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How To Get Started With Digital Transformation In 5 Easy Phases

When it comes to internal business initiatives, digital transformation is as big as they come. A project this size may seem intimidating, but by the end of this article, you’ll realize that getting started is easy.

Leaning on advice from our CEO and heavy research, we’ll pull the concept apart and give you the “keys to success” – so to speak.

You’ll learn about the different aspects of digital transformation. You’ll learn how to get started (today if you’d like) and how to drive the process forward. You’ll possess the tools necessary to ensure success. 

Let’s dive in.

What Is Digital Transformation? 

Digital transformation is a shift away from outdated, often paper-based processes – company-wide. It’s the total modernization of all business processes, usually using digital technology, to create a streamlined workflow – from customer acquisition through to service and support. 

This includes marketing, sales, service and customer support divisions – and even the IT department (who would normally be in charge of your digital transformation). 

It sounds daunting, which is why businesses procrastinate on starting a transformation initiative – at great detriment to themselves.

The fact is, when broken into bite-sized chunks, digital transformation is simple. 

With that in mind, let’s explore a little before we get to the 5 phases of a sound digital transformation. These points will gear you towards understanding the steps in more detail – if you’d like to skip ahead to the steps, however, click here

70% Of Businesses Fail Digital Transformation?

Failure Is Just Success In Progress On A Napkin With A Pen And Coffee - Digital Transformation Failure

It’s said that most businesses fail at Digital Transformation – over 70%, in fact. 

We find this staggering. From where we’re standing, digital transformation has a close to 100% success rate. Could it be the way failure is defined? 

According to the source, 73% of businesses failed to show value from their digital transformation efforts, and 78% missed their related business objectives. So only 27% of businesses got value from ditching paper? Was this study conducted by the paper industry? (Kidding)

My first thought is that they used the wrong tools. Perhaps they took on too much at once. The thing is, we’ve looked into this at length and found massive savings in both time and money when switching from paper to something like Appenate. 

Upon further investigation, it’s discovered that three main reasons are the cause for failure – and they all boil down to fatigue from continuous change. 

That’s why we decided to write this post. Businesses we’ve helped consistently report increased compliance, smoother production and huge time savings on admin duties – because processes get simplified. Having to write out a form (possibly illegible) by hand, then send it off to the right people who have to file it and then later search for it (when needed) is inefficient. 

Replace that with filling out a straightforward form on mobile, taking the relevant pictures, videos or recordings, and having that immediately uploaded and available to the relevant parties. Does that sound like a poor investment? (The answer is no 😉)

That said, you may have relevant questions – like how do I get my teams to implement solutions and ensure success? How do we battle resistance to change? Keep reading – all will become clear.

The Most Logical Starting Point

“My advice is generally the same regardless of company size: Focus on your number one paper problem area and drill down on this until you have a bite-sized core issue.” – Paul, Appenate CEO.

It really is as simple as that. No need to overthink things or plan for months. Just find that core issue and tackle it. Companies that use Appenate tend to do exactly this – they have a single process that they want to improve. 

Once they’re in, things expand from there, but it all starts with a single problem and a small, focused pilot program. 

Find Your Why (The Phrase ‘Digital Transformation’ Is Meaningless)

Find Your Why Written On A Typewriter - Find Your Digital Transformation Why

Implementing a solution for the sake of ‘digital transformation’ won’t work. 

That’s because the phrase is both overused and means different things to different people. So it won’t resonate with your key roleplayers, with your floor staff, with your field teams – and all you’ll achieve is mass confusion. 

Once you’ve identified the one area you’d like to focus on, identify the key benefit. Instead of “we must transform to save money,” it might be something like… 

  • Lower our carbon footprint
  • Make our jobs easier
  • Smooth out production processes
  • Reduce costly breakdowns (Less family time interruptions?)
  • Open better channels of communication

Different ideas resonate with different teams and individuals. So take the time to discuss this with your leaders and find the benefits your teams care most about. 

