaving money on the table

- Dave Chaffey

These data points, if not entirely comprehensive, should start to allow you to build a business case from bottom up - a quantitative approach, which is basing it on how your business is performing currently. Another useful source of data is from other businesses operating in your market.

Try to benchmark yourself as early as you can, whether formally or informally. This can show you what the drop off points are for your customers, highlighting areas that required focus. Done well, this proves the case for why change is necessary

- Ruth Connor

6. Be bold

To make meaningful change, make sure to aim high, making them sufficiently ambitious. Otherwise the same amount of work will deliver very little impact.

Micro changes makes micro effects so go after the big opportunities

- Parry Malm

Being bold also applies to the investment case:

Businesses often want to ‘do an Uber’ but fail to realise that they burned $1 billion in the first half of 2015. Amazon still doesn’t turn a profit. If you want to compete on those terms, it might mean a radical rethink of budgeting

- Matt Ballantine

7. Build in flexibility from the start

Some of the greatest technology failures come from working to fixed project roadmaps which are already two or three years out of date by the time of launch. A better and more agile approach is to make lots of small failures along the way. By continuously testing and learning, risk is mitigated at every stage.

Talk about failure and learning from the start. Make sure to avoid a ‘big bang’ launch.

- Parry Malm

While business cases will naturally involve some certainty (by investing x we will achieve y) it is important to acknowledge that you don’t know exactly how you will get there. Some parts of the initiative won’t go well, others will go better.

Avoid a top-down demand for certainty, as this creates fear of being wrong and stifles innovation. Instead try to create an environment in which the organisation accepts failures along the way.

Build in discretionary budget for marketers, a sandbox for IT which is outside of the standard budget.

- Parry Malm

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Instead look to create a short feedback loop by launching a series of bite-sized initiatives and responding to what your customers are actually doing with the product.

A good approach is to explain to senior leaders that you will do ten things and four of them will work, and we can’t tell you exactly what they are yet.”

- Parry Malm

Dave Chaffey points to the way that media and owners of creative IP spread their investments across a portfolio.

How book publishers cope with uncertainty

Book publishers know that some of their books will tank horribly, while others will do far better than expected – and it’s impossible to predict which way it will go. “You can either manage that situation by churning out formulaic nonsense, which does happen, or you can have a balanced portfolio to spread your bets. “Digital investment should be approached in the same way. Make a spread of investment across a number of channels and initiatives, and then increase investment on the channels when you see that investment paying of

- Dave Chaffey

8. Don’t expect 100% adoption

No matter how good the end result, it is unlikely that your entire customer-base will want to change the way they work with you.

A digital readiness report into you market helps focus. 11% of adults will be digital illiterate, so expect a segment of customers to never use those services.

- Ruth Connor

Digital transformation at Marie Curie

Claire Hazle, Head of Digital at Marie Curie, gives her top tips for a successful transformation programme.

  1. Ground everything in evidence. Spend where you’ll make the biggest difference. Whether large or small budget, you know where makes most difference
  2. Take people with you on the journey. And be aware of the organisation’s pulse. Digital transformation can be scary. Charities are driven by direct mail, so digital and automation can be scary. Build relationships, don’t leave people behind
  3. Build solid foundations. But keep people interested when it’s not sexy.
  4. Test and learn as you go. Be flexible and prepare to change pace/direction if necessary - e.g. if you had to rewrite the business case. The landscape changed so you changed direction.
  5. Be realistic. And don’t get distracted by shiny new toys. Easy to feel guilt for not leveraging all the new technologies.
  6. Define benefits. As clearly as you can upfront. If you can’t, at least define the hypothesis. Can be hard if data and benchmarking is a mess, but you can start with a hypothesis.

What is the best structure?

As digital enables customers to do more themselves, organisational structures needs to adapt so they put the customer firmly at the centre.

What is a customer-centric company?

Customer centricity should inform everything that an organisation is trying to do. A single customer view and common metrics across the business are worthwhile goals to aim for. However a recent Econsultancy report revealed that just 17% of brands have the ability to fully analyse the customer journey, which shows the current limits of technology. These data gaps can be frustrating for customers if they come into contact with multiple departments and experience varying levels of service.

Tom Head points to how Pret has instilled a culture which allows individual stores the autonomy to make local decisions that benefit the customer.

“Where it works well is when teams and departments, understand the rules of game they’re playing. Pret has empowered employees to make customer-centric decisions by de-centralising power. For example, people there have to make their own call on whether a sandwich is perfect. If not, they don’t put it out. Perfect is not a prescribed five cucumber slices per sandwich. Instead they help you understand what good looks like, and empower teams to make that call.”

Should I have a single person responsible for the customer experience?

A recent trend has been the appointment of Customer Experience Managers or Chief Customer Officers to take responsibility for the overall customer experience. This role is responsible for bringing together all customerfacing roles, which may operate within their own silos. They are responsible for building a common experience across all the channel and acting as the champion of the customer.

Where people struggle is people are responsible for different parts of the experience with no one person is bringing it together. You need someone with overall responsibility but only a small number of companies have this – yet

- Dave Chaffey

Centralise or Disperse talent

One of the biggest structural questions is whether to group teams by function (horizontally) or by market (vertical). For example, to bring marketing operations teams together into a central team or to have them part of market-facing brand teams. While there is no absolute answer to this, Dave Chaffey advises that when new technology or significant changes come in, the right approach is usually to centralise around technologies.

“In the early days digital marketing teams were created, but they weren’t integrated with brand product marketing teams. The natural journey is to move from a centralised centre of excellence to reskill teams, and to eventually restructure so that these skills go back into business as usual.” says Chaffey. This centralising is likely to be a phase, with Chief Digital Officers often saying that “if I get this right, my job won’t exist in 2 years”.

