Digital Transformation: A Whole-Business Initiative

Any successful IT project will be closely aligned with your broader business strategy.  After all, the requirement to adopt an enterprise solution is typically made at the business level, so it follows that the project itself should be informed by business objectives and priorities.


Marrying the immediate-term goals of an implementation project with the longer-term goals of the business as a whole can help to ensure that you allocate the right resources, establish reasonable timescales, and build the right infrastructure to achieve more than a technological implementation.  It will prepare you to undergo a digital transformation.


Based on our experience of strategic analysis, research, introspection and selection services, we have learnt that companies of all shapes and sizes – enterprise, mid-tier, and SME – have the opportunity to do something farther-reaching at the time they choose and prepare to implement any enterprise level solution.


In most cases, the catalyst for a broader digital transformation project begins with the upgrading or replacement of a legacy ERP solution.  This is logical, because, alongside PLM, ERP is considered to be one of the central pillars of any IT strategy.  It holds all approved master data and financial records and – again like PLM – serves as a central repository for business mater data, processes, critical path and workflow data.


Identifying this need to either improve or replace your existing ERP solution (or PLM solution) is, therefore, an ideal moment to identify the other business-critical opportunities that can come alongside it – those driven and affected by ERP, and those that share the same common pool of master data as the two primary business systems.


This is what we mean by aligning your ERP project with your broader business strategy; ERP does not work in isolation, and neither should your plan to select and implement it.  By taking account of the full scope of what can be done (and what may need to wait), you improve your chances of delivering value from not just the project at hand, but your IT and process environments as a whole.


To give you some idea of how you might go about identifying your business objectives and figuring out how your ERP project can become central to a wider digital transformation initiative, I’d like to go through WhichERP’s own methods.  These are informed by decades’ worth of experience, and each stage has been proven time and again to assist in linking short-term projects to longer-term goals.


We typically begin the process by building the most thorough understanding we can of the business.  Our advisors refer to their methods as “the 6 Ws”, although we recognise that one begins with an H!  At this early stage, we would like at the: What, Why, When, Where, Which and How – all of which are designed to allow us to gain a clear understanding of the challenges at hand, as well as the businesses immediate goals, future mission, core values and corporate culture.


The first step is to investigate and gain a clear understanding of the company’s businesses, markets, product ranges, and how it takes those products to market via retail stores.  To build a clearer picture of the full scope of opportunities for digital transformation, we would also look at brands, e-commerce, sectors, regions, and supply-chain partners.


Whether you’re working with independent, expert advisors like WhichERP or going it alone, it is extremely important to obtain a complete profile of the history and culture of your business.  After all, your history is what has led the company to become the way it is today, and taking the time to understand past challenges and salient growth milestones can help greatly when it comes to quantifying the problems you face today and the growth you hope to achieve in the future.


In our work, we would then use this historical information and future roadmap to answer our 6 Ws, and to build a more comprehensive picture of how digital transformation can deliver again the company’s mission statement.  At this point we would also examine each of the company’s core competencies using a process maturity modelling tool.


Following on from this, our advisors would then look to support your team in completing a strategic review of your existing IT strategy and environment.  This would include analysing all existing extended-PLM solutions to gauge their suitability for purpose under the proposed digital transformation, as well as identifying those areas where the company might focus its investments.  On balance, this results in the purchase of new extended solutions and the upgrading of existing solutions, as well as the retirement of legacy solutions that no longer service the business objectives, or whose functionality has been superseded.


Next we would look to document both the current (“as-is”) and future (“to-be”) IT infrastructure requirements.  This would by definition include integrations of ERP to the following:


  • PLM
  • Extended-PLM
  • CAD
  • CAM
  • 2D/3D design solutions
  • Store planning solutions
  • Merchandise planning software
  • Testing portals
  • Auditing information
  • Costing solutions
  • Compliance and sustainability modules


In addition to the software environment, we would also examine the physical IT structure that would be required to support the business’s digital transformation.  Through a hardware and solution audit, we would compile a list of all current solutions and their supporting infrastructure, and use this to compare the company’s current and desired IT environments to the best-in-class trends we see elsewhere in the retail, footwear and apparel industry.


It would be important at this stage, too, to consider future requirements rather than just those in the immediate term.  By its very nature, any digital business transformation project is forward-looking and proactive: predicting and preparing for future requirements can help you to define your project as an opportunity to “leap frog” the competition, and deliver sustainable, long-term value for your business and its key stakeholders.


Part of this forward planning is a brainstorming workshop, where we would gather the strategic planning group, IT staff, senior managers and power users, and invite them to list their desires and recommendations for the future.  We would then document all the ideas. regardless of whether they appear to be outlandish or over-simplified.  Any company preparing to do the same should use as many diagrams and charts as possible, and remember to continually relate the recommendations they receive from team members to the business goals of the broader enterprise.


With input from all key stakeholders, we would then match the resulting, detailed account of the business’s requirements for the future, and contrast it against the understanding we already have of the company’s current IT infrastructure.  From this, we would be able to create a roadmap and project journey for the digital transformation, which would proceed through management review and milestone sessions into a detailed list of tactical and operational goals.


At this stage, we would have a firm grasp of the shape the digital transformation will take, and would begin to produce detailed reports.  These would start with our documenting the steps that have been taken to date, and then move on to our sharing our recommendations with the client’s board during an executive summary report.


With a firm list of actions and goals in-hand, the biggest priority then becomes communication and change management.  As I mentioned earlier, a digital transformation – whether it’s led by ERP or PLM – is a whole-business initiative, and one that will impact the working lives of your entire team and your extended supply chain.


As an executive or project lead, the responsibility for guiding your business through its digital transformation rests with you.  Effective communication of the business’s end goals, objectives, and the deliverables that will get you there are essential.  And as you can see, this is something that goes far beyond simply picking and implementing an ERP solution in isolation.

Mark Harrop

Mark Harrop is the founder and CEO of WhichPLM, the premiere online destination for brands, retailers and other apparel professionals looking to make the most of their investments in technology. Find out more at