Let’s take safety as an example. The paperwork required from the safety department is causing a bottleneck in production. We could force them to use a digital solution to speed things up – but that immediately triggers the human resistance to change. They’re already under pressure, and introducing a new solution out of the blue isn’t the best way to foster compliance.

Instead, we’ll approach with something like, “We wanted to implement this to help ease the admin nightmare you guys are facing. What do you think? Can I show you how it’ll help you?” 

That would work a lot better than “we’re undergoing a digital transformation, and you must use this process, or we’ll fire you.”

Tech should help and not cause additional pain, as explored in our next point.

How Do I Get My Employees To Implement? 

Identifying and pushing the key benefit can help get the wheels rolling, but consistent implementation and engagement is tough.

The bottom line for me is that tech should be a help, not a hindrance.  You can show folks all the PowerPoints you like, but ultimately it comes down to what they actually experience in the field.” – Paul

Paul goes on to say that you should ease them into the process by starting small – and then take their feedback on board. Really listening to your workforce is the key here. Once you have sound feedback, make the necessary tweaks until you have a streamlined process that helps and not hinders your employees. 

If something’s not working, admit it and move on. Don’t try to force things too much – the path to total digital transformation is a long one, and it’ll be riddled with small mistakes and the occasional revert.

It’s all a part of the journey. 

Set Up Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s) To Measure Success

Once you have your “why,” turn it into something measurable. Cost-saving, time-saving, production volume, etc.

Once you’ve identified your bottleneck, you’ll know what it is you have to measure (Your KPI’s). Spend some time figuring out your ‘minimum feasibility requirement’ – that is to say, the minimum cost or time saving to make implementation a success.

Once your new process has been running for a while, measure actual results against your KPIs. If your KPI meets the ‘minimum feasibility requirement,’ then congratulations – your project is a success. Onwards and upwards. 💸

Understanding The Scope Of Digital Transformation

Trying to scope out an entire digital transformation project can halt the ambitions right there. You’d have to plan years ahead, as digital transformation is an ongoing process.

Focus on the initial problem for a start – leave the bigger picture alone in the early stages. Here’s an example of a scope/flow that would work just fine for the start of most digital transformation projects:

Easy Scope Flowchart For Digital Transformation

Add some dates and as much detail as you might need, and you’re ready to begin! 

It really can be that easy.

Critical Keys To Digital Transformation

Keys To A Successful Digital Transformation - Waterfall Image

Understanding the keys to digital transformation is important – even for projects small in scope. The three main components are Budget, Technology and People. 

Each of these terms form a critical part of the transformation – but they’re vague, so let’s explore each in greater detail.


In most projects, budget plays a huge role, but this is often not the case in a small-scale digital transformation. 

For example, the costs of printing, document storage and transportation far outweigh most digital costs. Naturally, the bigger your digital ambitions, the bigger your budget will be. Getting ten users onto new software is far less expensive and time-consuming than 5000. This is why we recommend taking it step by step.

You’ll still see a significant saving when moving away from paper

There’s another commodity, however, that we need to keep in mind – time. When switching to a digital platform, this will be the biggest up-front investment. Getting everything set up will consume more time than you think – it’s kind of a rule of thumb. Either way, this initial spend will lead to savings in both time and money down the line.

A visual representation of this exchange should look something like this: 

ROI bar chart for digital transformation initiatives

While no initial saving may present itself, savings become apparent once the teething issues have been worked out. So if month one doesn’t show a saving, hang on. We’ve often seen savings manifest in earnest by month two or three. 

Being aware of this, we offer a cheaper rate ($90 for 90 days) during the early stages to help you get the quickest possible ROI. Other platforms may do something similar (be on the lookout).


This sphere is fed by 3 key areas – the tools you use, how you process your data and the workflow that gets things done. These are all interlinked yet distinctly separate areas of any digital transformation strategy. 


