Successful Digital Transformation: What’s the Secret?

Transformation is going nowhere in a hurry; it’s still the number one business critical project among major enterprises around the world. But succeeding with your transformation project is easier said than done. Adrian Odds, Marketing & Innovation Director at the agency CDS, believes a simple focus on a few core areas could make all the difference…

Digital transformation is difficult. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. And a lack of C-suite leadership may be the single biggest risk factor in whether your ‘transformation’ will succeed or fail. But the second biggest consideration is most likely to be a failure to design your change – and the new services that sit around it – with the human needs of your internal and external customers at the centre.

When we think about digital transformation, we traditionally associate the term with large-scale change. It can be easy to forget that smaller, incremental adjustments can also have a significant compounding impact on users in terms of experience, the cost to serve, or risk associated with the delivery of services.

Large and complex environments can make widespread change challenging, particularly if the engagement required around it requires the active disruption of significant internal silos. But everyone can focus on improving the experience of the human being at the centre of their silo – surely?

The problem is that the word ‘transformation’ has the potential to cloud what it is you’re trying to achieve. And maybe that’s where organisations are going wrong. From experience, those actually undergoing digital transformation don’t refer to it as such.

There are many reasons for change, and for digital transformation, but amongst the most common are the needs to improve customer and employee experience – to attract and serve customers more effectively. In a public sector context, we can translate this into the delivery of better and more efficient public services.

Outcomes for end users, therefore, become the key metric by which success should be measured – whether the new experience fell short, met, or exceeded expectations set at the beginning of the project, and whether indeed, ‘customers’ can be shown to be engaging more effectively with whatever service is being transformed. These are the only metrics that really matter. The costs associated with the change can be reframed in the context of the improvement in this engagement.

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People Over Product

The end goal of a true digital transformation mission should never be to roll out a new system or product as quickly as possible.

Commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) solutions that appear to solve the majority of requirements, can look like a ‘quick fix’, but buyer beware here, as they can also introduce additional risk and cost, as it becomes apparent that a significant amount of additional coding is required to get that system to do exactly what you need it to. The law of ‘unintended digital consequences’ – where improving one aspect of the business can unintentionally draw attention to deficiencies in another – is real, with predictable negative impacts on customer experience and sentiment.

The end goal of a true digital transformation mission should never be to roll out a new system or product as quickly as possible.

Adrian Odds
Marketing & Innovation Director, CDS


User-Centred Design

Business leaders should listen to real users, including those with additional needs, working with a specialist partner who can advise and help to design a human-centred solution for their services. This human-first approach ensures that strategic decisions around technology and experience are made with human outcomes in mind. And therefore, yes, the right solution may not always be the cheapest in the shorter term – but a fully considered solution will certainly be the cheaper in the longer term, if the board has the remit to consider that horizon.

Low & No Code Transformation

Many large and complex organisations with heavy technical debt can struggle to make the business case for change, but digital transformation doesn’t necessarily mean getting rid of the old for newer alternatives.

Processes such as complex case management, can make life very difficult for both staff and customers, or citizens with the need to refer to multiple disconnected systems and records. One option for achieving a significant transformation for a process like this is implementing a low code solution. This type of technology allows organisations to link together different platforms and systems and streamline processes by removing manual steps.

Speed to value here is the real clincher, with platforms like Appian or Mendix claiming to build applications ten times faster than traditional development. And this approach is gaining traction as business leaders across the private and public sector increase their confidence in the savings available with the improvement in service and user experience that naturally follows.

Connecting Low code technology with human centred Service Design is the closest we’ve seen to a magic bullet for transformation – at least at a process level. The resulting new, yet familiar, application allows staff to focus on their real work, rather than the manual processes that dominate so much of their current operating models.

By working with an expert partner, business leaders can drive digital transformation forward – and aid adoption – clarity on the desired outcome and the human benefit of the change is key to keeping the transformation on track and us all honest.


Adrian Odds
Marketing & Innovation Director, CDS

Adrian Odds is Marketing & Innovation Director at CDS, a Leeds headquartered agency that enables strategic change. With over 25 years’ experience across strategy, marketing, and business development, he has supported large and complex organisations to deliver improved outcomes and is a leader in digital transformation and organisational change. As a board director, Adrian leads the innovation and marketing functions for CDS whose impressive portfolio of clients include the NHS, The Cabinet Office, and Transport for London.