Digital Maturity vs. Digital Transformation: What’s Right for your Firm

In technology circles, “digital transformation” has become the new standard against which enterprise-wide investments are often judged. This buzz-worthy term carries the promise of seamless workflows and stronger client engagement, but getting there is easier said than done.

Slow Down to Speed Up

Many of the architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) firms aren’t ready for a radical reengineering of their technology-driven processes. They’re too busy juggling contracts, managing staff, and preparing bids and responses to proposals. But as they evolve—from sticky notes to spreadsheets to enterprise-level project management software—they have a huge opportunity to take performance to the next level by increasing digital maturity.

But how do you bring your team along the journey to greater efficiency and accountability without completely disrupting operations? These four principles of digital transformation provide some practical guidance. 

1. Pull the Trigger

Sweeping changes associated with digital transformation are often spurred on “… in pursuit of new business models and new revenue streams, driven by changes in customer expectations around products and services,” according to a recent CIO article.  

In our industry, rapidly shrinking RFP response times reflect those changing expectations. What used to be months of lead time has become weeks, and if you don’t have the necessary documents and estimates at your fingertips, you’ll miss out. The longer you wait to adopt a system of record, the farther behind you will fall.

2. Start Small, Dream Big

The reality is that most software implementations prioritize incremental improvements rather than profound transformation. Getting reports out faster, consistently documenting meeting minutes, tracking invoices and contracts are all reasonable and attainable goals.  

But be careful you don’t miss the forest for the trees. Rolling out project management software affords you the chance to be bold and challenge the status quo. Technology may narrow the competitive gap for smaller AEC firms by making them more nimble, flexible, and responsive to requests.

3. Preparing for (if not Embracing) Change

“Digital transformation doesn’t come in a box—or a cloud,” according to CIO’s Clint Boulton. It does, however, come with a healthy dose of transitional work that will impact the daily lives of your employees. Prepare them early and often by acknowledging things will change. Involve key frontline employees in upfront analysis, but drive change from the top by fiercely focusing on a clear set of objectives.

Project managers who are used to on-the-fly updates will have to slow down and document, document, document. Chances are, they won’t be happy about it. But the extra time pays off in consistent risk management practices. Your employees add data analytics to their skillset and the organization protects itself from inadequate communication loops.

The benefits may not be immediately obvious, but five or six months down the road, the power of knowing where and how to pull relevant data should help convert those hesitating with full adoption. I cover how communication improves decision-making and builds culture in our industry in an earlier blog.

4. Closing the Loop

An alarming number of technology deployments fail to live up to expectations. I’ve seen AEC firms invest heavily in hours and money to overhaul their tech infrastructure, only to leave expensive functionality unused or even worse, have a constant battle with staff to maintain the system.

To me, it usually comes down to discipline. Consistency counts, and employees must be held accountable for doing their jobs differently. Make sure job descriptions and performance review criteria are updated to reflect compliance with new technology standards.  

Adopting a new enterprise-wide system—whether it’s for project management, customer relationship management, accounting, or another key function—doesn’t have to be painful. Yes, it may be uncomfortable at times and it will most likely push employees outside of their comfort zones. But when change is not just for the sake of change but to push your organization to a more competitive position, you’ll find that transformation pays dividends.