Organizing and Orchestrating Digital Transformation

Organizing for a Digital World

What makes the shift to more robust digital offerings, channels and operations so tricky is the stress it puts on old-line companies’ operating models. Many new activities and capabilities—ranging from advanced analytics and rapid prototyping to cybersecurity and external partnership management—will need to be developed and located somewhere in the organization.

  • Who takes ownership for these activities
  • Who decides investment levels for each
  • And how they will work

are all major operating model questions.

In addressing these choices, companies usually start to realize that their legacy processes don’t move fast enough to keep up with changing customer demands and behavior, which are shaped by digital interactions in other parts of their lives. Decision speed also may be too slow, because it’s tied to budget cycles. Companies may find digital innovations hard to scale up beyond small projects. And certain kinds of digital talent have become very tough to source and hire. As a result, digital transformations are significantly harder to pull off than conventional change programs. Bain & Company recently surveyed 1,000 companies around the world to gauge their level of digital readiness. After comparing financial results for five categories of companies based on their degree of digital sophistication, we found that revenues for the digital leaders grew 14% over the past three years, more than doubling the performance of the digital laggards in their industries. Profitability followed a similar pattern. Yet while the payoff from digital transformation can be impressively high, the success rate is regrettably low. In our survey, just 5% of those companies involved in digital transformation efforts reported that they had achieved or exceeded the expectations they had set for themselves (versus a success rate of 12% for conventional transformations found in an earlier survey). A full 71% of these companies settled for dilution of value and mediocre performance.

Leading companies realize that making the transition to digital 2.0 or 3.0 requires systematically examining and adjusting each element of their operating model— the blueprint for how resources are organized and operated to get critical work done. The operating model encompasses decisions around the shape and size of the business, where to draw the boundaries for each line of business and function, how people work together within and across these boundaries, how the corporate center will add value to the business units, and what norms and behaviors should be encouraged. It entails choices in five areas:

  • Structure involves drawing appropriate boundaries for lines of business and functions, and defining centers of expertise and other coordinating units.
  • Accountabilities describe the roles and responsibilities of the main organizational entities, including ownership for profit and loss statements and a clear, value-adding role for the corporate center.
  • Governance refers to executive forums and management processes that yield high-quality decisions on strategic priorities, as well as budgets and incentives to align behavior.
  • Capabilities refer to how the company combines people, process and technology in a repeatable way to deliver desired outcomes.
  • Ways of working describe the expected cultural norms for how people collaborate, especially across the boundaries between functions or teams.

Executives should consider how each area will change in turn as the organization’s digital intensity rises.

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Orchestrating a Successful Digital Transformation

Among the five categories of companies in the research, the most advanced digitally achieved the best balance between the inner and outer games. Those just embarking on digital transformations typically start from a set of isolated initiatives targeting their most acute pain points (the outer game), but they struggle to translate these prototypes into products and capabilities that can have a meaningful impact on the company’s economics. More advanced businesses do a good job of clustering digital initiatives around a common strategic ambition and start to focus on improving select enabling capabilities, particularly IT. But these initiatives also tend to plateau somewhere short of broad organizational impact or end up creating “two-speed” organizations that are responsive in limited respects but still held back by legacy systems.

The true digital leaders pull away from the competition by linking a bold strategic ambition to the specific inner game capabilities and behaviors that they will need to achieve it. First they translate their strategy into a clear set of digital initiatives that point the organization toward a clear vision of full potential. Then they invest heavily in the fundamental changes to their ways of working and culture that allow them to develop those initiatives rapidly and execute them at scale.

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