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Components of a Successful Digital Transformation: Plan Wisely, Stay Committed, and Create a Culture of Trust and Balance

“Digital business isn’t just about customer experience — it’s also a way to drive operational agility. Digital operations can increase speed-to-market, make employees more productive, promote leaner processes, and maximize asset utilization.” Forrester -  The Digital Business Imperative

This quote mirrors the approach of Wolters Kluwer as it has moved with considerable speed from a traditional business model to an almost fully digital company, 87% of total revenues full-year 2017, since 2003.

The company’s views on successful digital change were shared at a recent roundtable held by the Dutch executives magazine Management Scope, focusing on a series of best practices for exercising digital leadership in a world where digital transformation is at the forefront of virtually every industry leader’s mind.

The leaders seated at the table included the Chief Digital Officers at Dutch bank ABN AMRO and engineering and consultancy leader Arcadis, as well as a professor in digital transformation at Vlerick Business School and Martin Wuite, Chief Information Officer Legal & Regulatory, representing Wolters Kluwer.

Balancing Act

A common theme throughout the discussion could be summed up in one word: balance. Companies who dive headlong into digital without a methodical approach risk their core strengths and the intimacy with their customers.

Wuite highlights the evolutionary approach to going from a traditional business model to a digital one, a transformation curve that will only get steeper as developments in technology continue to accelerate. But balance is still key: “Fifteen years ago, we cautiously started an internet center, a start-up within Wolters Kluwer, to experiment,” he explains. “We innovated to create new business that we then integrated into existing business, without throwing away the old one. In doing so, we remain close to our customers. We make a joint journey: If the customer wants the content to be delivered differently, we search for integrated workflow solutions.”

Baked in, not Bolted On

The Forrester Digital Business imperative reiterates the view that a digital strategy simply added on its own is not the way forward for a successful digital transformation. It must be integrated into the business. “Don’t build a digital strategy; digitize your business strategy,” is their recommendation. “Digital fundamentally changes your relationship with your customers. You can’t address this change with a bolt-on digital strategy that adds an app here or a site there. To remain competitive, you must re-engineer how your business creates value for your customers in the digital age.”

Each of the digital thought leaders concurred with this mindset. Sustainable changes to business operations and taking care to not risk continuity are essential factors, despite the sense of urgency brought on by technological breakthroughs and disruption.

Persistence Pays Off

A complementary aspect to balance and integration is perseverance. Staying the course in the midst of a significant digital overhaul can be challenging, but it is essential.

Wuite highlights Wolters Kluwer’s track record in this regard – not only in having CEO Nancy McKinstry at the helm since 2003, but also in its steadfast commitment to innovation: ““Since 2003, the board has invested 8 to 10% in innovation, even during the [2008 debt] crisis. This sends out the message that you really believe in it.”

Trust in Your People...

A common thread echoed by the experts at the table centered on trust. As Wuite puts it, “The executive management indicates where the organization wants to go and gives the teams the space to decide how they want to get there. We don’t tell them how to do that, in order to encourage them to determine the best approach for themselves.”

The full support of management behind the people who are closer to the market is imperative in breaking down the silos and hierarchy within an organization, enabling and empowering people to work with the speed and agility required in this digital age.

… And Find the Right Ones

Along with this people-first approach lies the need for diversity. Wuite continues: “For a successful digital transformation, you need different types of people - not only innovative young talent, not only experienced seniors, but a combination. People have to embrace diversity. Accept that colleagues are different in terms of education, background, and culture, and be open to new ways of doing business and problem solving. Bridging differences requires a common language and an inclusive culture.”

In short, the components of a successful digital transformation don’t look much different from those that comprise a successful business in general. You need to plan wisely, stay committed, and create a culture of trust and balance in your operations and your people.

At the site of Management Scope the full article is available in Dutch.

Read more about Martin Wuite his leadership, strategy and governance role during the company’s ongoing transformation.

Visit our career site for jobs if you’re interested to join our team.