The digital future has arrived: Here’s how to transition your business successfully

digital transition

Source: Unsplash/Brooke Cagle.

Nothing catalyses change so much as a crisis, and with 2020 in the rearview mirror, many businesses are looking to refine their operations by going digital. Digitisation brings many advantages — seamless remote access, unification of operations and insurance against future change, just to name a few — but it can be fraught with difficulties when implementing. 

Matt Calkins, CEO of low-code automation platform and solutions Appian knows the struggles of businesses seeking to go digital. Leaning on Calkins’ years of experience helping enterprises to build apps and workflows rapidly, we’ll look at three common mistakes businesses make when thinking about going digital, and how you can avoid repeating them.

1. Plan for the future, not just today

Perhaps the biggest impediment to a successful digital transition is the most obvious: simply waiting until it’s too late to change. 

“A lot of decision makers don’t take a requirement seriously until it’s mainstream,” says Calkins. Not committing early means vulnerability to changes that could otherwise have been insured against with the right infrastructure. For Calkins’ clients, that infrastructure meant an ability to roll with the upheavals of 2020, rather than being battered by them. 

“The old model is ‘build an application with the absolute minimum of investment to solve today’s problem and assume that it will never change and that you’ll want the same thing forever and in the future we’ll pay dearly to keep that application up to date because it’s really not ready for the future,’” says Calkins. That mindset, though, needs to change or businesses are at risk in the future.

The transition to digital should mean ongoing adaptations and improvements, utilising technology that can shift with unforeseen challenges. 

“I think [businesses] are beginning to re-prioritise their investments,” says Calkins. “And they believe that investing in an application for its ability to change makes more sense than it did prior to 2020.”

2. Overestimating costs brings slow change

One of the biggest mistakes made by companies going digital is overestimating the costs involved. This is based on outdated assumptions about technology and a lack of understanding which causes businesses to delay adopting a digital model.

“Because they’re not familiar with the technologies now and they know how much it cost in the past, I believe they overestimate generally,” says Calkins. As Calkins frequently sees, this causes a fear of beginning the transition. 

“[Businesses are] so scared by what it cost to build the first time that they sometimes wait too long before building it again.” 

Businesses think small in the present, rather than absorbing the cost for the future. This can mean ‘unification’, in which old systems are brought together with ‘middleware’. 

“Because the unification works great, they’ve got a new interface, why don’t they just get rid of those back-end systems and replace them with something up to date? So moments like that are often catalysts for a digitisation commitment.” An initial outlay for a robust digital change can actually be cheaper and much more successful in the long term. 

For instance, by investing in low-code, which is a new way of creating applications, businesses can make both short and long term gains. For instance, being able to build apps much faster, as well as reduce maintenance costs and improve functionality when compared with traditional development.

3. The weight of technical debt

Technical debt will weigh down a business. The concept proposes that when technology changes, outdated systems raise costs and lower efficiency for businesses. Calkins sees it all the time, with companies stuck with outdated systems, having resisted change due to perceptions around costs, as well as mergers and acquisitions, where technical debt is inherited. It came up recently during Appian’s work with a UK insurance company.

“When a customer called in with the simplest possible request, like ‘I have a new address’ or ‘I want to update my phone number’, it took three phone calls on average and you had to touch 28 databases to make that one little change,” says Calkins. 

“This is an incredible overhead, it’s demoralising employees, it’s bad for the customers and it’s super expensive because you’re maintaining 28 databases instead of something simpler. When they came to work with us, they said ‘we want to replace all of this,’ and we were able to do so.” 

This was achieved by unifying all of the company’s resources — people, technologies and data — in one single simple workflow on an open cloud-based platform.

The solution to technical debt is to embrace and implement change — particularly change which is agile enough to pivot with the future. Investing wisely in the short term will insure against building technical debt in the future.

The Appian low-code automation platform delivers complete automation, orchestrating people, existing systems, data, bots, and AI in a single workflow. It is supported by the Appian guarantee, which aims to deliver a customer’s first project live in just eight weeks with a flat services fee. Click here for a free trial of the platform.

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Appian helps organisations build apps and workflows rapidly, with a low-code automation platform. Combining people, technologies, and data in a single workflow, Appian can help companies maximise their resources and improve business results. Many of the world’s largest organisations use Appian applications to improve customer experience, achieve operational excellence, and simplify global risk management and compliance. For more information, visit

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