Avoiding Potholes on the Road to a Successful Digital Transformation

APAC Voices6 minutes readNov 21st, 2018

We are living in an exciting age. Digital technologies, data analytics, artificial intelligence, machine learning, cloud-based services, consumerised technology, tech savvy employees and customers, mobility, wearables, smart devices and increased focus on cyber security are all available to help transform not only the way organisations currently do business, but also allow new products and services to be offered in new ways to customers.

In addition, the technology we use at work has a direct impact on our sense of productivity and how positive we feel toward our employer. For example, The New Digital Workplace Divide research found that 65% of Australians who work for “technology laggard” organisations feel frustrated about their employer as a result of the technology used, compared to only 7% of those who work for “technology leader” organisations.

So now, more than ever, commercial organisations and government agencies are implementing digital transformation projects to improve efficiency and deliver new services. However the implementation of the IT projects that enable this transformation will likely face challenges.

What is success?
According to the Project Management Institute, 14%2 of IT projects globally in 2017 were deemed outright failures. But there are many more that while they delivered the desired functionality, they ran overtime, over budget, impacted productivity or even damaged the organisation’s reputation.

Even if a project is delivered on time and within budget, true success of an IT transformation project is in reality determined by the end user’s satisfaction – who could be your employees, customers, business partners or a combination of them all.

However, the reality is that big IT projects – regardless of whether they are managed internally or via an external provider – will have challenges to overcome. Given the complexities of the modern IT environment, coupled with external dependencies, your best laid plans even with contingency may not always run to the baselined plan.  When these challenges occur the key to success is how you and your organisation respond. To facilitate this response it is critical to invest up front with appropriate governance, risk management and to plan the organisational change management.

Streamlined Governance is key – don’t confuse it with red tape and reporting

Structured and disciplined governance is crucial to delivering successful project outcomes. Project governance is the management framework within which project decisions are made. However it is important to understand that buckets of reporting does not equal better governance. The key to good governance is clear understanding of who is accountable for what with the appropriate allocation of authority. According to Gartner, this means that when a program manager or product owner is assigned to lead the project, that project head must also be given the appropriate authority to make decisions in that capacity. Assignment of decision rights means the assignment of accountability and responsibility for making decisions and for managing the risks associated with those decisions.

Continual two-way communication at all levels is also critical. Good streamlined governance ensures only the necessary stakeholders are involved in the right forums. This not only ensures that stakeholders are kept informed, it also allows the project manager to have a regular pulse check on the health of the entire project. For external providers, such as Unisys, this also translates into a clear health check of the client relationship. This not only promotes transparency, it creates a respectful dialogue so that when you need to, you can have the hard discussions. A strong executive steering committee along with a clear technical design authority are key governance forums that will enable support of the project along with managing the scope.

Good governance provides the framework to manage changing requirements that impact the scope of the project – which in turn can affect the budget, timeframe or required skill sets. Good governance allows you to be flexible to manage a client’s changing needs while also formalising any changes and the scope of the project. This helps set the tone for discussions based on transparency and creates disciplines that allow flexibility to manage roadblocks but don’t create surprises. The key point here is to establish the governance framework up front, agree it in the project management plan and ensure commitment and sign off from all stakeholders to ensure the discipline will be followed. Don’t overburden the project team with reporting, however, as this will only contribute to the challenges.

Proactive risk management

From commencement, instigate proactive joint risk management spanning the operational, commercial and technical environment. This is not a one-off audit, it needs to be an ongoing process embedded into the governance framework such as a monthly risk review to assess what may impact the project in the future and to develop strategies to avoid or mitigate them, or to accept them and manage the consequences. For example, what is the potential impact of old legacy technology – does it create a vulnerability and if so can the business afford to live with the risk?

IT projects do not exist in a vacuum. A key part of being able to manage risks is understanding the impact of an IT challenge on the end user to appreciate and determine priorities. This helps to assess different plans to resolve an issue, as well as identify the decision process around recovery and resolution. This not only aids the risk management process, it drives a discussion that is more relevant to the client and their end users.

The people factor and organisational change management

In rapid digital transformation it is critical to understand how business processes will change as part of the transformation. Technology adoption designed to deliver productivity benefits fundamentally requires organisational change, so a true technology transformation strategy must encompass a range of education and support options, communication and policies that address the range of willingness, comfort and attitude from early adopters through to others who need more handholding.

A successful enterprise digital transformation can be characterised by smooth adoption of new technologies which is ultimately determined by end user satisfaction.

What if it goes pear shaped?

Accept it – there will be issues. Here are my four recommendations for how to respond, act and follow through:

  1. Get to the facts. Be prepared to acknowledge issues – don’t be defensive. Act quickly. Focus on identifying the root cause. Note that the real situation is often not as first reported.
  2. Plan the resolution. Understand the impact to the business and prioritise response accordingly. Don’t over commit on what can be resolved when.
  3. Be transparent. Communicate with all levels of the customer. This ensures consistent and accurate information is shared and avoids nasty surprises. Deal in facts – provide updates in phases, starting with identifying the root cause, then the resulting plan of action and future prevention.
  4. Follow through. It is critical that you deliver what you commit to – it must be embedded in the culture of the whole team.

Find out more about Unisys’ approach to Digital Transformation here.


  1. Unisys The New Digital Workplace Divide – Australian Findings 2018
  2. Project Management Institute’s Pulse of the Profession 2017 (page 20)
  3. Gartner: IT Projects Need Less Complexity, Not More Governance

Tags-   Digital Transformation IT projects IT services IT transformation Rick Mayhew