Overcoming the 7 Barriers to Digitalisation Success

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overcoming barriers to success

Digitisation. Digitalisation. Digital transformation.

Three terms. Often used interchangeably. Yet very different.

Let’s clarify the terms first before moving on to the benefits and then the barriers that need to be overcome for success.

Digitisation simply means the conversion of analog to digital. A piece of paper to a Word document. A paper permit-to-work to an electronic copy.

Digitalisation, however, is the use of that digitised data with other digital technologies to manage the process/system, i.e. to impact how work gets done. For example, the replacement of [what is likely] a set of well-honed paper-based permit-to-work processes with a digital ePermit system that bridges the gap between those well-designed policies and what actually happens on the ground.

Digital transformation is a broader term than digitalisation. Whereas digitalisation can be applied to small, well-defined processes/systems, digital transformation is much broader, often at a company or divisional level and often leads to the creation of entirely new markets, and/or new customer and business realities.

Talking of the benefits of this analog to digital transformation seems almost as unnecessary as describing the benefits of breathing to you or I. But, while it is almost existential, there are still ROIs to be calculated so being able to build the accruing process efficiency gains and cost reductions into those calculations is important. With permit-to-work, add in better safety outcomes and the prevention of brand reputation damage too.

An SAP survey back in 2017 showed that, while 96% of 3,000 business leaders felt that digital transformation was a priority, only 3% considered the job done.

The past year has only served to reinforce the importance of digital transformation so why, with so much C-level support, has it been so difficult to deliver? What are the barriers to success? Further, is there even a chequered flag signifying completion?

Barriers to Success

Looking at the question about the chequered flag first may illuminate one of the major barriers.

How many boards went into digital transformation thinking it was a one-time monolithic event and entered into major projects with reduced chance of success?

How many then found their requirements changed mid-project as their own market changed?

Did some even finish their projects only to find they hadn’t accounted for the new Phygital Reality trend? (Yes, that is a term referring to “a hybrid of physical and virtual worlds where consumers can seamlessly live, work, shop and play both in person and online”.)

Doubtless, a full digital transformation enables the business to be far more agile as consumer trends further impact their market, but equally a mindset that there is no chequered flag should help the business overcome one of the the major barriers to success:

1. Trying to achieve digital transformation via a single monolithic event

Breaking transformation into a series of bite-sized, manageable, digitalisation projects is a recommended approach to overcoming this first barrier. That said, even smaller digitalisation projects present a number of common barriers to success or, more accurately, there are a number of common reasons these projects fail, including:

2. Failure to engage employees/contractors

This is probably the major barrier to success of any ‘change’ project. Change or even the prospect of change is a challenge for most people. Getting people to buy-in, both employees and those who are impacted in the supply chain, is a major barrier for any digitalisation project.

Transparency and consistency of communication are key factors in keeping employees on-board. Empowering them by involving them in the project design and implementation will also help. Interestingly this also applies to your supply chain. Why not involve your main contractors in the design and implementation of the project too?

3. Organisational structure

Another common mistake in digital transformation projects is assuming that the company organisation will not change post-transformation. Or, put another way, the requirements of the digitalisation project are constrained by the existing organisational structure. Recognition of this common error and being open to change the structure to best support the desired outcomes of transformation is the first step in overcoming this barrier to success.

4. Poor-quality data

Access to quality data is a key barrier to success. Can you access the data or is it locked in a [legacy] data silo? Is the data up to date and complete or might you fall in the rubbish in/rubbish out trap.

This is a key challenge in implementing a digital permit-to-work solution and one we solved with ePermits through the introduction of standard data sets to enable rapid implementation and shorten time to benefits.

Click here to watch our recent webinar Overcoming the Barriers to Success When Digitalising Permit-to-Work.

5. Lack of skills/talent/budget

A 2020 study from EY and Oxford Economics highlighted 79% of leaders as believing that digital programs stall in their early phase due to a lack of skills, talent and budget.

The lack of skills and talent relates to both leadership (of digitalisation projects) as well as the simple lack of digital skills amongst employees and contractors (where applicable). Training employees to be digitally literate is an obvious task but, given the likely continued acceleration of change in the business, why not include training on dealing with innovation and/or culture change?

6. Failure to assess and mitigate project risks

This may be a surprising barrier to success but it plays a part in many technology projects. Teams are just not good at planning for risks and taking steps to mitigate those risks. This is one barrier that you would imagine would be easy to overcome in a permit-to-work digitalisation project!

7. Poorly defined success metrics

What does success look like? How are you going to measure it? Clearly defining success metrics with associated measurements of success is critical to the success of any project but this remains a barrier for many broad digital transformation projects.

Perhaps, and looping back to large monolithic events, these broad transformation projects are undertaken with the mindset that “we just need to do it” and success and its measurement are overlooked?


The success of most projects is a combination of people, processes (the business) and technology. What’s interesting about these 7 barriers to success is that none of them relate to technology. They’re all people/business related. That doesn’t make technology faultless or a panacea for all business problems, just that success or failure lies with us – people.

The second conclusion of note is the benefit that can be accrued by taking bite-sized chunks out of digital transformation and identifying digitalisation projects (such as permit-to-work) that can enable incremental change and deliver short-term results.

The other major benefit of taking an incremental, digitalisation approach is that other teams can learn from these projects as they progress. Sharing these learnings across the business and throughout the supply chain then ensures others can shortcut overcoming these barriers to success.

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