‘We need to get more digital’ is the cry from many a board room. Often followed by the question ‘what does that mean?’
If this is only just happening in your board room, then that cry may well be coming from a fear of being left behind by the competition. Disruption in established markets takes no prisoners. Scale is no defence, and can actually be your greatest enemy unless you leverage the resource availability that scale can offer.
So, the digital battle cry has gone out and what happens next is usually one of two things:
- Existing processes are made more electronic and new IT kit is rolled out or
- Business transformation, structural and operational, begins.
Having a digital transformation strategy was once described as “like having an electricity strategy” as digital is not a 'thing' on its own, it's an enabler, a set of principles and ways of thinking and working meaning that ‘getting more digital’ requires whole business transformation. It’s as much of a revolution as moving from steam to electricity, meaning that everything needs to be within scope for change. Digital transformation requires a mindset shift for everyone in the business, top to bottom with a relentless focus on user needs. It represents a culture change that will reshape infrastructure, operating structure, ways of working, attitudes and behaviour.
The digital revolution is a once in a generation opportunity. What's happening now will define business delivery and innovation for years to come.
But, as Dilbert would say, ‘that sounds hard.’ So the other option is to duck the whole issue and kid yourself you’re becoming more digital; paper forms can be turned into electronic forms and some new IT kit can be rolled out. Your website can be rebuilt by a funky outsourced company so you can say you have a scrum team on board. All very achievable and doesn’t upset anyone. A new look website, nice new kit for everyone so no more waiting 15 minutes to log on in the morning. The new flashy laptops which replaced the desktops mean staff can maybe even work at home occassionally, with supporting training for managers to ensure that their people are still working of course. The office has nice logos about transformation everywhere and people feel engaged. Nothing has really changed, but the new electronic forms look really good and the board starts to get some snazzy graphs showing how many people are using them. There is lots of data. Everyone is talking about data and you get loads of it to look at during your meetings, that you now all bring your laptops to, because you’re digital, right?
Unfortunately, not, this approach just risks enabling your business to fail customers and service users much more efficiently than ever before. A poor paper process just becomes a poor electronic process = accelerated customer dissatisfaction. You also run the risk of not being able to attract the best of the next generation of employees, as they will just not accept working in this kind of environment.
So how do you know if you're getting it right? Here are some clues:
You have a Director in charge of IT, Digital and Data who knows their stuff.
From the outset of doing just about anything, you think about who your users are, what they are trying to do and why. You will know the answers to these questions because you’ve asked them, not just guessed and assumed at internal workshops.
You know the difference between discovery, alpha and beta and your sign off and approvals processes are appropriate to each. Speed is of the essence, you know what a sprint is and you are bringing products and services to market quickly and constantly iterating and improving based on user feedback.
Data comes in from all over the place. It’s given in context and shows trends, hypothesis and forecasts so that you use the insight that the data gives rather than just getting loads of numbers. You are acting in real time not to last month.
Structure charts are hard to maintain as people seem to be part of lots of teams, moving around all the time. They’re even writing on these new machines (and the walls!) and your printing costs have gone down significantly. The apps people use instead of Email seem to sound Japanese and you are buying more yellow (and other colour) stickies than ever before and actions seem to create a 'ticket'.
The year-end appraisal system has been scrapped.
There are fewer desks and a lot more space in your office. People work where they want, in space relevant to the task they’re doing; a desk, bench, beanbag, sofa or maybe standing at a shelf or in a small 'cubical' making a skype call or writing on a wall with a group collaborating or doing a “stand-up”. Or maybe doing all of the above from home or somewhere else.
And the really good news is that you’re growing the outcomes you’re after: more sales, improving customer satisfaction, improved staff engagement and retention. There is a sense of momentum, confidence and growth and your competitors’ people are wanting to join your business.
I believe that the business transformation opportunities offered by harnessing the benefits of new technology and digital ways of working are a once in a generation opportunity which fundamentally challenge the established business norm. Realising this opportunity requires an IT strategy and infrastructure that enables and adapts to keep delivering against the ever-evolving set of user needs. But most of all, digital transformation requires bold, confident leaders who set out the vision, implement the structural changes and then exemplar the new operational behaviour so as to encourage and drive the change required.
Pundits will tell you that there’s a binary outcome from the choice you make. You either decide to do it or not and then you decide whether to do it properly or not. Depending on your choice, you will end up with a viable, long-term, sustainable, agile business model or you won’t. Simple. This is why CEOs across the world are transforming their businesses to leverage the benefits of being digital, some out of fear, some out of excitement. But whatever the driver, it’s happening and you can either be impacted or respond and benefit.
So, you can fully enable digital and see how far this revolution goes or do more of the same and believe what you want. What's your choice?
#digital transformation #business transformation #disruption
Harvey Neve is head of digital products and transformation at Public Health England and a specialist in leadership and change management having held transformational leadership roles in both the private and public sectors, more recently leading the application of new technologies and adoption of the behavioural change required to realise the benefits of digital transformation. Harvey is also director of Inglefield Consulting who specialises in leadership and culture development.
Harvey is a Chartered Fellow of the Chartered Management Institute and a regular blogger/speaker and lives with his wife and family in County Durham, England.