Barriers to Digital Innovation Uncovered

March 15, 2019

Barriers to Digital Innovation Uncovered

We're often called in to assist companies with ideas to help digitize services, find new ways to be innovative with what they already have or come up with something completely new (which we love!). It's not always easy for companies to be aware that they have barriers to, or are simply just "stuck" when it comes to digital innovation.

We've found a couple of similarities where we've been called in, and hope that our observations could help your company. Let's explore the top 4 barriers we most encounter, and our suggestions to overcome them. One would think that there would be a lot of unique circumstances in companies leading to reasons why companies find moving into a more digital space challenging, but there is not that many. In fact we find that the majority of times it usually comes down to 2 things: People & Tech.

Within these, our top 4 encounters are: legacy systems, unskilled staff, difficulty to experiment and working across teams.

These 4 areas don't work in silos either, and typically if one area falls short, the others struggle as well.

Legacy Systems

In larger corporations they've had systems they've worked on for years and years. Whether we're talking big mainframes, or as simple as excel or even paper-based spreadsheets. Things have always been done a certain way, and changing this seems near impossible. The downside is that these legacy systems are actually holding back the company from moving forward and possibly lagging against competitors. Work output is slower and there may even be issues with uptime of systems. Sadly, sometimes these systems aren't even that old - just created by either incompetent providers, badly project managed, or took far too long to deliver the system, rendering it dated before it even launched.

This issue in itself may be the only obstacle, as it may feel like the company has to start from scratch or would have huge financial outlays just to get their existing systems transformed.

This of course is not necessarily always the case. With the help of digital transformation consultants, or even just operations consultants they could help to identify which areas are more critical than others, and provide alternative solutions. The harsh reality however is that, failure to update legacy systems for new technology will continue to act as a significant blocker, and you should investigate a solution sooner rather than later else could be made redundant by your competition who are making this priority.

Unskilled Staff

This could be true for both start-ups or larger corporations. In start-ups the management often hire friends or acquaintances to get things up and running, but soon realise that saving on costs of hiring a job expert is detrimental to the business. In larger corporations some employees have been with the company for many years. Even decades. Although they may be very knowledgeable on some topics, they are not necessarily the right candidates to suggest or lead the process of changing over to new software or new processes, and sometimes they do not wish to change the status quo or learn new skills and processes.

Sometimes it is possible to redefine individuals’ roles to include more skills and competencies needed to support digital technology or processes, but they also need to want to learn. In both environments the people that no longer feel comfortable in the environment will eventually weed themselves out, but it is the company's responsibility to try and help them transition and learn the new technology or processes as much as possible. Outside consultants are usually seen as less intimidating.

Difficulty to Experiment

Businesses now have to be able to react and adapt to an ever-changing landscape. But most, quite frankly, do not know where to start, or exactly which part is the priority to experiment with that in turn would make sense of everything else, and in so doing let everything fall into place. Needless to say how to measure that experiment! The security of ‘sticking to what they know’ can seem favourable to trialling a new technology or process, but by the time they have come around to the idea of change, the likelihood is that that new innovation is already old news. For digital transformation to be a success, businesses have to be willing to try something new, and to try it quickly.

Some of the easier ways to introduce these into companies has either been to work with external "innovation teams" or appoint a new internal group or division dedicated to innovation. This group would then have their own processes and autonomy to help them be more agile. The important thing to note is that the leadership of this team is critical, and would require someone very capable of identifying, testing and measuring experiments.

Inability to Work Across Teams

Digital innovation requires collaborative cross-functional and self-directed teams that are invested in each other's success. Sadly the workplace has historically been a place of political rivalry and not always a breeding ground for collaboration. Teams are used to having to compete for resources and funding, and communication is scarce. So each team closely guards their own work, but the outcome of which is that every department is working in their own little silo, and quite possibly not working towards the larger goal of the company. These behaviours are not conducive to digital transformation, which require change across the entire end-to-end business. Often times the only way to manage this, especially where these behaviours are so entrenched in the culture, is to bring in outside consultants who would be treated objectively, and can analyse the situation objectively too. They can ascertain who the natural leaders are in the silos and work with those people to in turn help transform their own departments and encourage conversation across the business.

Creating a new ecosystem is challenging at any level. Companies need to identify those individuals that are great at motivating others and are generally helpful - they will be your torchbearers for change.

According to a Gartner study conducted in 2017, those companies that are able to identify and overcome obstacles have stated they have seen an increase in profitability: 56% of CEOs said that their digital improvements have already increased profits.

To quote Marcus Blosch, research vice president at Gartner: "Some organisations will navigate that change, and others that can’t change will become outdated and be replaced".

Don't be the latter.

At Swipe iX we work with seriously talented and astute individuals who are passionate about puzzles and innovation. (Puzzles you ask? Well we like to figure out the things that no one else is paying attention to.) 

Get in touch with us to see how we could help move your business forward.

Christine da Silva

Marketing Consultant

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