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What to Know About Digital Experts Before Hiring One

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April 29, 2022
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6 minutes
Lynn's diverse perspectives on business stem from her extensive experience as a management consultant - her role as a beloved wife, mother and grandmother adds further depth to her insights.

Digital transformation has become a mantra for business, especially following the Covid pandemic. At the same time, there has been a proliferation of independent consultants and project managers selling their capabilities as digital experts. How much do we really know about what digital transformation is? And what are the skills that we need from the so-called experts?

This article will address these questions and give some guidelines to the companies before they embark on transformation and hire any experts. It can be read together with previous articles that describe different aspects of digitization and the consultant skills required to drive successful digital initiatives.

What is Digital Transformation?

Wikipedia defines digital transformation as “the adoption of digital technology by a company to improve business processes, value for customers and innovation.” In essence, it is a move from analog and manual systems to digital ones. Some of the technologies considered include the following:

  • Internet of Things (IoT)
  • Artificial intelligence (AI)
  • Blockchain technology
  • Data lakes
  • Social media and e-commerce applications

It is incredibly complex to integrate these approaches with existing company systems, mainly because companies have invested heavily into legacy systems. This is technical debt. The first step in digital transformation is to demonstrate business value before considering anything new. A second element is a new approach to data. Many companies currently collect data in unsystematic or unstandardized ways. Also, they often collect data that they have always collected but is not helpful to them, thus wasting enormous resources. There are new types and sources of data integrated, including external and unstructured data, such as customers submitting photographs of defective products.

Digital transformation also requires connecting activities across silos and work activities and a focus on customers. Moreover, Traditional hierarchical thinking will reduce digital approaches to disconnected improvements, which may be helpful in themselves but are not transformative. The need is for broad review across conventional hierarchies and silos. Digital transformation affects your whole organization and will need leadership and change capability. This is perhaps the least considered area, as managers focus on the technical change without taking into account the people side of its implementation.

“Digital transformation is the adoption of digital technology by a company to improve business processes, value for customers and innovation.”

Skills for Experts

We get tempted to think of digital transformation only in terms of technology and function. So, for example, if you want to improve customer service, you may look for digital experts with skills or experience in sales and marketing. This would be correct, but we require more. According to research reported in the Harvard Business Review, organizations contemplating digital transformation should ensure that they have skills in four main domains:

  • Technology
  • Data
  • Process
  • Organizational change

If you are contemplating digitalization, it is essential to consider the skills or talent you have in each of these areas. More important is to reflect on how to apply and function them together.

Technology skills

There is a need for technological depth and breadth and a strategic understanding of business. Some believe that no one can understand what is required without in-depth exposure to and knowledge of the evolution of digitization. This covers the infancy of digital, through the dot-com boom and bust, to new economic and business models. Technology must be sold to companies, so communication is another critical component. Can the digital expert clearly articulate what the technology offers and how it will benefit your business? Increasingly, internal IT staff focus on maintaining current systems. While it is important to include them, it is often difficult for them to drive major change. One of the hallmarks of competent independent consultants is the strategic ability to balance innovation with technical debt.

Data skills

Moreover, One of the challenges for companies is persuading frontline staff to take on new roles as data creators and data customers. Creating the correct data is one of the main capabilities of digital transformation. Reconfiguring work processes and tasks to achieve this may be better accomplished by independent project managers than internal IT staff or managers.

Process mindset

A process mindset allows for an end-to-end, horizontal consideration of activities. It is not always necessary to have radical process re-engineering. However, Sometimes incremental process improvement is sufficient. The skill is to know the difference.

Organizational change capability

All the well-known change management skills must be brought to bear in digital transformation projects. Those driving the change, including independent consultants or project managers, must have the people skills of leadership, emotional intelligence, and teamwork, together with technical change management tools and techniques.

What to Look For?

Given the wide range of skills required for digital transformation, companies may find it difficult to find appropriate people to effect digital change. In fact, there is a view that there can be no such person as a “digital expert.” Instead, there is a need for a combination of internal and external experts and project managers. No matter how well-skilled and -resourced your company may be, there are still good reasons to bring in outside consultants for significant projects.

  • You are paying them to give 100% of their time to your project
  • They come in with fresh eyes and no preconceived ideas
  • Digital Experts can gather and make sense of the relevant data
  • They will give objective and independent opinions
  • They combine specialized skills with perspectives gained from exposure to multiple organizations

(Read more about the advantages your management consultant has that you don’t.) Unfortunately, some people talk the digital talk but cannot deliver.

Some of the steps you can take to find the right people include the following:

  • Check the track record of independent consultants. Where have they undertaken similar projects, and do they have customer references to support their claims?
  • Listen to what the consultant is telling you. Are you hearing theory and jargon, or is the person translating how the technology applies to your exact circumstances?
  • Does the consultant understand the complexity of interrelationships across your organization and how the changes will impact them?
  • Is there a support network of other consultants or project managers to cover different elements of the project?

A big question remains, however: Where can you find independent consultants and project managers?

Where to Find Digital Transformation Experts

You can turn to the big consulting firms that have long track records and high credibility. Alternatively, you can use the online consulting marketplace. Online consulting platforms have become a viable solution for many companies. They register many independent digital consultants and project managers and give you a wide choice of resources. Some of the platforms, like Consultport, pre-screen their consultants so you can be assured that the skills they claim and the references they provide have been validated. Consultport will also evaluate your project and provide you with a shortlist of independent consultants that are best qualified to deliver it. This includes the potential to have a team of consultants with complementary skills to deliver all aspects of your digital transformation. A glance at the Consultport website shows the wide range of skills available, including digital and innovation, people and organization, strategy, finance and corporate development, operations and IT, marketing and sales. All of these may be required in a digital transformation project in your company. The Digital and Innovation set includes the skills more closely associated with the introduction of technology and data management:

As a bonus, Consultport will also manage the administrative, contractual, and billing aspects of the project and monitor delivery quality.

Choosing to Hire a Digital Expert

Digital transformation may seem to be a buzzword, but it is also a necessity for most companies. Moreover, changes will be required – and will be felt – across all aspects of your business, cutting across technology, data, process, and organizational change. Whether you use internal resources or bring in independent consultants and project managers, you will have to ensure that they have the requisite skills, along with sufficient experience and perspective, to handle a project that will so profoundly affect your organization. Before hiring a digital consultant, you may want to turn to online consulting platforms that pre-screen consultants and identify those that best match your requirements.