Game changer: how a cultural shift is critical for successful digital transformation

Digital transformation blog

Ninety-five per cent of business leaders believe their companies would be more competitive, more innovative, and make faster decisions if their data was more accurate. The same group of executives from organisations spanning the globe says only 60 percent of their data is actually usable. While these figures from a recent HFS Research report are remarkable, for me, as someone who helps organisations through digital transformation, they are not surprising. 

That is because it is often data quality that lets down a transformation project. And when I talk to IT and digital teams ahead of a migration, it’s often clear that for their projects to be truly successful they need a wholesale cultural change. This is not only about updating the technology infrastructure, it is about the way data is produced, handled, and used by the entire organisation. 

As head of solutioning, one of my responsibilities is to spot potential issues, problems that could slow down an implementation or affect the final outcome of the project. As a result, I’ve also noticed what successful digital transformation projects have in common. I want to share five recurring themes, and guess what? They all relate to data quality.

  • Understand your data

I am reassured when the companies I am working with already know how (and which) data supports their business processes and outcomes. It means collectively we can focus our efforts on the right data and make sure that data quality, integrity, and availability are maintained before, during, and after implementation. This limits disruption to the business, and helps to boost trust in data. 

During and after digital transformation, an organisation will feel more confident when it is clear on which data is business-critical, and when that data is as accurate as possible. It means teams are more assured that they are making sound business decisions and that they are providing a good service based on understood, trusted, and accurate data. Do not underestimate how important this is, it will help to get a transformation programme off to a great start.

  • Set data quality goals

When you know your key metrics, it becomes much easier to set data quality goals. By that I mean understanding which data needs to be governed and setting appropriate data quality targets based on criticality. In short, knowing which data has to be 100 percent accurate at all times. Using a framework like Six Sigma can be very helpful here: an agreed measure that highlights how far your data deviates from your target is a useful signpost to the likely impact on your outcomes, and the level of prioritisation managing that data requires.

Simply having those goals is not enough: the organisations with long-lasting digital transformation success tend to secure C-suite ownership of those objectives, while making sure that the rest of the organisation understands the goals and is consistently working towards them. This buy-in at all levels means that it is not left to the IT team to guarantee data accuracy. It is an organisational responsibility that everyone has a stake in, and it significantly increases success rates.

  • Show and tell

It is not enough to talk the talk: you have to show data in action. I’ve noticed a clear link between success and consistently showing how key data is used to make business-critical decisions. By making the connection between accurate data and good business outcomes, and demonstrating how trust in data helps with compliance in the GDPR and CCPA space, for example, you are helping the rest of the organisation understand data’s role. 

I have seen how effective data management makes a tangible impact on business outcomes. For instance, the organisation that optimised purchasing payment terms and lead times by de-duplicating vendor master records. Or the company that realised it was offering an unintended discount to its customers due to manual data error. What examples do you have that could engage your people?

Some questions to ask yourself before you start to show and tell:

  • How is data currently helping our business? 
  • Who is already showing the value of data in decision-making and what can you learn from them?
  • What opportunities are there to explain how data is used? What communication channels already exist? 


  • Educate

When the organisation understands why and how data is used for better outcomes, it becomes much clearer that this is not just the IT team’s domain; it is everyone’s responsibility. This is true whether or not you are going through digital transformation, but when you are going through a big change, having the whole organisation onboard really helps.

But a policy and operating model in isolation are not enough – there is real work needed to bring the rest of your organisation along with you. I’ve worked with customers who have educated teams across the business on data literacy, and data management and quality tools, so that everyone feels invested and ready to take on the challenge. 

To embed your policy will take effort: but it is worth it. Having the entire business behind you, rather than your team going it alone, will massively increase your chances of success.

  • Reinforce

Bringing the business onboard is not a one-off activity. You’ll need to consistently reinforce your message. And you’ll be fighting to be heard – think of all the other corporate messages out there. How can you make sure data stays front of mind?

I’ve seen some great initiatives from including data quality in organisational values, offering rewards and other incentives, and creating data champions. Consider what will resonate most with your organisation, think about which teams to bring onboard (the internal communication team if you have one will be your best friend here), and be prepared to be in this for the long haul. 

And don’t be put off if your organisation starts to fall back into old habits. Cultural change does not happen overnight, so you will need to take a sustained and steady approach to this. 

You don’t need me to tell you that digital transformation projects are an investment, and they are not new tech for new tech’s sake. They are to help organisations run more efficiently, to gain a competitive advantage, and to provide a better customer and employee experience. Focusing on data quality, and how to maintain it before, during, and after the transformation, is the single most effective thing you can do for your project and will help your organisation succeed.