Digital Transformation: Four Ways for a Board to Assure Success

Today, there are no more excuses to avoid a digital transformation. On the contrary, COVID and competition have highlighted its importance to a company’s growth, regardless of its size. According to Deloitte, for private companies, undertaking a digital transformation is essential to driving value, sustaining long-term business growth, fostering a culture of innovation, driving efficiencies, and ensuring better connectivity with internal and external stakeholders.

Market intelligence firm IDC defines digital transformation as digitalization using digital technologies such as cloud, mobility, social, augmented/ virtual reality, Internet of Things (IoT), and analytics or artificial intelligence (AI) for better engagement with customers, partners, and employees. But “doing” a digital transformation and doing it RIGHT shouldn’t be mutually exclusive concepts. Yet, according to BCG, a staggering 70 percent of digital transformations fail. So how can Boards play a role in improving the odds of success?

Board directors are not involved operationally but ask questions, challenge expected outcomes, spot deficiencies, and motivate the team. Based on my personal experience with private company board service and digital initiatives, I see four ways that boards can best help a company’s digital transformation:

1. Ensure the company’s digital transformation and business strategies align.

Transformation is always about strategic change. As stewards of corporate strategy, board members work closely with the management team to ensure a company’s success. They bring business expertise, judgment, healthy skepticism, and a strong interest in long-term value.

Board members not only ensure a company’s core value proposition and competitive advantages but can also assess how the digital transformation will sustain long-term success and create value. They also recognize the company’s capabilities and constraints related to IT systems, data, people, and capital. They can ensure technologies and humans work in harmony to achieve the desired results from the digital transformation.

Some considerations are:

  • How has digital impacted the company’s business?
  • What are the company’s customer expectations in the digital era?
  • Are the company’s IT capabilities and processes adequate for a digital transformation?

A big plus for private companies is that, unlike typically larger public companies, they can undertake micro-transformation projects.

2. Get agreement with the management team regarding the associated risk.

Boards never hesitate to ask tough questions and surface the benefits and risks of a company’s strategic initiatives. A digital transformation, too, requires this pointed approach, given the substantial risks associated with the complexity, pace, and impact on the existing business.

Board members don’t need to be technologists. However, it is helpful for them to have experience with technology investments and implementations or to make an extra effort to understand the issues. In addition, they need to resource technology for future success, balancing the advantages and risks while ensuring a resilience plan in case of hiccups.

I have experienced firsthand the implementation of a digital initiative, where despite everyone’s best efforts, things went wrong. However, the board’s engagement ensured that there were no surprises.

3. Get the right CEO and organizational skills.

The CEO is essential to the success of digital initiatives but can also cause failure. As such, Boards need to make sure they have the right CEO — one that can meet today’s financial projections, promote collaboration, drive the company’s focus on efficiency, and champion data and analytics for insights.

Digital transformation relates to business operations; technology is merely an enabler. It takes more than just technical skills in the organization for its success. Business transformation skills are critical, as is the alignment between IT and business functions.

4. Get Employee Buy-in.

Digital initiatives are the ultimate change management project. Boards can set the tone by engaging employees about the process and getting their feedback. Employees are more supportive of new initiatives if they are engaged, but they also need to know that the future of the company, and their jobs, might hinge on success.

If the new efficiencies from the digital transformation may lead to layoffs, providing opportunities for employees to train, reskill, and transition as appropriate can go a long way in improving morale and ensuring success.

Digital transformation certainly isn’t easy, which is why clarity of purpose, goals, and value of the changes is critical. Boards can tilt the balance in a company’s favor by ensuring clarity upfront, being mindful of the company’s capabilities and ability to drive change, and appreciating and managing the risks. They can ensure companies don’t see digital transformation as an end to itself but rather as the foundation for driving growth.


About Ameeta Soni

Ameeta Soni has founded and held leadership and board roles with companies across multiple industries and technologies, helping raise over $100M in venture capital. She is Chief Marketing Officer at engage2learn, a Leeds Equity Partners portfolio company, where she focuses on delivering growth by developing and executing winning strategies. In addition, Ameeta serves on Maroon Venture Partners Fund’s investment committee and holds board roles with portfolio companies HomeBinder, Ompractice, and TOP the organic project. Previously, she was a board director of PlumChoice, now part of SquareTrade/Allstate. Ameeta earned her MBA from the University of Chicago, her MS from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and her BS from St. Stephen’s College.

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