Everyone wants to know what makes a successful digital transformation programme and how brands can embrace digital to transform their business. How do they uberize? Or become the next Airbnb? And how do they stop themselves going the same way as Toys R Us, or the plethora of other extinct brands? 

There are many factors that influence the success of a digital transformation programme. People, product, leadership, culture, processes, communication and strategy will all play a role in determining the success of a transformation programme.

In my experience, overwhelmingly, the biggest factor for a successful digital transformation has to be timing. Picking the tipping point at which transformation will cost less than not transforming, or eventually deliver greater returns than staying the same is crucial. 

It is almost an impossible task for a business to pick the right moment to abandon a mode of operation that has been profitable for a long time. Pouring the capital, resources and efforts into an untried, untested, digital model on the promise that it may outperform a traditional mode of operation requires an act of prophecy. 

And if you think you can pick the right moment, (which is impressive enough), making a genuine business case for it and then getting the organisation to commit and go with your plan, is a herculean exercise guaranteed to lead to your eventual deification amongst the annals of business leaders past and present.  

Even in a loss-making business, time and time again we see that overcoming the inertia of the status quo is often impossible, even when everyone can see the writing on the wall. 

So how do you pick your moment? When is the right time to rip up the rule book and commit to transformation? 

Well how about now? 

Covid-19 is already disrupting normal business as usual on an unprecedented scale, with millions told to self-isolate, not to travel unless it is an emergency and many more asked to work from home. The stock market is in freefall, the government is preparing for a potential crisis, and events are being cancelled left, right and centre.

If ever there was a time to throw out the rule book it is when the normal rules no longer apply. Take the Icelandic volcano and ash cloud in 2010 that grounded flights over northern Europe for weeks. This was a crisis that had many airlines on their knees and business as usual was not an option. 

Yet for KLM, this crisis led to a ‘volcano’ moment. Out of this moment was born a world class social media programme that became a profit centre not a cost centre and led to a transformation in how the airline industry served its customers

So, what now? Covid-19 has the potential to be a global crisis on an extraordinary scale, and things such as business as usual will not only seem trivial but potentially insultingly irrelevant. 

For most of us, that moment hasn’t come yet. And we have to press on. But if a business is relying on events, shows and exhibitions to reach its target audiences, maybe now is a time to rethink how you execute that spend. If you have had to send your staff home, but you don’t have a flexible working policy or good video conferencing in place, it should be something you’re addressing as it might transform your fortunes. 

Just because business as usual has stopped, doesn’t mean business has to. Use this time to think about adopting new ways of working, new tools and technology, or servicing to your customer in a new way. 

In many respects your business has an obligation to transform, for the business to survive, but also to protect the health of its staff and customers. A crisis of this scale has the potential to change the way we work forever. The cost of not transforming may be more than just a loss of revenue. 

If you want to transform, then find your volcano moment. The moment at which nobody can tell you ‘we don’t do things that way here’. This is the moment at which transformation can be embraced.