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CompTIA’s EMEA Member and Partner Conference 2017 closed its first night with a talk from Lindsay Herbert, digital leader, IBM, who shared her insights from years of research and interviews for her new book Digital Transformation: Build your Organisation’s Future for the Innovation Age.
Lindsay began by explaining how ‘digital transformation’ is a dangerous term. A quick straw poll of the room revealed that everyone had heard of the term, yet few thought it was a useful one. The problem, she explained, is that everyone has a different definition of what digital transformation actually is. A CEO could be referring to updating legacy systems, while a CIO could take it to mean moving to the cloud. To a COO, it could mean more automation.
She explained that this lack of consistency could lead to dangerous situations, as no one is talking about the same thing, and businesses could unknowingly be pulled in many different directions.
Rather, in her experience, real digital transformation means to become adaptive to change itself and that is achieved through leveraging technologies and ways of working brought about by the innovation age. It means working in ways that are more iterative and agile, all with the aim of hitting your mission statement.
She gave a number of examples of companies she interviewed that had achieved this – from the UN Refugee Agency to Royal Caribbean Cruises – but her favourite was the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam in the Netherlands.
The museum’s mission statement is to share the art and history of the Netherlands with the world. The Rijksmuseum underwent a huge refurbishment to bring it up to modern standards, which meant it had to close for 10 years. However, this gave it a unique opportunity to reflect and undergo digital transformation. It decided it would digitise its entire collection and share it online for free without copyright – truly meeting its mission statement through digital technology.
Here are Herbert’s five steps of successful digital transformation:
Stage 1: Bridge the gap between your company, the people it’s meant to serve and the changes happening around it.
As companies grow, they grow hierarchies. Eventually, the company ends up spending more time looking at itself than looking at customers and the market. It has to bridge to the outside world to understand where it has to be.
Stage 2: Uncover your company’s hidden barriers, assets and resources to plan its routes to transformation.
This means looking at the state of how things are in your business. Over time, you understand why your company did not organically transform when the world around it did. You need to pay attention and look internally to understand this. You’ll also find pockets of excellence.
Stage 3: Iterate, build in short cycles, test with real users, and learn as you go to scale incrementally.
This is about building in short cycles, scaling what’s successful and killing off what’s not. This is counter to the way we like to build things in companies. We tend to build with a huge list of requirements and we somehow expect to end up with a list that matches, but we need to break this mindset. The companies that work out how to iterate well know you need people from different departments to work together on small things first. Herbert gave the example of Morgan Stanley, which had bankers and developers working together to develop new applications and ways of working. This was tested with a few customers and then scaled up.
Stage 4: Leverage discussions to access space to scale new innovations and ways of working.
Many companies make the mistake of shouting about digital transformation or innovation when they just start out. In fact, the time you should be shouting about any digital transformation or innovation project is not when you start, it’s when you have proof. You should use your successes to get more buy-in from the business. Otherwise you end up with annoying internal communications that no one pays attention to.
Stage 5: Disseminate innovations and ways of working to make adapting to change the new business as usual.
This does not mean implementing training programmes. It’s about letting the innovation naturally flow throughout the business. Herbert used the example of birds, which learn from other birds’ behaviour to figure out where and how they need to fly. You want to have people accessing information on a regular basis to learn. You need to pair people together so they learn, rather than throwing people into a lecture style training session and expect them to pick it up.
The lesson from Herbert’s presentation is that we need to focus on all these factors that are common to every organisation that has undergone successful digital transformation. She argues that the workforce of the future will expect to work for companies that operate in this way. Those that don’t are likely to be left behind.