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A picture of Urska
Designer

6 min read

What Digital transformation was and what it is now for me

One of my biggest wishes working as a User researcher and Designer was to work on a Digital transformation project. The reason behind that was the experience I had with a Digital transformation project in my student years. We worked on a project on how can we add digital value to NHSs blood donation system. It made a mark on me and I wanted to work on digital transformation projects again.

In my recent project my wish came true and now I know that my university project was not a true representation of what a digital transformation is. In this article, I will be writing about my experience of working on my first professional digital transformation project and how is it different from my student experience.

I hope that my experience will give you a better insight into what digital transformation actually is or make you think about your experiences with digital transformation.

Before

As mentioned above my student Digital transformation project evolved around how can NHS improves their blood donation systems with digital. It was a project with complex problem but it had a clear path on how we can improve and add digital value to the existing system of blood donation. The client had a clear vision of their goals; attracting more people to donate blood. They asked us to think about how digital might help them do that.

We started with researching why people donate blood, defined their needs and how we can encourage more people to donate blood. Through our research we discovered people are personally motivated to donate blood, in todays society we are society of tracking our moods, steps, DNA history, etc. and there is opportunity for the NHS to create a digital platform where people can track their blood information for free when they donate blood. By being able to track your blood information and monitor your data you can be more in control of your health as well as doing something good for society (by donating blood).

Now

My first professional digital transformation project is working with a large organisation (27 offices globally and almost 5000 employees) who want to modernise all of their hardware and software. We are part of a large team of 50 people with a variety of disciplines including developers, solutions architects, communications, testers, business analysts and our user research team.

Our team is responsible for user research and usability testing. We are testing out if users can use the new devices and software, how they are using it and if it is improving the quality of their work, as well as time spent on the work.

Harry and Urska on site at the clients offices wielding laptops

So far it has been a journey of ups and downs and this project has definitely shown me a different side to digital transformation. The organisation has a clear vision of wanting to modernise their old hardware and software however they have approached the process with not enough of understanding of users needs. Rushed processes, postponed releases, unclear ownership, security restrictions and many other complications that give us a view of organisational needs that aren’t just digital. Their processes, ways of working, culture are the key elements that we struggled with while trying to do our work. Its is clear that the organisation needs to update their technology however they need more than just digital transformation in order to achieve the changes they need.

Digital transformation in context

That made me think and look at how digital transformation is portrayed in the industry. After doing some reading I discovered that 70% of digital transformation projects fail to achieve their goals. That is a stark statistic indicating how poorly the projects with digital transformation are thought of. It also demonstrates that cultural and organisational aspects of the organisation must be evaluated before the organisation can make an informed decision that they need digital transformation and if that’s not considered, before the organisation begin a digital transformation project the consequences can be costly as well as not effective in bringing the changes.

Digital transformation has become a buzz word usually hiding a more complex systemic transformation that involves looking into different layers of the company, the culture, ways of working, companies systems and operations, as well as employees and their needs. We can not think that problems can be solved with tools like technology, the human aspects and processes will keep on failing if the focus of the transformation relies on the tools and not the needs of people using them.

A whiteboard showing Urska's workings

Reading, talking with colleagues and experiencing the problems a digital transformation project can face has made me more aware of digital being a tool, that can be helpful, but is not the essential element of change. Transformations can be at best uncomfortable and even harder if clients don’t understand the nature of transformation or don’t identify it as needed.

The future

I understand this is my first professional experience, and I might not see all the views and perspectives, and that’s ok this is my point of view that I want to share. I need to be aware of my own biases and question my actions/suggestions. How I’m looking at this is through my view and that’s different from someone who actually pays and puts themselves on the line for the project.

This experience has shown me how my student project was shielded and isolated project and that was the reason why we could successfully apply digital transformation to the presented problem. I’m quite sure that if we were actually working in full NHS environment the digital transformation even if relating to just one department, and one section of that department as it was in our case (Blood donation), the project would need much bigger systemic transformation in order to achieve the digital solution we made in our student project.

Working on both projects gave me a better understanding and disposition for any future work in digital or other transformations (I still enjoy helping people find out how they can improve their existing processes). In future projects I would want to assess the organisation, what research have they done regarding their transformation needs, what do they understand under the definition of digital transformation. Recognition and awareness is a start and we will only reach the understanding of the different (systematic) needs of the organisation if we keep on talking about, showing as well as writing, the needs for broader organisational change, not just digital transformation.