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How to visualize digital transformation

A framework for aligning tech investments to business goals

By Brian Foster

  • 90% of digital transformation initiatives underdeliver or fail outright
  • Companies often don’t understand how tech initiatives advance business goals
  • It helps to visualize the users of a system and the processes that the system supports

These days, just about every organization sees digital transformation as a strategic imperative. But as much as leaders strive to align IT investments with specific business goals, few really do it well.

This is especially true when it comes to foundational tech investments that might be a few steps removed from a direct impact on strategic company goals. How, for instance, might investments in cloud provisioning help achieve a key CEO goal like creating greater customer intimacy?

Not being able to make a direct connection can cause harm in two ways. Senior leaders outside the initiative won’t see how a technology investment benefits them. More problematic, the junior staff that works on the project won’t understand how their work contributes to the broader business goals.

When rank and file workers don’t understand why a project matters, it’s much easier for organizational inertia and resistance to set in. In fact, recent research by database company Couchbase found that 90% of digital transformation initiatives underdeliver or fail outright.

We’ve learned though our consulting engagements how important it is to get strategic alignment and communication right. One very helpful tool is a visualization framework that maps the connections between business goals and technology investments. These visualizations help any stakeholder see where their piece of the puzzle fits within the bigger picture.



The mapping process starts by examining all the steps between an organization’s high‑level business goals and the gritty details of technology implementation. On their own, none of these elements are particularly novel. What makes them powerful is the clarity they provide when connected together.

1. Goals

Goals need to be articulated in a way that’s measurable and specific. For example, one financial services firm we worked with (we’ll call them Now Bank) has a growth strategy based in part on acquiring and rapidly integrating mid‑sized organizations. Integrating each acquisition was a costly, laborious process that took on average eight months to complete. Cutting that time significantly—and accelerating the efficiencies gained by eliminating redundant workflows and systems—would have multi‑million‑dollar impact. So Now Bank set a goal to cut the average integration time for acquisitions to three months. 

2. Capabilities

Capabilities are the organizational skills required to achieve a goal. At Now Bank, key capabilities required for integrating acquired companies include consolidating financial systems and migrating employees to a common HR platform. Understanding the broad bucket of capabilities required to achieve important goals allows you to parse big goals into their component parts.

3. Processes

These are the workflows and steps that make up a capability. At Now Bank, some of the processes supporting employee migration include granting new security and access rights, and assimilating employee benefit programs into the parent company system. Seeing it at this level gave the company clarity on the workflows that are most critical to speeding up the integration cycle.

4. People

In order to optimize a workflow, you must first identify its drivers and users. At Now Bank, key players in the acquisition integration process include HR benefits staff and corporate finance teams. As it turned out, both were struggling with manual data entry and extraction across incompatible systems.

Many organizations make the mistake of separating processes and technology from the people who engage or interact with them. To achieve any business goal, people somewhere in your organization will need to do things differently. The sooner you identify those people the better.

5. Experiences

We all know that employees are more likely to adopt a new technology or process if it’s easy to work with. The most successful organizations devote as much attention to the employee experience as to the customer experience.

At Now Bank, we conducted experience workshops with key HR and finance staff. This helped the company identify process steps that could be automated and other steps that could be streamlined by using a common portal interface.

6. Technologies

Systems enable processes. For most technologists, this is where their attention naturally falls. But when you place technology decisions in the broader context of capabilities, processes, people and experiences, the business benefits become much clearer.

For Now Bank this analysis supported the business case for a series of investments in the ServiceNow platform that, together, are predicted to help reduce the time it takes to integrate an acquisition by close to 60%.

Bottom Line

The layers of our visualization framework roughly align with the managerial levels of a typical organization. The C‑suite sets business goals and develops core capabilities; functional VPs own business processes; front‑line IT staff own or manage systems.

It also makes clear how to best communicate about a project across an organization. One IT leader told us: “If I’m talking to a technologist implementing our system, I can use this to help him or her understand exactly how their work enables CEO‑level goals. And I can explain to executives why what seems like a back‑office technology project is actually important to achieving strategic goals.”

Brian Foster is global senior director of the strategy practice with ServiceNow’s Inspire program, which works with CXOs at large organizations to achieve strategic objectives.

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