What Do Scuba Diving and Digital Transformation Have in Common?

One of the main responsibilities of today’s CIOs is to help guide their companies’ digital transformation journey: mapping strategy, aligning stakeholders, setting achievable goals with concrete timelines, and delegating responsibilities to implement the nuts and bolts of this transformation. Most of all, the CIO should clearly articulate the “why” behind the transformation: what is the real driver why the company needs to go digital, and similarly, what value and ROI the company can expect from it.

Below, I’ll outline the key skills a CIO needs to handle this job effectively – what potential digital transformation issues the CIO should be on top, what role the digital transformation champion needs to play for the CEO, and what the “should work” move. 0” in any digital transformation project.

Trouble points to keep on your radar

The four areas that can hinder the digital transformation of your organization are the same obstacles that often pose problems in other places.

1. Ignore Organizational Change Management (OCM). This is always the first item to be cut out of a project’s budget, so it’s no surprise that OCM has become the main cause of project failure. Unless you can keep stakeholders, team members, and end users engaged during and after a transformation project, you will never achieve your planned ROI.

2. Basic definitions misunderstood. “Digital transformation” is everyone’s favorite phrase right now, but how often do you get a group of people in a room where they all agree on what that means? Some stakeholders will say that it is the digitization of their products, services, and platforms. Others will say it’s strictly a technological game. Some will say it is about improving their back offices. Without a clear definition of what digital transformation means for your project and your organization, it will not be clear to anyone how to define, track and achieve success. Having these definitions in place allows everyone to be on the same page and create realistic benefit cases accordingly.

3. A killer culture of innovation. The old mindset of “command and control” and prioritizing company and shareholder value over everything else stifles innovation and puts you in your competitor’s rear-view mirror when it should be the other way around. Just look at the growth rates of digital giants and “digital startups” compared to legacy businesses, and you will see this dynamic unfold in real time before your eyes.

4. Hats on pigs. Simply incorporating new and advanced technologies into the old legacy systems is like putting a Kentucky Derby hat on a pig: it’s a waste of time and money. There are many companies trying to use AI, machine learning and blockchain (so they can say they are using AI, machine learning and blocking) while at the same time they are running a ton of different ERP systems that contain bad data.

Advocating transformation in the face of “horror stories”

In the SAP world, there have been some notable stories of S/4HANA implementation failures that have made the rounds over the past few years. Hershey SAP application failure is a failure that is often cited as an example of software being the culprit and a systems integrator as its partner. The truth was more accurate than that story, although the Hershey incident resulted from a combination of unrealistic expectations and poor OCM. But CEOs read these horror stories and walk away thinking that it is best to reject any S/4HANA or digital transformation idea proposed for them. It makes sense why they would get that gut reaction, but internal reactions about stories that have passed through the mobile game shouldn’t dictate your company’s digital transformation efforts.

To get this going, the CIO must become the internal “champion” of digital transformation. what does that mean?

  • Recognize that for every failure there are exponentially more successes. Make sure you can cite and reference a few relevant industry success stories Why They have been very successful.
  • Avoid “technical talk”. You’ll lose the CEO’s attention almost immediately. Speak to them in their language: the benefits of digital transformation in terms of EPS, lifetime customer value, market share, revenue and revenue growth rate, order fulfillment, and backlog. You have to make the transformation a reality for them.
  • Make it clear that digital transformation is not just an IT project and not just a back-office digital improvement plan. The CEO needs to be fully aware that digital transformation is a company-wide initiative. It’s not something you break up with with one team; It requires real dedication and investment across multiple business units.

Step 0: What is and what is not

Implementation or transition to SAP S/4HANA is often defined as a digital transformation initiative. But this is not transformation per se, it is laying the foundation on which digital transformation and improvement of back and middle office operations will be implemented.

This is the number one thing I want to pass on to all CIOs looking to guide their companies’ digital transformation efforts. Consider this “step 0”. If you think of digital transformation as diving, this is the step to “make sure the air tank is full”. It must be done first of all. When you clearly define what digital transformation is and what isn’t, you are in a better position to reap real value from it in the end. But if you think the S/4HANA migration is an end game in itself — and if you wait until the SAP 2027 deadline to start talking to C-level leaders about it — you risk your project becoming one of those horror stories. Emphasize that your CEO will not happen here.


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