Whether you’re capturing data on Appenate, handling invoices on Quickbooks or sorting your data tables in Google Docs, the right tools are a critical part of the transformation.

Sites like Capterra and G2Crowd are great for finding the right software for your needs. A web search would do as well – else ask for recommendations from similar companies that have made the digital leap. 

Before you make any hard decisions, try a few different tools so you don’t ‘get stuck’ with software that doesn’t quite fit.

Data Processing

No digital transformation can take place without clean data. That’s why tools are listed first – they act as the prerequisites for capturing and maintaining this data.

Which software tool you choose for your data processing will largely depend on you. Relatively simple reports can be done in Excel if you have the time for it, or – in Appenate’s case – simple PDF reports can be generated. If you’re looking for something more powerful, a tool like PowerBI could be a good fit. As long as your data is easy to read and works for you.

You need to be able to measure your data against the performance indicators you’ve set – that’s the main point to keep in mind.

Process Flow

Your process puts your tools and systems into action, which results in capturing the right data. It’s where people and technology meet. You can’t capture data without good software. Similarly, you’ll need the cooperation of your people. 

Your process will determine how smoothly things go – and this is a chief reason for digital transformation. “Smoothness” doesn’t make a great KPI, however (how would one track that?). That said, it’ll show up in time or cost-saving – or both. 


The day has not yet come where we can leave everything in the hands of AI. We need people to drive our business forward. To do that, they need the right tools. 

This is the ‘mushy’ part of a digital transformation. You can’t exactly get free trials when it comes to people. You’ll need to work with what you’ve got – so be sure to figure out what skills your teams will need to make this work. Set up a plan to get those skills on board.

When picking a team to focus your efforts on, try to look for those most open to the idea. These friendlies – as Paul calls them – will most likely provide you with the best feedback since they’ll be the most invested in transformation.

When you have an eager team with the right skills, two key factors can make your initiative faster and smoother: teamwork and leadership.


It’s worth investing some time into improving teamwork amongst your chosen division. It doesn’t stop there – once your first team is successfully transformed, cross-division teamwork becomes important too. 

That’s because those who went first can assist others in starting the journey. If you’re unfortunate to have an “every team for themselves” mentality in your business, this could prove a challenge. This mentality is common – but not insurmountable.


Passionate leaders that are on board with your digital transformation efforts are critical to success. A negative attitude towards the initiative amongst your leaders will filter down and make transformation near impossible.

Discuss the plan with your management teams and make sure everyone is clear on and happy with the strategy. Listen for ideas, and encourage feedback and discussion before even starting. 

Legacy Systems And Digital Transformation Don’t Mix

Wrong plugs, indicating the mismatch between new and legacy systems

If you’re using systems from the last two decades that have kept up to date, that’s fine. On the other hand, if you’re using an ERP system from 1985 and just haven’t got around to finding something modern yet, then it’s time.

The reason for this is that you’ll most likely need a ‘stack’ of digital tools to transform your business. The last thing you need is to hire extra developers just to get your stack to integrate. Rather look for newer systems that already play well with others. Having to find all sorts of workarounds will only hurt your digital transformation efforts and leave your teams feeling frustrated. 

Measuring ROI On Digital Transformation

It’s not quite as simple as you may think. With mobile form builders, it can be straightforward – this post dives into more detail.

But what about project management software? Instead of spreadsheets, you have an app. How does that save money? There may not be a cost-saving – but there could be a time saving, allowing your project managers more time for other critical things and eventually causing an unlinked money saving.

That’s why things should be monitored closely. When you see an unexpected cost-saving, investigate it and ask why – find the root cause and you may be surprised. Also, make sure you know how long processes take before and after transformation, so you can see your time savings directly. 

Be sure to keep an eye on production as a “big-picture” measurement.

The Process Of Digital Transformation

Roadmap to digital transformation

This is how, more or less, the digital transformation journey will look like for your company.

Before You Start

In preparation, make sure you’ve covered the following. 

