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Two Big Reasons Companies Fail At Digital Transformation

CIO and best-selling author Chris Laping says solution providers have a big opportunity to help their customers overcome these two major obstacles to digital transformation.

When it comes to implementing a large technology project, it can sometimes feel like you're trying to put together 10,000 parts and pieces with poor instructions – and then you realize you have 18 pieces left over after you think you've finished.

That's how Chris Laping, CIO of Coffee And Bagel Brands (the company behind Caribou Coffee and Einstein Bros. Bagels, among others), describes the position many companies find themselves in when they struggle with — and, in many cases, fail at — digital transformation. At The Channel Company's XChange 2018 conference in San Antonio, Texas, Laping outlined in a Sunday afternoon keynote how IT solution providers can help their customers identify and overcome obstacles to change.

To identify these obstacles, Laping, author of the book "People Before Things" and former CIO at Red Robin, used planning a road trip with friends as a metaphor. Laping created a scenario where he and an XChange attendee decided to plan a road trip to Boston with three other friends, but despite delegating responsibilities to prepare for the journey, the group ended up bickering over which route to take because Laping and the attendee had different reasons for wanting to take the road trip.

The problem was that Laping and the attendee lacked alignment. They had agreed on the "what," but not the "why," which Laping said is a reason most companies fail at digital transformation efforts today.

"Sometimes they can't see a different future because not everyone in their organization is on the same page," Laping said, explaining how a misalignment can hurt a company's vision.

To Laping, this is where solution providers can play an important role: "The opportunity for you as seller is to build alignment and a common vision of the future."

Steve Halligan, CEO of Greenbelt, Md.-based n2Grate, No. 202 on CRN's SP500, said he has seen misalignment play out in companies and said that it can lead to "shadow IT spend," where employees makes their own IT decisions outside of the CIO’s or IT department's purview.

This can become an issue, Halligan said, because the adoption of tech by this department or employee may not pass the company's security requirements. It can also make it difficult for a company to create technology standards.

"The prevalence of shadow IT is expanding, and cloud services have allowed it to grow," he said.

As an example, Laping cited initiatives taken by Trace3, an Irvine, Calif.-based solution provider he has worked with that is No. 54 on CRN's 2018 Solution Provider 500 list. One initiative serves as a matchmaker between customers and venture capital firms that provide access to their portfolio companies' emerging technologies as a way to address pain points and create a vision for the future. The solution provider also provides workshops with customers to facilitate conversations about a company's vision and how multiple constituents can get on the same page to achieve that vision.

"That hour and a half of facilitation would be a much better use of your time than flipping through 50 slides," Laping said.

Another major obstacle to digital transformation efforts is time, according to Laping. He illustrated this by highlighting a 1973 Princeton University study where three groups of seminarians were told to walk to a certain location to deliver a speech about the "Good Samaritan" bible story , but each group was given a different level of urgency for how soon they should get there: from being ahead of schedule to being late. The higher the level of urgency, the less likely these students were likely to stop to assist someone en route who was clearly in need of help, even though these seminarians all valued helping people. What they lacked was time.

"If we know that time is a consideration, then to break through with CIOs and have them break through with their teams, we have to help them find the time to do that," Laping said.

Laping gave two examples of how solution providers can help customers overcome time constraints. During his time as a consultant, Laping said he would give a 40-question assessment to customers that would take them 10 minutes or less to finish. Using the results, Laping would give them a red, yellow or green readout that would provide a quick summary of where they stand and five actions.

"If you're doing an assessment that is a big 70 pager than I'm never going to read it," he said. "Just consider a lighter-weight initial deliverable that I may be able to activate on quickly."

Connected to that, Laping said it's important that solution providers can provide a "lower-fidelity proof of concept" that can act as a demonstration of their product and service offerings. That's because getting customers to try out the full solution sometimes entails getting them completely absorbed into it, which can be especially daunting from a time-constraint perspective.

"The problem is we want to test your stuff, but to test your stuff we're doing it – it takes same amount of work to just do it," Laping said. "If you're selling software into the cloud and you can take small samples of [company] data and put that into a live environment, that helps a lot."

Ultimately, Laping said, customers need solution providers to act as their guide so they can be the hero of their own story, like a Yoda to their Luke Skywalker as far as pop culture references go.

"When you come make my problem your problem and help me through that, it creates so much trust, that I become such a huge fan of yours and that's what we need," Laping said.

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