- Claire Hazle

Defining roles and responsibilities

Ruth Connor, head of marketing at Westfield Health, recommends using RACI as a framework as a “neutral way of teasing out roles and responsibilities” during the transformation project. A RACI matrix allows you to list all the activities to be undertaken, set against people or roles. It is a useful way of assigning whether individuals should be:

  • Responsible – person working on an activity
  • Accountable – person with decision authority
  • Consulted – key stakeholder who should be included in decision or work activity
  • Informed – needs to know of a decision or activity


You may have got where you are by your technical skills, your marketing knowledge or blind luck. From here on, your top priority is communicating and influencing.

Have a clear vision

Communication can involve both carrot – a vision of a better world – and stick, the competitive threat, preferably a combination of both. This vision can not be repeated enough, even past the point where you become sick of the sound of your own voice.

What does it mean to me?

Something which often gets overlooked is making the benefits to the listener clear. Which is a shame, because that’s usually the only thing people are actually listening for

Organisations tend to talk about what is ‘good for the company,’ rarely ‘good for you’. If you want to bring people on board, paint a vision of why this is good for all of us.

- Matt Ballantine

For example, if a new system will save users time or effort, then articulating that should be the top priority headline for communications, rather than how it aligns with a corporate strategy.

Does it need to be fun? It can be easy to go for superficial moraleboosting if you haven’t understood what people really want to know. Don’t do clowns, patronising. Fisher Price, stuffed octopuses, medals, certificates, ribbons. Good change communications will talk about the benefits, how this will make employees work easier, better or faster, in a way which is meaningful to that individual

- Parry Malm

Communicate simply and visually

The human eye can interpret visual information 60,000 times faster than text, so a visually appealing map of future states is a useful tool to communicate complex concepts.

I’ve found good visual data to be a powerful stakeholder management tool. A visual dashboard help us to compare like-for-like, identifying insights such as a website getting 3 x as many visits as call centres, but less investment. If a project starts and ends with the customer, and you talk in that context, then you don’t need to use jargon. Customers don’t say ‘I want to visit a website that’s been optimised for SEO’.”

- Ruth Connor

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A-Z of Transformation Bullshit

Digital transformation comes with its own lexicon of confusing jargon. There’s nothing wrong with the words themselves, more that they are often misused. Wherever possible go for the down-to-earth version everyone will understand. Short sentences are good.


Agile is an important concept for digital, meaning shorter cycles to get work out. The problem is ‘agile’ has been misused in a number of ways, which has diminished its real meaning. ‘Nimble’ works better.


Business As Usual is the enemy of transformation. BAU is the culture, the targets, the P&Ls, the very air the organisation breathes and is the true barrier to meaningful change.

Burning Platform

Burning platforms such as print newspapers, a business model that gets slowly cooked by the Internet. Now that analogue businesses are smouldering at best, pointing this out is a strong motivator to change.


“Our teams don’t lack the skills, but they may not have all the capabilities.” Essentially the same thing as skills, or the ability to do something, this euphemism can be used to create an emotional distance.


Usage: “Let’s cascade this to the group”. Cascading usually happens in group emails or in a group setting. Like a waterfall, cascading information goes in one direction – from on high and onto your head. Even in Australia water doesn’t fall up.


Content is such a broad term, covering everything from image files through to email copy, that it can be counterproductive as different people infer different definitions. Define what it is and its purpose in the customer journey.


Dashboards are a visual way of seeing all your shiny dials and numbers in one place like you’re Captain Kirk. The word dashboard has origins in the 19th century as a piece of wood at the front of a horse drawn carriage to stop mud being splashed into the driver’s face. Which is essentially the same purpose corporate dashboards serve today.


As opposed to what? “Ever wondered why most of the digital consultants haven’t digitally transformed themselves?” Parry Malm.


Another word for woolly thinking. If you’re not sure what you’re trying to achieve, a scattergun of ‘engagement’ stuff should cover it. Instead, move towards measurable metrics like basket size and loyalty.


This is the new meeting. A shorter, softer way to describe a less formal get together.


Integration sounds like a very technical term, so it’s really popular with non-technical folks. In most cases when people bleat on about integration in relation to digital what they really is synchronisation, whereby two or more systems are configured to allow for mutual exchanges of data.


Legacy systems are the bane of many people’s working lives, usually meaning the decades old workhorse systems which keep the organisation working - often with layers of more user-friendly systems built on top.

Why is legacy pejorative in technology, when in every other field legacy is something positive bequeathed to the nation?

- Matt Ballantine

Mobile First

Every good digital project should be mobile first these days, goes the wisdom. But is this focus on one channel missing the point?

What worries me is that it goes against our multichannel world. The majority use mobile, desktop, all together. You need to get it all right

- Dave Chaffey

Right sizing / Down sizing

We don’t fire people, we ‘let them go’, and in the same way we don’t shrink a team, we ‘downsize’ them to the ‘right size’


Usage: “Let’s socialise this with the group”. Socialising is informally warming people up to a proposal. Whether it is one-to-one in a pub, a coffee shop or a discotheque (delete as appropriate). Socialising implies, but doesn’t always mean, a two-way dialogue.

Swim lanes

Swim Lanes is a way of describing a flow chart separated into rows of columns by area of responsibility. For example, underpinning the customer journey you might have swim lanes for customer service, marketing or IT.


All the moments of connection between your organisation and the customer. Examples of touchpoints are the physical store, your website, your customer service agents. Customer expectations are that these touchpoints should be part of a consistent experience – why should they care about your internal processes?

Traffic lights

A traffic light system (red, amber and green) is used on many dashboards or project plans to indicate progress.

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