Digital Transformation—Once an Option, Now a Necessity

When do you stop having a choice? In May 2019, when the panel discussion below was first published in the .orgSource newsletter, digital transformation probably wasn’t top of mind for most association leaders. Since 2020 taught us that only the digital survive, new strategies and approaches for IT are on every agenda. The question is no longer whether you will become a digital organization, it’s when.

If the last year felt as though you were patching your IT initiatives together with duct tape, this conversation points the way toward integrated solutions that put a digital mindset at the center of your organization’s culture and operations.     

As I live digital transformation with our .orgSource clients, one of the first discussions I have concerns the focus of the journey they are about to make. I explain that adding new software and skills and using that technology does not equal integration into the digital environment. It only means you have the tools to get there. There is a significant knowledge gap between being digitized and digital.

Gartner, the information and technology research consultancy, makes the distinction like this:

Digitization is the process of changing from analog to digital form.

Digitalization is the use of digital technologies to change a business model and provide new revenue and value-producing opportunities.

The end game of digital transformation is not to master new systems and software, it’s to help you grow your relationship with members and customers in new, exciting, and cost-effective ways. I hope the following conversation is a stepping stone toward innovation and adaptation in a marketplace that will continue to change and challenge.

Reprinted from the .orgSource May 2019 newsletter

Topic:            Digital Transformation—What Does It Mean?

The Panel:     Sherry Budziak, CEO and Founder

Kevin Ordonez, President, Managing Director, Digital Strategy

Dawn Briskey, CAE, Vice President, Client Services

What does digital transformation mean to you?

Sherry Budziak

Sherry Budziak: Digital transformation is a broad term that can mean different things depending on the context. Much like other emerging tech terms such as AI and blockchain, digital transformation is often used as a shorthand for newness and innovation regardless of whether it fits the situation. Organizations must be quick and nimble. It is about reinventing your business model from what worked in the Third Industrial Revolution to the format that’s necessary for the fourth.

Kevin Ordonez: A digital transformation is a significant change that extends beyond IT systems. Think of it as a fundamental shift in how the organization delivers value (service or products) to its customers and members. It involves fully understanding their pain points, options, purchasing habits, and experience expectations. Addressing operational efficiencies and culture is also part of the work.

Dawn Briskey: Digital transformation refers to the process by which an organization undertakes an evaluation of how it is currently doing business. We identify gaps in operations and determine practices the group needs to put in place to better serve members and customers. Then we take the necessary steps to bring operations up to speed.

What changes should an association expect from a digital transformation?

Sherry Budziak: Digital transformation is much more than technology. Success requires a culture for innovation and change, the ability to take risks, and an understanding of the importance of process improvements.

Kevin Ordonez: Expect changes to people, operations, culture, and, most likely, technology.

Kevin Ordonez

Dawn Briskey: A digital transformation may affect everything from technology to job roles. Change may be needed across the organization, or it may be limited to several departments. The goal is to position an organization to anticipate and support its evolving needs.

What are the signs that a digital transformation is necessary?

Sherry Budziak: Ask yourself these questions:

  • Are your customers having difficulty navigating your organization online?
  • Are you losing members?
  • Are registrations decreasing?
  • Have you considered how the user experience is for your constituents?

Kevin Ordonez: It may be time to think about change when you are:

  • Questioning who your members are and whether you are delivering the value they need and want.
  • Asking whether you have the right people on the bus and in the right seats.
  • Seeing these themes occur in ongoing discussions.

Dawn Briskey: Pay attention to these indicators:

Dawn Briskey
  • Declining or static revenue
  • Membership attrition without new growth
  • Manual activities that consume significant staff time, siloed operations, and ineffective and/or costly meetings

If new competition has entered the marketplace, either from for-profit businesses or other associations, you may want to be sure that you have the systems, people, and procedures in place to support your organization’s unique value proposition.

How should associations prepare to successfully implement a digital transformation?

Sherry Budziak: It’s imperative to keep pace with changing technology. A perfect plan isn’t necessary, but the willingness to take calculated risks, experiment, and iterate based on the results is mandatory. Digital transformation is an ongoing activity. Embrace the idea of the minimum viable product and use it to move operations forward along a continuum to success.

Kevin Ordonez: The organization must assess its readiness for change. This involves reviewing current staffing, practices, culture, and systems. Associations need to be open to smart sourcing talent by using teams that mix full-time employees and more specialized outsourced freelancers. Organizations must become problem finders. They should be willing to dig deep to uncover the underlying issues and not just the symptoms of problems.

Dawn Briskey: Leadership, starting with the CEO, must want the transformation. The CEO’s responsibility is to educate the board about why transformation is necessary. Making a case can include securing outside support to guide the assessment process, prioritizing areas for change, and developing an estimated budget.

The case should start with a detailed understanding of current operations. The organization needs to document its business practices and procedures. Job descriptions should accurately reflect where and how staff are spending their time. This information identifies what needs to change and assures effective business continuity. Processes and people must be realigned with the vision for the organization’s future. Communication at all levels is critical to achieve buy-in and a commitment to moving forward in new ways.

If this conversation inspires you to replace the duct tape with a comprehensive approach to both online and offline business, here are some of the benefits your efforts will bring. You can:

  • Maximize the interface between member needs and technology to deliver greater value.
  • Improve user experience and engagement at every step in the member journey.
  • Leverage expanded services and reduced cost to stimulate member loyalty.
  • Use innovation to turn disruption into opportunity.

There are many more advantages to gain from a digital perspective, but that last item on the list is the most critical. Two years ago, when we first published this conversation the ability to innovate and sidestep challenge was important. Today the world has turned. The creativity that is unlocked by effective technology is no longer just a benefit, it is a necessity.

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