It’s likely you already know that continuous technology investments are needed to keep your organization relevant with the folks you most care about – your members, donors, employees and anyone else with a digital connection to your organization. Yet the biggest challenge in digital transformation typically isn’t project deadlines. It’s in transforming your people and your processes to harness the full power of the technology once it’s built.

This is a distinctly human challenge that we explored in a panel discussion this month. I enjoyed participating in this conversation along with Jamie Perez (from the Urban Land Institute) and Chris Strahl (from Basalt). We had a great discussion and Q&A, skillfully moderated by Fuzz Hogan, Managing Editor at New America.

In case you missed it, here are four key takeaways:

  1. Strategic goals should drive technology investments (not the other way around). Yes, this sounds like common sense. But time and again, Jamie, Chris and I have seen organizations in all sectors make a similar mistake: pre-identifying a technology tool (for example, a new website or CRM system) before identifying the clear organizational goals that they’re trying to achieve with it. At the worst, this leads to retroactively imposing strategic goals on the project after its completion. As any client of ParsonsTKO has likely heard one of us say, technology itself is never the solution. It’s simply a tool for reaching a set of strategic outcomes.
  2. In an ideal world, internal budgeting should be oriented around broad client engagement goals, rather than specific tools. When budgeting focuses narrowly on short-term technology upgrades, stakeholders often lack incentives and motivation to make the big-picture links to organizational strategy. When this happens, the default focus becomes ensuring the project is launched on time and on-budget. Important? Of course. But alone this is hardly sufficient.
  3. When budgets are oriented towards goals, they are likely to focus more on the people and processes needed to support the technology in the long-term. Know about the Oreo “tweet heard ‘round the world?” During a 34-minute power outage in the middle of the 2013 Super Bowl, Oreo’s social media team jumped on the cultural moment, tweeting: “Power out? No problem. You can still dunk in the dark.” Improbably, the accompanying image became massively popular on social media, even prompting speculation the tweet was more valuable than the brand’s $4-million Super Bowl ad. However, that seemingly spontaneous moment was actually 18 months in the making. Oreo’s agency only gained the “muscle memory” to act quickly due to a consistent marketing strategy, clear approval processes, and the formulation of an expensive 15-person “war room” that including brand executives. In other words, this was hardly a “one-and-done” marketing investment.
  4. Tech transformation requires a change management plan that actively engages all key stakeholders. Any transformation that creates new work for employees, or that threatens them with losing something – for example, autonomy, mastery or power – will meet with at least some resistance. This challenge can be particularly acute in highly decentralized organizations, where staff away from the center are more disconnected from organizational goals and may be resistant to directives from headquarters. Careful planning can mitigate this risk, and ensure that stakeholders in all parts of an organization are working towards common goals.

During the Q&A session, a perceptive audience member mentioned at least one other barrier to digital transformation: “change fatigue” among staff – or external users – who’ve grown used to new trends coming and going. How do you manage against this? It’s is a critical part of change management, and one we frequently strategize with clients about. Unfortunately, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer, but it’s an excellent topic for a follow-up panel. We’ll keep you posted on plans for that, and hope you will join us for future discussions!