Digital Transformation: The Longest Journey Starts With A Single Step

Niklas Mahrdt

The digital transformation is shaking the very foundations of many companies. It means abandoning familiar routines, questioning conventions, and searching for new paths to the customer. By actively helping to shape the digital transformation, companies can protect themselves against disruptive competitors from other industries – provided that they get their employees on board.

At this point in time, companies from all industries have the possibility to increase their productivity with new digital technologies. They can do this by using new data analysis methods, introducing new tools to optimize business processes, and by creating digital – and above all value-enhancing – offerings for their customers.

What’s the best approach for companies to take to digitally transform themselves?

Every company can start by sounding out the opportunities presented by the digital world and assessing the different digitization trends and their potential benefits.

A digitization strategy can be created from this, and many organizations decide to kick off with a reference project for digitization first of all.

However, when companies set up their digitization strategy, they often realize that there are strategic and operational gaps between the desired digital state and the reality of their situation. These gaps are the reason why the digital transformation needs to take place within their organization, and every company can draw up an individual milestone plan based on such gaps. This plan includes:

  • Marketing and sales activities
  • Activities to develop new processes and products
  • IT activities
  • HR activities
  • Finance activities

If you want to read more about these measures, click this link to download a white paper (in German language only) with a guide to the above activities.

Just by looking at the list of activities, it becomes clear that the digital transformation will only work if organizations become connected and work across department boundaries.

That’s why we must concentrate on motivating, encouraging, and training employees for new roles and competencies, because they’ll find the new digitized structures and processes complex. It’s therefore important that more information doesn’t lead to less understanding among employees. To enable the transformation to succeed in terms of organization and processes, self-confident, decisive, and competent workers are needed everywhere in the company. Whether the digital transformation comes to fruition depends on ubiquitous customer orientation, a tolerant error management culture, clear decision-making paths, and IT systems that are simple and fit for purpose.

Ultimately, digital transformation means that:

  • Working across units and departments becomes very important
  • Almost all areas of the organization must undergo digitization
  • It probably makes sense to start with a pilot project
  • Depending on digital maturity, the digitization of an internal company project should be prioritized over that of a customer-specific project

The digital transformation will succeed, as long as the technologies used don’t dominate. Rather, the focus should be on the employees, who deploy the technologies with their creativity, to bring value to the company.

Learn more about successful digital transformation in 4 Ways to Digitally Disrupt Your Business Without Destroying It.


Niklas Mahrdt

About Niklas Mahrdt

Niklas Mahrdt is a Professor for Marketing & e-commerce at Rheinische Fachhochschule University of Applied Sciences in Cologne. In 2003, he also founded the Media Economics Institut in Cologne – since then, the institute has developed into a leader for consulting, market research and training in the german retail and e-commerce industries. He studied economics and business management at universities in Paris, Heidelberg and Berlin. In 1998 he completed his doctorate with a dissertation on the subject of strategic alliances in converging media markets. His main fields of research include marketing, branding strategies, cross-media campaigning, media convergence, e-commerce and omnichannel marketing.