Digital transformation

How to get better returns on business tech investments

70 percent of enterprise investment in new tech fails. Experts share different approaches that help maximize returns.

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Paul Sizer

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In a tech store, it’s tempting to convince yourself you need the latest shiny gadget. That device upgrade will radically improve your productivity. You leave with a bag of stylish little boxes and a dented credit card. Enterprise tech decision-makers also struggle with these magpie-like impulses. Recent research found GE, Ford and other major players poured 1.3 trillion US dollars into digital transformation. 70 percent of it – $900 billion – went into failed programs. That’s quite some buyer’s remorse.

Businesses know they need tech for competitive advantage – but which tech? And when they’ve got it, how do they use it effectively? In our podcast Insight Story, Olivier Blanchard, Research Director for future analysts The Futurum Group, and Arun Narayanan, Chief Digital Officer at renewable energy service providers RES, share how business leaders can ensure best bang for their new tech buck.

Every enterprise is different

Olivier says there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to getting better tech returns. “A major mistake is picking tools because other companies are using them. A solution might be good for your problem but might not suit your company’s technical capabilities and cultural processes.”

Instead, he suggests figuring out what you need the technology to achieve. “Understand your problems and look for the best solution to help them.”

Arun, who has overseen digital transformation in several big mining and oil and gas companies, echoes Olivier’s belief in starting in the right place. “Don’t rush around trying to work out what a technology can do for you. Instead, think about how you want to change your business. Do you want to delight customers in new ways? Make employees safer and more productive? Get better returns for investors? Imagine the business processes, then find the technology to make them work.”

He gives an example from sectors he’s worked in – oil and gas, mining and renewable energy. “What they have in common is the work is in remote places. They now have remote operations centers giving information on screen to those who can do the work but can’t spend days to weeks away.”

But the aim isn’t to replace those working on-site. “Successful digital transformation will balance what’s operationally correct at a site and what a remote center can know and understand. You can’t take all control away from operations, nor can those making minute-to-minute decisions on site examine long-term trends and patterns.”

Evolution or revolution?

Olivier thinks senior leadership can contribute to improved returns by appreciating the size of change possible. “If you want to become more competitive within your existing understanding of your company, then it’s about finding problem areas to optimize.”

Olivier Blanchard, Research Director for future analysts The Futurum Group

If you want to reimagine your business, that’s when things get interesting. Tech becomes a series of gateways for your company to expand into, driving its evolution.

Olivier Blanchard, Research Director, The Futurum Group

Arun suggests one place to start. “You’re spending a lot of money on this, so find the waste. For example, if you don’t know where the oil is and you’re drilling in the wrong location. The business question is, how do we drill more in the right place?”

The answer isn’t always high-tech. “Once you understand the business question, you’ll know what technology to find. If software from the 1990s can solve your problem beautifully, use that. Or if you find nothing available, technology like AI might solve it.”

Getting the people on side

Failing to bring your people along on the tech journey can be expensive. Many fear technology will replace them, with Elon Musk saying there’ll be no jobs for people in the future. How can leaders ensure people understand tech is there to help, not put them out of work?

Arun says, “When calculators came out, they didn’t replace accountants – but they let them do a better job, faster. Generative AI solutions like chatbots and document generators are tools – they aim to do the mundane piece fast, then the artistic, skillful and human piece can follow.”

Arun has had much experience getting people on board with tech integration in industrial settings. “Technology change will create many new jobs. The economic models will change, jobs will be created and lost.”

Arun Narayanan, Chief Digital Officer at renewable energy service providers RES

The only person who can protect you in this transition is yourself, and education is the only tool that can protect you.

Arun Narayanan (US,) Chief Digital Officer, RES

“We’ll still need project managers, HR and people who can communicate. You don’t need to be a technical expert to take part in the transformation.”

Olivier highlights that cost savings can flow from upskilling employees. “It’s easier for someone to learn a new skill than learn everything about a company from scratch. Focusing on employee retention and development rather than letting workers fall by the wayside makes good financial sense.”

Cybersecurity education’s role in new tech adoption

Dr. Amin Hasbini, Head of Research Center Middle East, Turkey and Africa for Kaspersky Global Research and Analysis Team (GReAT,) thinks successful tech adoption means getting everyone up to speed on cybersecurity.

But many companies aren’t yet doing it. Amin says, “A recent Kaspersky and Longitude study found organizations that emphasize cybersecurity training have 25 percent more readiness for dealing with security incidents from employees.”

The most effective forms of cybersecurity education are generally immersive. Amin says, “Gaming and VR are great for security training because they allow better engagement and learning. Gamification and competition challenges improve managers and director safeguarding decisions.”

Some approaches are even more immersive. “The most successful involve simulating a real attack on the organization when only a few people in top management know it’s a simulation. They test employee capacity and how well teams cooperate to contain and close down an incident.”

Training must go beyond the IT team. “Security everyone’s job, from desk employees in a remote office to top managers. If everyone is aware, it stops incidents getting big.”

How much risk is right?

Arun says businesses must accept that in making room for success, some initiatives will fail. “If you’re reimagining with a bold vision, you’re guessing about the future. Some guesses will come true – others won’t. If your structure has no room for failure, you sell out the opportunity for innovation.”

He says one way is to make a few calculated smaller bets rather than one big bet. Even if some fail, it’s better than not taking those risks.

Olivier points to lower-risk ways to trial solutions. “You don’t have to buy all your technology anymore. With cloud services and managed services, fantastic industry partners can help you test, implement or scale up new tech. There’s a giant menu of opportunities to get expert help.”

With enterprises finding many tech investments don’t pay off, there’s much potential for competitive advantage in smarter exploration of new tech options. Business leaders may find more implementations succeed if they start with the right problems and upskill their people as part of the transformation.

Employee cyberawareness training

For the best return on new tech investment, upskill your teams in cyberawareness.

About authors

Susi O’Neill is the Editor-in-Chief of Secure Futures and host of business tech podcast Insight Story. She’s a seasoned creative who’s led business content programs for brands including EY, Mastercard and Unilever. Off the clock, she’s a musician and performer who gives international performances playing theremin, the world’s first electronic instrument.