Digital transformation is a journey, not a switch companies can flip. The desired destination is the same for every organization, regardless of company size or type of workforce: It’s a place where you’re leveraging the latest technologies and tools to move faster, make better decisions, and transform your organization to compete in the digital era.
Each company’s starting point is different: Are you a company with a long tenure, a rich heritage, tens of thousands of employees, and a ton of technology complexity? Are you a young, nimble digital native with a remote workforce of millennials? Or, more likely, are you somewhere in between?
Like any journey, it’s not enough to know where you’re going. If you don’t know your exact starting point, you’ll end up hopelessly lost.
Today, most corporate digital transformation initiatives fail, according to McKinsey. Twenty years ago, going digital might have meant investing in a modern ERP or CRM system. Today, it’s a far more tangled web of choices, from cloud services and IoT technologies to advanced data management, machine learning, and AI.
So how do companies chart the right course? At ServiceNow, we start with a methodical evaluation of our state of digital “readiness” around specific business functions—from onboarding employees to filing patents—and all the individual processes that make up those functions. It’s become our way of determining how truly digital we are and where we need to improve.
We start by measuring how proficient we are in three key areas: velocity (the speed of operations and how quickly work gets done); intelligence (the ability of data analytics to predict, not just react); and experience (the ease of use of our enterprise applications). Then we assign a value for each of these attributes for various types of work.
At the heart of this analysis are processes. Dozens of processes define every business function you can think of. Each must be analyzed to determine where it falls along the digital maturity spectrum.
Think of all the processes involved just in onboarding a single employee. Or in closing the financial books. These processes are complex even at a young company like ServiceNow. The complexity factor only increases at larger organizations.
Yet process reinvention is critical. Digital transformation without process reinvention is like putting a jet engine on a car. You may add a huge amount of horsepower, but without upgrading all the necessary connecting parts, you’re just going to crash.
The next piece is execution, which entails everything from conducting executive and financial review of proposals to defining roles and responsibilities for each initiative. Unlike other technology investments, this is a holistic transformation that touches every function and process in the organization. Business leaders must collaborate with the teams implementing new technologies and processes. This involves defining the outcomes at the start and measuring against them to ensure they are achieved.
What does our methodology look like in practice? Our HR team has completely transformed new‑hire experiences by applying this digital‑readiness framework. After evaluating our processes, we were able to accelerate the onboarding process by 60% across functions like IT, HR, and payroll. Today, 86% of our new hires say they are satisfied with the onboarding process.
In IT, we applied the same model to automate our processes for event management. We reduced Priority 1 and Priority 2 incidents by 67%. That’s a big win for employees, who benefit from the increased uptime, and also for the IT staff.
Finally, our customer support team applied the digital readiness framework to automate many of the services we provide to users of the Now Platform. ServiceNow customers request about 105,000 changes to their ServiceNow instances every month. These change requests range from updating a configuration to installing a plug‑in to resetting the entire instance. Thanks to our customer service and operations management solutions, 95% of these changes are implemented automatically and without human intervention.
Key challenges of great execution
As with any systemic transformation, you can expect bumps along the road. From experience, there are several major hurdles to overcome:
First, to succeed with digital transformation strategies, companies need executive buy‑in—not just budget approvals, but a sustained investment of C‑suite time, energy, and resources. The time and effort needed to implement change will compete with other business priorities, but it must remain the top priority across the organization.
Second, you need a transition plan. Your current IT staff may lack the skills needed to implement complex process automation and machine learning. That’s OK. It will likely be important to keep legacy systems up and running as you transition to successor technologies. Digital transformation requires new skills, so it’s very important to provide the retraining needed to bring your talent up to speed.
Third, companies must deal with what is often the elephant in the room—behavioral change. You can hire the best consultants and acquire the best new technology, but if your employees and leaders don’t embrace the change, it will be only marginally successful. Building great experiences can accelerate the change curve and help people adopt new behaviors faster.
At ServiceNow, we’ve found that introducing new, digitally managed processes can free employees from boring and mundane work. As a result, we’ve boosted productivity, engagement, retention, and other important benchmarks of corporate health and wealth. It takes leadership and hard work to achieve this transformation, but it’s all worth it in the end.