The transition into a successful digital company has been a struggle in the printing industry for decades. As Fortune 500 companies struggle to become digital companies, it is worthwhile to see if we can learn from their experiences. This article is the first in a two-part series of Lessons Learned from companies that have successfully implemented digital technologies.

For those that have lived through this transition, you may have already learned about the new skills needed, new staffing requirements and cultural changes (web to print, HTML, IT and Print MIS, on-call, remote and telecommuting staff). For large enterprise companies, new positions include digital strategists, chief digital offers, digital marketing managers and others.

Despite the creation of these new roles, most executives admit that their companies are not prepared for the disruptions that are occurring due to digital changes. Almost 9 out of 10 respondents to a survey by MIT Sloan Management Review and Deloitte admit that their industries will be changed by new digital technologies, but only 44% reported they are prepared. This study asked 3700 business executives, managers, and analysts in 131 countries and 27 different industries about their success in transitioning into a digital company.

The research entitled, Aligning the Organization for its Digital Future (2016), divided respondents into those that are:  early in the transition (32%), developing or in the middle of the transition (42%), and mature or those who have successfully gone through the transition (26%). When asked about the greatest threats to success they reported the following:

N = 3700 Business executives, managers, and analysts from 131 countries and 27 industries

Source: MIT Sloan Management Review and Deloitte, Aligning the Organization for its Digital Future, 2016

Overcoming Digital Challenges

To overcome these challenges requires developing a digital vocabulary, training management in digital acumen, and internal capabilities in which the companies’ activities, staff, culture, and infrastructure are aligned toward the strategic goals of the organization. However, as companies in our industry are learning, there are constraints such as lack of resources, internal resistance, and a lack of talent.

A key finding in the study was that successful digital companies share common denominators. Two important features are a willingness to invest in new talent, and recruiting and training leaders to excel at “soft” skills.  Equally important is encouraging a greater tolerance for risk and an overall willingness to quickly try something new, and if it does not work, a willingness to let an initiative to “fail fast”. Failing fast, failing often, and falling forward is a strategy used by high tech companies to quickly regroup and try again. Perhaps the most interesting finding of this research was that a mature digital companies do not require a digital expert at the helm. In the next article on this we will talk about five critical success factors for digital success.

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Howie Fenton is an independent consultant and trusted advisor to commercial and in-plant printers. He analyzes and recommends equipment, best practices and workflow automation tools to streamline operations. To learn more e-mail Howie@howiefentonconsulting.com