  • You’ve identified your #1 key problem to focus on
  • You’ve worked out your “why”
  • You’ve set up KPI’s and minimum feasibility requirements
  • You have a rough scope for your transformation

With these pre-transformation steps in place, your chance to succeed is great. 

Phase 1: Finding The Ideal Solutions

The first step is finding the right tools. Whether this is Appenate or some other digital solution is dictated by your needs.

This step is time-consuming since there are many different solutions to consider. Even if you’ve already decided, it still takes time to get to grips with the chosen solution. (Psst, we offer free training for life to speed up the process 😉). 

Once you’ve found and settled on a software platform, set-up can commence.

Phase 2: Implementation

Here’s where your transformation starts in earnest. It’s where you learn to use and deploy your solutions. 

Good leadership and employee involvement is an essential part of this step. Getting everyone to use the solutions can be a challenge – but it’s easier when you make everyone feel heard, valued and included in the big picture.

Encourage feedback from colleagues and employees during this stage. What do they like about your new solutions? What don’t they like? Where’s room for improvement?

Phase 3: Iteration

Now it’s time to change things up. Inevitably, there will be rough edges to smooth out with your new solutions. 

Review employee feedback and see what’s possible to improve. Get in touch with your solution’s support teams if you have to – do what you can to make the transition as smooth as possible. 

And if something’s outright not working and there’s no way to change it, scrap it. There’s no use in pushing something that moves you further from your goals.  

When things have been adapted accordingly, it’s time for another live test. 

Phase 4: Making Sense Of It All

Keep measuring success. Are you really saving time? Are you really saving money? Or are the solutions you’ve implemented costing you for no real gain – even after iteration?

Admin time is a big one here – with some of our clients seeing 20-80% less time spent on admin duties. If your solution isn’t getting these sorts of results, what’s the point?

Other obvious measurements include cost saving, production figures, safety incident reporting rates, data visibility, etc. 

Whatever KPI’s you’ve set up will form the backbone of this step. Don’t be afraid to cut the systems that don’t show a clear benefit – digital transformation is secondary to efficient production. 

Phase 4.5: Another Iteration? 

If things are on the one between making sense and being a waste, it could be worth another trip to the drawing board. If changing things up a little can start showing the benefits more clearly, go for it. 

If all else fails, identify the next problem and go back to step 1. The pursuit of process perfection is always worth trying again with a different approach.

Phase 5: Analyze Success

When all the figures make sense, call it a success and move on to the next goal – but not before conducting an analysis.

Look over the process and see where things could be done better next time. In truth, if you’ve followed this article, this is just the first step in a long and highly rewarding journey. The next section of the trail could be smoother if you take the time to learn.

With that, it’s time to go back to step 1 and get the next most valuable part of your business transformed.

Digital Transformation Is An Ongoing Initiative

Infinity symbol signifying that digital transformation is an initiative that never really ends

New technologies pop up daily. Old technologies get revamped. Things change. 

What serves you best today might not serve you well enough tomorrow. Always be on the lookout for new technologies that help smooth out your processes even more. It’s an ongoing challenge to keep up and stay as efficient as possible – embrace it. Don’t forget to celebrate the wins along the way though.

Your Transformation Begins Today

Grab a notepad and a pen. 

Write down your first goal for digital transformation. Something simple for now – like “increase production” or “decrease workplace risk” or even “save the forests.” Tear that page off and put it somewhere visible.

Tomorrow morning, grab that note and take a hard look at your business or department. Find a process that needs attention and matches your goal, and dive in. Start there and then. If your process uses paper, use Appenate to mobilise it. We’ll get you up to speed quickly, so you can turn your paper form into a digital one with ease. 

You’ll get to try Appenate free. We’re also running a special ’90 days for $90′ offer. This is to help you smooth out the process at minimal cost so that you’re making a great ROI right from the start. 

Why wait? Digital transformation starts now.