Digital transformation projects ‘still failing’

Despite rising optimism for digital transformation projects, the vast majority of organisations are still suffering failure, delays or scaled back expectations, according to Couchbase.

The cloud database provider surveyed 450 heads of digital transformation in enterprises across the UK, US, France and Germany, finding that 73 per cent have made ‘significant’ or better improvements to the end-user experience in their organisation through digital innovation.

Twenty-two percent said they have transformed or ‘completely revolutionised’ end-user experience, up 15 per cent from Couchbase’s 2017 survey, but organisations are still facing challenges in meeting their digital ambitions.

The research revealed that 86 per cent said factors including reliance on a legacy technology, complexity of implementing technologies, and lack of resources or skills had prevented them from pursuing a new digital service, or other transformation project.

A further 55 per cent said that their reliance on relational databases somewhat limited their ability to implement digital transformation projects, while 17 per cent said it was a severe limitation.

The survey showed that 81 per cent of respondents have had a digital transformation project fail, suffer a significant delay, or be scaled back in the last 12 months, while 42 per cent said they were behind schedule, or at risk of falling behind, on their most significant digital transformation project.

Meanwhile, 73 per cent said that, while the huge potential of digital projects is often talked about, most of the time they fall short of being truly transformational.

At the same time, transformation is not slowing down, with 91 per cent of respondents stating that disruption in their industry has accelerated over the last 12 months. Organisations plan to spend $30 million on digital transformation projects in the next 12 months, compared to $27 million in the previous year.

“Digital transformation has reached an inflection point,” said Matt Cain, chief executive of Couchbase. “At this pivotal time, it will be critical for enterprises to overcome the challenges that have been holding them back for years.”

Organisations are well aware of the risks of failing to digitally innovate, with 46 per cent fearing becoming less relevant in the market if they do not innovate, while 42 per cent said they will lose IT staff to more innovative competitors, in turn making it harder to innovate in the future.

As a result, organisations are pressing forward with projects, with the survey finding 71 per cent agreed that businesses are fixated on the promise of digital transformation, to the extent that IT teams risk working on projects that may not actually deliver tangible benefits.

The majority of organisations (52 per cent) still have digital transformation strategy set by the IT team, meaning the c-suite is not guiding projects and strategy that could have a major impact on the business. At the same time, the primary drivers for transformation are almost all reactive – responding to competitors’ advances, pressure from customers for new services and responding to changes in legislation were each reported by 23 per cent of respondents.

“In order for companies to succeed with their digital projects and overcome the inherent challenges with these new approaches, they have to attack the projects in a comprehensive and systemic way,” commented Cain. “Change must be driven across the entire enterprise as a true strategic imperative, not left in the sole hands of the IT team.”

The report was based on an online survey conducted in May and June by Vanson Bourne, among the likes of chief information officers, chief digital officers and chief technology officers in organisations with 1,000 employees or more.

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