How to use data and automation to orchestrate strategic change


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It’s time for a digital transformation of the practice of managing digital transformation

Just when we thought the pace of change couldn’t accelerate any faster, the COVID-19 pandemic hit and within a matter of months, the way people did their jobs had undergone an irrevocable, seismic shift, with workforces all over the world becoming either remote or hybrid. The reality is, change continues to accelerate, and there is nothing we can do to stop it or slow it down. But we can be a lot more intelligent about how we manage it. Data and automation are the keys to accomplishing this.

It is well known that a significant portion of the transformation initiatives undertaken by companies today either don’t yield the intended results, or their ROI is unclear because they are so hard to measure. Why is managing and measuring change so difficult? The one-word answer to this question is: data. Specifically, a lack thereof.

It’s time for a digital transformation of the practice of managing digital transformation. The only way to keep up with today’s pace of change and tangibly demonstrate the value of strategic change management is with data and automation.

The challenge with gathering data

In my 20+ years of experience orchestrating change at some of the world’s biggest enterprises, the two challenges that are consistently cited as the most troublesome when it comes to leading change are (1) too many simultaneous change initiatives, and (2) the siloed management of these initiatives. This creates a barrier to accessing reliable, updated data about what is changing, who is impacted, and what is being done to prepare people. Each initiative has its own project and/or change manager who uses their preferred templates and frameworks to manage and report on their program. This provides a fragmented picture to leadership, who receives reports from each portfolio separately, and the result is that there is no single source of truth about all the change initiatives in flight at any given time.

A new paradigm for data-driven change management

It is clear that we cannot quantifiably track and demonstrate the value of change management without data. The conundrum is that the process of gathering the data and getting everyone to agree on how to codify and collect it is a digital transformation in and of itself; you have to change the behavior of the change leaders and managers themselves. The way to do this might seem counterintuitive at first glance: turn the process upside down and center initiatives on the stakeholders.

No value is realized
until and unless
people change their behavior.

Centering on the stakeholder from the beginning is the exact opposite of how change is normally managed. Normally, the process starts with senior leadership articulating their desired business outcomes. Then initiatives are conceived and launched in an effort to align the different organizations around the enterprise goals. The very last people to hear about what is going on are the people who need to adopt the new technology, methodologies and policies being rolled out. But they are the most vital element to the success of the initiative. If they don’t adopt and adapt, the initiative does not meet its intended value, and millions of dollars are lost. The fact of the matter is, no value is realized until and unless people change their behavior.

Stakeholder-centric change

When the whole process starts with the stakeholders, a funny thing happens: Data is easier to gather, consolidate and codify. That leads to better analysis and insights, which allows better reporting and decision-making, which in turn fosters better dialog and cross-organizational collaboration, which makes it exponentially easier to motivate people and get buy-in at all levels of the organization. The result is less change fatigue and less resistance to change. Over time, the entire enterprise will go from change-resistant to change-embracing, which is the only business culture that is future-proof.

The change management onion

Now the question becomes, how can a stakeholder-centric change paradigm be achieved in an enterprise? One method we use at iTalent Digital is called the Federated Model and involves structuring your change initiatives to meet the specific needs of each “layer” of the enterprise: the overall enterprise level, the organization level, the portfolio level, and the program level. The information needs of each layer differs. Enterprise leaders need to track and analyze change cross-organizationally. Organizations are mostly interested in looking at change across their portfolios and what may be impacting them from other organizations, and so forth.

The Federated Model starts at the top layer of the change onion: what is the minimum set of information you need at the enterprise level? At a minimum, you need to understand the scope and magnitude of the changes. You then embed change management at the beginning of the portfolio process by conducting a change magnitude assessment for each program that is being planned (before it is introduced). Then, at the organizational layer, you need to understand what resources and budget are needed for the changes, as well as how much and what type of change risk is being introduced into the business. Keep peeling back the change onion layer by layer, answering the minimum-requirements questions for each level.

You will need an automation and business analytics tool to capture, codify and analyze the minimum information required for each layer, as well as the data generated by each layer in the form of change magnitude, change impact saturation, and readiness. This tool becomes the single source of truth and ensures that conversations around what is changing, who is impacted, and what is being done to get people ready are based on the same set of insights, which is the only way to truly enable data-driven decision-making.

Federated Model rollout

Start with a single portfolio within an enterprise organization. We recommend starting with the transformation (or similar) portfolio. Then, start at the top of the change onion and define the minimum information requirements for the enterprise level (C suite). Embed change management from the very beginning of the process, with a change magnitude assessment. Keep peeling back the change onion and identify the minimum information requirements for each subsequent layer (portfolio, program, project). Establish two-way dialogue with all of the program and project managers within that portfolio so they understand what the minimum requirements of what needs to happen are for each one.

Armed with data from this pilot portfolio, gradually expand the model to other portfolios and then to other organizations. As you go along, you will accumulate more and more data that become more meaningful and valuable as you move up the chain from the portfolio to the organization to the enterprise. You will find that as your decisions and conversations become increasingly data-driven, programs, portfolios and organizations will move in lockstep and change goes from being something that the transformation leaders are trying to “sell” to others to instead being an integral part of how your business operates.

Finally, develop a continuous improvement mindset. Learn, discover, and adapt to new learnings and feedback, driven by data, of course.

Tracking and analyzing the data

It is obvious that when you are dealing with this volume of data, you need a tool for capturing, analyzing, and reporting it. iTalent Digital developed Chama, an AI-enabled cloud-based software designed specifically for change management. Not only does it enable change leaders, managers, and stakeholders to understand change at every layer of the change onion, but it enables you to see change through a variety of different lenses to see both the forest and the trees. See the entire picture of what is changing, who is impacted and by how much at the holistic enterprise level, and drill down into everything that is going on all the way to the individual stakeholder level. Our enterprise customers have not only seen the ROI on their technology investments surge, but using Chama as their data management tool has delivered unexpected results in terms of inter-organizational dialogue, creating a culture that embraces change, and making better decisions driven by superior data.


The only way to keep up with today’s pace of change and tangibly demonstrate the value of strategic change management is with data and automation. But using data and automation to orchestrate change requires a transformation in and of itself. To achieve this, a paradigm shift must take place and the art and practice of change management needs to be turned upside down and start with the stakeholder. iTalent Digital uses the Federated Model to implement stakeholder-centric change, seeing the different enterprise layers of change like an onion, and incorporating change management from the onset of any transformation. This model is only possible through data analytics and automation. Harnessing data and automation to orchestrate strategic change provides more time for stakeholder engagement and enables the entire enterprise to go from change-resistant to change-embracing, which is the only business culture that is future-proof.

Leslie Ottavi
Leslie Ottavi is Chief Transformation Officer at iTalent Digital. With 20+ years of international experience and thought leadership in the enterprise change leadership space, she is passionate about delivering sustainable business outcomes for Fortune 500 companies by breaking down silos to accelerate and elevate transformational change.


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