According to Debbie Vavangas, IBM Consulting VP, one of the main reasons digital transformation efforts fail is that organizations don’t fully account for the humans involved. They don’t fully consider the various people working throughout the organization, and how changes affect their daily lives.  When it comes to things like automation, AI, and intelligent workflows, it may seem like taking people out of the process is the whole point. In certain circumstances, it’s tempting to remove the human element in a digital transformation. 

But no matter how technical a transformation project might be, Vavangas says, “Digital transformation works at the people level. It’s how you design experiences that are adopted; it’s how people learn to love things. ​​If you’re not thinking about your people, your innovation is doomed.” 

“If you’re not thinking about your people, your innovation is doomed.”Debbie Vavangas

It’s not that organizations don’t recognize that people matter; they often get caught up in the more tangible elements of a digital transformation—app modernization, AI, automation or operational efficiency. If investments in digital technology are not grounded in stakeholder needs and preferences, they will not drive organizational value. If these investments in digital transformation and new ways of working are a challenge for employees to embrace, a company’s transformation ambitions will unravel. 

​​Vavangas is no stranger to digital transformation as the global lead for IBM Garage, a unique end-to-end model for accelerating digital business transformation that puts innovation at the heart of enterprise strategy. She’s one of IBM’s thought leaders on innovative ways of working and change management. In her observation, the importance of how people experience transformation is “almost always woefully underestimated.” 

​Human-centered transformation can be achieved through a combination of user research, breaking down organizational barriers, and ensuring that your organization’s culture is eager to adapt to change. 

​​“Transformation is pointless when we do it without purpose.”Debbie Vavangas

​​​“Transformation is pointless when we do it without purpose,” Vavangas says. If you transform an organization into something that doesn’t serve those responsible for its success, you will only waste time and money.  

Human-centered digital transformations begin with understanding what’s inside the hearts and minds of the people your organization depends on, then using those insights to inform how you embark on new initiatives and include everyone in the journey. To plan for the real-world human factors that can make or break a digital transformation, consider these three underused best practices for analyzing human experience, overcoming challenges and driving successful digital transformation: 

​​​​​1. User research: “I believe in my bones in the power of user research to make sure that you get to the crucial secret sauce, which is adoption,” Vavangas says. ​​Conducting comprehensive user research—from specific qualitative interviews to extensive data analysis—is key to determining the right success factors for a digital transformation, as well as to ensure employees are prepared to deliver. By incorporating metrics and user feedback early and often, companies can manage risk and ask, “Is this working?” and “What can we do better?” If you don’t have the data you need for user research, synthetic data can help. 

​​​​​2. Breaking down human barriers: Vavangas is adamant about clearly defining the human pain points that can derail your digital transformation and calculating the cost of those roadblocks down to the dollar. Reluctant leadership, the culture shock of organizational change, bringing siloed teams together, rigid rules, and new technology systems—all of these can be obstacles unless managed effectively. Think about the actual costs of your sticking points so you can push for workarounds. “When you know how much an impediment is costing you each day,” Vanvagas says, “it creates a very different lens to problem-solving.” 

​​​​​3. Cultural transformation: “If you don’t change the culture, transformation doesn’t get adopted,” Vavangas says. Yet lasting cultural change is one of the most difficult things for an organization to achieve. It requires buy-in across your organization, and that won’t happen unless leadership teams understand employees’ experiences and respond to their needs. “Measure how people are feeling as you’re rolling out programs,” Vavangas says. “What does it feel like to work in this different way? Are they feeling supported? Do they feel like they’re growing? Have we made things easier?” 

If your organization is looking for a way to accelerate digital transformation while keeping the human in mind, learn more about ​​IBM Garage and how it helps enterprises boost innovation and achieve lasting cultural transformation.  

What’s on the horizon when it comes to solving for the human element of digital transformation? Check out part 2 of this series—​​​​“When real data isn’t available, synthetic data can fill in the blanks”—to learn how ​​synthetic data can help us understand what makes people tick.  


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