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The State of Digital Transformation in Europe

The state and success of digital transformation varies considerably around the world, with some distinct disparities between the digital “haves and have-nots.” The latest global research report from Altimeter, a Prophet company, provides not only detailed insights on the differences between individual markets but also some key learnings.

The U.S. market, for instance, is largely looking past digital transformation, having invested heavily during the last 10 years to replace legacy infrastructure and migrate more operations to the cloud. U.S.-based firms today are focused on strategic innovations (e.g., greater customer-centricity, digital product development). However, China, which never had to contend with outdated systems, was able to leapfrog ahead to advanced apps and immersive digital experiences.

In Europe, there is a wide variance of digital maturity. The U.K. market looks more like the U.S., but Germany is not quite as far along on its digital transformation journey. It’s also important to note that the most advanced firms in Europe have reached the same level of digital maturity as digital leaders in China and the U.S., but average firms generally lag compared to their global peers.

Europe is Catching Up in Its Digital Transformation Efforts – Quickly Enough Though?

Taking a closer look at Altimeter’s data in terms of C-level sponsorship of digital transformation initiatives, the U.K. has the highest tendency to appoint a CDO or CIO to own and/or sponsor digital transformation. However, Germany and the U.S. tend to rely marginally more on the CIO or CEO. At the same time, more American and Chinese firms report excellent results from their digital transformation programs, but most European companies report that they only have good or fair results.

A potential reason for this is that European firms are somewhat more conservative in their approaches to transformation overall. For instance, German firms prioritize employee engagement, digital literacy and operational efficiencies in their digital transformation agendas as much as they do growth. Innovation, on the other hand, is a much lower priority.

U.S. firms are notably more focused on profitability and revenue in their digital transformation programs than their European counterparts. It seems that many European firms are focused on keeping in step with their peers and competitors and that’s especially true in Germany. The implication is that many established European companies are still building a digital foundation for the future.

“more American and Chinese firms report excellent results from their digital transformation programs, but most European companies report that they only have good or fair results”

U.K. organizations are the most likely (69%) to cite using digital technology as an opportunity to become more efficient, perhaps partially reflecting the need to improve their lagging productivity rate versus the U.S. (46%), Germany (42%) and China (52%).

German organizations (58%) are the most likely to view digital technology as a priority investment to replace outdated or obsolete technology, as compared to the U.K. (40%), U.S. (39%) and China (18%).

Europe Invests Long-Term and the U.K. Adopts Agile Working Methods

Compared to U.S. firms, European firms also have longer-term expectations for their transformation investments. At least 40% of surveyed companies in Germany and the U.K. expect it will take at least two years to see positive results from transformation investments, versus 31% of U.S. firms. One reason for the longer time horizon is the relative lack of sufficiently digitally trained staff, which is a bigger challenge in the U.K. and Germany than it is in China or the U.S.

Of course, Europe cannot be considered a monolithic market. There are substantial differences between the U.K. and Germany. The U.K. firms surveyed have adapted better to digital transformation by, for example, adopting agile working to a greater extent than those organizations in Germany, which are more likely to have process-driven cultures.  Additionally, data silos are a much bigger problem in Germany compared to the U.K., which shows more leadership in data science.

In Germany, digital marketing is still mainly viewed in terms of ad campaigns. And in both the U.K. and Germany, digital marketing is generally below average in owning the customer experience. There are also varying priorities for the future: U.K. firms put less focus on hiring and training in digital transformation and as a result, business model changes are less likely to happen in Germany. Also, cybersecurity and cloud adoption are important priorities in the U.K., while cross-functional collaboration platforms are of less relevance in Germany.

Don’t Focus on Infrastructure, Focus on Creating an Agile Organization

Our digital transformation research, as well as our market experience, suggests that firms are better served by focusing on organizational changes and improved agility rather than updating infrastructure. After all, infrastructure is constantly advancing so that’s a job that will never be completed. But increased organizational adaptability and agility will help organizations adjust to ongoing change and proactively drive it.

Approaching these challenges in the right way is key. To do so, companies should follow a three-step approach:

  1. Digital Benchmarking: Conduct a rapid heatmap assessment of your organization’s (enterprise-wide) digital transformation maturity. Identify where the opportunities for improvement are, and how your business benchmarks against best-in-class digital maturity (both in your market(s) and globally).
  2. Digital Immersion: Run a digital innovation workshop with key stakeholders across your organization to share the latest digital trends (not just specific to your industry, but also apply learnings from other industries) and explore the digital art-of-the-possible to identify opportunities for augmenting your own digital transformation journey.
  3. Digital Mobilization: Build (or revisit your existing) digital transformation vision and roadmap, ensure all roadmap initiatives are tied to commercial value and make certain tracking mechanisms are in place to guarantee the realization of this value.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Looking ahead, companies in Europe, particularly in Germany, must address many of the same challenges that U.S. firms (and the more digitally mature companies in Europe) have started overcoming already. That means breaking down data silos, converting raw data into actionable insights and adopting more agile ways of working.

How does your company stack up in the digital transformation stakes? Get in touch today if you’d like to benchmark, excite, transform, and unleash the full power of your business.

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