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How to build the business case for digital transformation as a finance leader

We’ve talked a lot about the importance of digital transformation. Regardless of your business’ size, location or industry, one thing’s for sure: you need to digitise now in order to stay competitive in the long run.

But implementing digital transformation isn’t an overnight job. And, crucially, it requires board buy-in as you’re asking for time, money and resources to allocate towards this meaty project. 

So how can you convince the people above you that it’s a worthy exercise?

Easy. Follow these steps, including top tips from the expert panel who spoke at our recent CFO Breakfast, to present a compelling case for digitisation.

1. Don’t just see it as a box ticking exercise

If you’re pursuing digital transformation purely to tick some corporate boxes, you’re doing it wrong. “You’re not engaging in digital transformation for the sake of it,” says Fredrik Holmgren, Director Strategic Finance at TravelPerk.

You’ve got to be in it to win it, so to speak. If you’re not fully committed to the project – which requires significant input from multiple people – your team won’t be either. This can lead to a lack of engagement and slowing momentum as you continue to drive the implementation forward.

Ben Swails, VP of Sales at Pleo, puts it best when he says that “asking ‘why’ is invaluable. Is digital transformation just a buzzword or does it truly matter to the business?” So if you understand the end goal of digitising your business, you’re more likely to reach it.

Ian Irwin, CEO at Noblue2, agrees and draws a comparison to mundane tasks that are a dreaded (albeit fundamental) part of most people’s jobs. “People don’t like doing timesheets, but if they understand why it’s important, they’ll do it.” No one wants to spend hours totting up their workload on a Friday afternoon, but if they can see that it’s crucial to the business bringing in money and paying them their salaries, they’re less likely to put up a fight.

2. Align it with a wider business goal

To convince the board to invest in digital transformation, it makes sense to connect it to a business goal they’re already focused on. That way, you can kill two birds with one stone.

Business Transformation Advisor Amna Zaidi believes that “companies exist to do one of three things: increase revenue, decrease costs or mitigate risks. If you can design a transformation roadmap to demonstrate that by investing in tools, processes and people, you can achieve one or more of those objectives, the investment case is a no brainer.” So consider which of these wider goals your seniors are most likely to prioritise, and ladder your digital transformation end game to that.

Of course, different industries have different goals. And you might want to be more granular in order to build a specific, data-driven business case. For example, in recruitment, your company strategy might be pinned on a happy, engaged client base. 

“If you can free up your team to build relationships and meet clients, that’s the end game of digital transformation. Allow them to do more work that adds more value, and the business will benefit from better relationships with clients,” says Becky Cawley-Hassall, Financial Director at Saragossa.

3. Prepare to deal with pushback

People tend to be wary of change, so it’s natural for them to resist plans that impact what they’re used to doing. We like our routines and change brings uncertainty and a loss of control.

So before you sit down with the leadership team to present your case, think about how they might challenge you on your proposal and how you’ll respond to any questions and concerns. The more prepared you are, the better you’ll be able to rebut their scepticism.

Plus, people often fear change because they don’t understand the reason for it. As Becky says, “if you can show the value that change will bring, that’s almost enough on its own – especially when people are money-motivated.” So, show them the numbers and you’ll have a good shot at winning them over.

4. Identify gaps and opportunities

Once you’ve convinced your boss on the many benefits of digital transformation, it’s time to think about how and where you’ll start implementing changes. 

What are the essentials? What are you missing at the moment? What can’t your business do without and what’s going to have the most impact?

“I would advise going backwards and plugging the gaps in operational processes,” recommends Ian. “Think about your tech stack. Which tools do you need in order to provide the information to drive the business strategy?” 

Fredrik reminds us of the power of technology to connect the dots in crucial information. “The more control you have over the numbers, the more insights you’ll have to drive growth and profitability,” he says.

While you’re looking at your tech stack, it makes sense to do a thorough audit to make sure it’s resilient. Here’s what we learnt while building our tech stack from the ground up (perhaps most importantly, that it needs to be able to scale with you). 

Xander Cullum, Director at Williams Stanley, argues the case for smooth integrations. “Check for duplicates,” as this can end up saving you money in the long run, “and see which systems talk to each other. Any new technology has to be able to integrate with your underlying platform.” If your tools don’t connect seamlessly, this is bound to create issues, especially as your tech stack grows.

5. Don’t bite off more than you can chew

When you start planning a new project, it’s easy for the ideas to flow and for next steps to spiral, leading you to feel overwhelmed. Next thing you know, your grand plan feels unattainable and you have to cut back.

So start small. You can always add new technologies and processes, or involve more people, later down the line. But try experimenting with a few changes first. Don’t forget that mistakes cost money so you want to take calculated risks that you’ve researched thoroughly, especially as you’ve worked hard to persuade your boss to support you. “Less is definitely more,” as Xander reminded us.

Ian advises you to “take the best of the technologies available to you now and repurpose that time saved to analyse the business’s performance,” as the best technology should remove a load of the manual work on your end, freeing you up to focus on more strategic tasks.  

6. Create a robust plan for implementation

Ready to roll out? Before you dive in headfirst, think about the steps involved and what your plan of attack is, so your boss knows you’re serious about this. 

If you can demonstrate how you plan to approach each step and how you’ll overcome any hurdles, meaning they don’t have to worry about it, they’ll be more likely to agree to it. It’s as simple as that.

Here are some steps to help you shape your implementation plan:

  • Define your objectives to make sure they align with overall business strategy
  • Decide which stakeholders will be involved and let them know
  • Consider potential blockers and how you would combat these
  • Agree on how you’ll measure success
  • Start with a phased approach with clear timelines
  • Keep stakeholders engaged with regular updates
  • Celebrate the milestones!
  • Review your progress and keep iterating as necessary

If you’re thinking about dipping your toe into the world of digital transformation, don’t hang around. The key is to be quick but realistic – consider all possible routes and obstacles before you begin, but once you have a plan you’re happy with, get the ball rolling. Ultimately, most leaders already know that digital transformation will lead to huge benefits for the business, they just need a nudge in the right direction.

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