Businesses expect to fail without digital transformation within four years

A new global study has found that most organisations expect to survive less than four years should they fail to keep up with digital transformation, either going out of business or being absorbed in that time – and 80 per cent already believe that digital transformation is leaving them behind.

Several real world examples from recent years support this – such as Jaeger, which went bankrupt this year part-way through a digital transformation project, Next which appears to be struggling to keep up, or even the BBC’s failed digital project which cost more than £100m,  with few results. .

Other key findings from the report include:

  • The average spend on digital transformation projects is $5.7m per year
  • Despite the large sums being spent, 90 per cent of digital projects are considered to have failed
  • The legacy database is to blame – 84 per cent have had digital projects delayed or even scrapped due to limitations of their legacy database

The study was commissioned by engagement database firm Couchbase, and canvassed 450 heads of digital transformation across the US, UK, France and Germany, in an attempt to understand the pressures of digital transformation.

In the survey, 80 percent are at risk of being left behind by digital transformation while 54 percent believe organizations that don’t keep up with digital transformation will go out of business or be absorbed by a competitor within four years.

And IT leaders are also at risk, with 73 percent believing they could be fired as the result of a poorly implemented or failing digital project.

Other findings include:

  • 89 per cent of enterprises say their industry is either being disrupted by digital technology, or such disruption is only a matter of time, even after spending an average of $5.7 million on digital transformation in the past year
  • Respondents overwhelmingly agree on the ultimate goal of digital transformation – 95 per cent say that it should be giving customers and end-users a truly unique experience
  • While 80 per cent of IT leaders are under pressure to be constantly improving their organization’s customer experience through digital innovation, 90 per cent of digital projects fail to meet expectations and only deliver incremental improvements
  • Databases are currently a clear handicap to this improvement – 84 per cent have had digital projects cancelled, delayed, or reduced in scope because of the limitations of their legacy database

“Our study puts a spotlight on the harsh reality that despite allocating millions of dollars towards digital transformation projects, most companies are only seeing marginal returns and realizing this trajectory won’t enable them to compete effectively in the future,” said Matt Cain, CEO of Couchbase. “With 87 percent of IT leaders concerned that their revenue will drop if they don’t significantly improve their customers’ experiences, it’s critical that they focus on projects designed to increase customer engagement. Key to succeeding here is selecting the right underlying database technology that can leverage dynamic data to its full potential across any platform and deliver the personal, highly responsive experiences that customers are demanding today.”

Factors Affecting Digital Transformation

Ninety percent of IT leaders said their plans to use data for new digital services were limited by factors such as the complexity of using multiple technologies or a lack of resources, as well as reliance on legacy database technology.

Survey respondents identified specific issues with legacy databases that could lead to digital projects underperforming:

  • 86 per cent cited a lack of agility when developing new applications
  • 61 per cent were unable to scale applications to suit demand
  • Enterprises have to wait an average of 28 hours before their databases could take advantage of data, which makes real-time data use an unattainable goal
  • Only 19 per cent believe their current database would be up to the task of supporting modern technology such as virtual reality, augmented reality, and Internet of Things

“Historically, some enterprises haven’t done well at using data to improve customer experience, which is why digitally native companies have made some giant inroads in traditionally brick & mortar businesses,” said John A. De Goes, CTO of SlamData Inc. “If all enterprises want to thrive, they need the confidence, ability, and technology to reinvigorate the customer experience. They need a revolution in the way they use data, to transform the customer experience and provide a data-driven way of truly engaging with end-users.”

Enter the Engagement Database

Legacy databases cannot keep pace with customers’ increasing demand for real-time services and content, and the growth of technology such as virtual and augmented reality or the Internet of Things. The Engagement Database, part of the open source Couchbase Data Platform, is a new category of database that enables enterprises to continually create and reinvent the customer experience. Unlike traditional databases, the Engagement Database taps into dynamic data to liberate its full potential at a time when the strategic use of data to create exceptional customer experiences has become a key competitive differentiator for businesses.


Couchbase commissioned an online survey from Vanson Bourne, an independent market research organization, of 450 heads of digital transformation, including CIOs, CTOs, and Chief Digital Officers, in organizations with 1,000 employees or more in the U.S., U.K., France, and Germany. The study was conducted in May and June 2017.