DIGIT’s 2018 Digital Transformation conference took place yesterday. Despite dire weather warnings, the morning proved to be bright and welcoming (if a little chilly). Nearly 300 delegates arrived at Edinburgh’s Dynamic Earth to hear from a broad range of speakers and companies who have experienced digital transformation and had insight to share.
Despite the number of digital tech companies present, it quickly became clear that technology was not the critical issue for many of the speakers. Time and time again, the presentations, discussions and questions stressed the same point – digital transformation is about the company itself. As Richard Marshall, the Scottish MD of Chelsea App Factory, put it: “Tech is easy, people are difficult.”
Business As Usual
One key message which emerged early in the day was the notion that ignoring the digital world and focusing on business as usual is still a possibility. The tech sector has always evolved rapidly, but in recent years the pace of change has accelerated. New radically disruptive technologies from artificial intelligence and machine learning, to IoT, robotics – and even GDPR – mean that more and more companies will have to embrace digital transformation for their long term survival.
Jessica Mullen from Create Future, looked at the global trends in technology, noting that 30% of all tech ‘unicorn’ companies are now born in China. The country has also embraced new services such as AliPay wholeheartedly. Any western business with global aspirations (or plans to stay relevant) is going to have to adopt, adapt and keep pace with global change.
As Richard Marshall put it, “We don’t do that.” kills companies.
Almost every speaker at the event noted that digital transformation has to be driven by a single vision. Every company will have a range of opinions, a range of voices and ideas of how the future will look, but they have to come together to create a single path forward.
Alasdair Anderson from Nordea highlighted the need to have a ‘single lofty purpose’ which the company can get behind: transform for a reason. ‘Going digital’ is not in itself a differentiator since, presumably, all of your competitors will be doing the same thing.
There’s no one-size fits all approach to this vision, as Sif Rai from QikServe and Hew Bruce-Gardyne from TVSquared both noted. You have to respect your brand and understand what it stands for. Trying to shoehorn your company into a model, or structure which removes your unique selling points, or which ignores the fundamental principles which the company was founded upon can lead to problems further down the line.
Customers Customers Customers
Transformation for its own sake was also an issue many of the speakers touched upon. Lauren Gemmell from Amazon, said ‘Obsess over your customer’. By putting the customer at heart of its business, then working backwards, Amazon has evolved from being an online book store, to one of the world’s largest, most successful digital retailers.
Sif Rai expanded upon this ‘lofty purpose’ with numerous examples from the worlds of retail and hospitality. Consumer demands and expectations are changing incredibly fast. Companies need to be able to make them happy. In some cases digital automation can help. Users spend on average 20% more in fast-food restaurants when using mobile, thanks primarily to the lack of judgement from a fellow human, but this approach wouldn’t necessarily work for businesses where customers expect a far more human interaction.
Hew from TVSquared summarised this in his presentation on How Not to be Evil. Consider what your customer’s think you know. They don’t like being watched, or made to feel like their data is being used without permission. Think about principles, rather than rules. Focus on the customer as the most valuable part of the business, rather than an exploitable resource.
Esther Stringer from Border Crossing Media’s workshop on User Experience explored the customer experience in great detail. Talk to customers, use real world data and never assume you know better than your customer.
Once you’ve found your lofty purpose and created a customer-centric vision for transformation, the next key requirement is communication. Ongoing, honest and useful communication. Alasdair noted that providing the right infrastructure and tools to enable, encourage and make effective use of that communication is a crucial element of the process.
Digital transformation is a company-wide project. As Nordea’s Alasdair Anderson put it, everyone should feel like they can contribute to the process and should be empowered to create and deliver their own goals (within the single vision). telling people how to do their jobs never goes well.
One common reason for digital transformation projects to fail, is to treat the process like a short-term, stand-alone project. As something which can be bolted-onto the company’s existing way of working, rather than a fundamental change to the culture of the whole business.
If staff are not involved with and on board with the transformation, then the chances of failure are far greater. Sif from QikServe related one case study in which staff within a restaurant were so scared of being replaced by the new digital self-service kiosks, they frequently switched them off and claimed that they weren’t being used.
Companies need to consider who they are collectively, said Richard Marshall. Leadership rather than management is required to ensure every member of staff understand the vision, doesn’t feel siloed, is inspired to participate in the transformation and brings their own perspective and adds value.
This is where diverse teams come into their own. As Lauren from Amazon said, a diverse team provides multiple viewpoints and minimises the risk of building something from a single, skewed point of view.
Culture is also about the company’s own values and decisions. Hew from TVSquared focused on how companies can use data in ways which, unlike the major tech and social giants, could be considered ‘not evil’, while Richard stressed the value of ‘owning what you build’ i.e. making something everyone can be proud of.
Delegate debate and discussion carried on well after the conference concluded. Many people were excited by the opportunities which digital transformation is bringing, though for some, the comprehensive and fundamental approach advocated by some speakers was worrying.
Rather than simply signing up to a technology service, which will deliver a neat and simple digital transformation solution, the message from all speakers, all of the case studies and examples was remarkably consistent: if you want to make digital transformation work, embrace it. Create your own vision and empower everyone in the company to get behind and support it. It’s a long-term, ongoing process which cannot be given to the IT guys, or treated as a single bolt-on project.
Own it, make it yours. Your long-term future may depend upon it.
You can find all of the online coverage from the day over on Twitter.