How to get started with a digital change journey

August 19, 2021
Steve Peters

When it comes to digital transformation, we believe you should see progress in months not years, and be exciting periods of growth ‚ not something to fear or get lost in.

With transformation now top of the agenda for organisations across all sectors - we asked our Business Director Steve about what trends we're starting to see in a post-pandemic era, and where the key areas of focus should be for those starting out on their journey.

Over to you, Steve.

What impact has the pandemic had on how organisations approach digital, and what trends will we see fuelling change initiatives now?

What was often at the bottom of the to-do list, the events of the past 18 months has rammed digital transformation in at the very top.

Speaking to a number of businesses, the reasons digital transformations were often parked were fear of cost and wanting to avoid wholesale change across people, software and customer experiences ‚ especially when business is going well, and nothing is really that broken.

Instead, Covid has forced businesses to rapidly consider how they might modernise their organisations ‚ but Covid also took away the luxury of time.  

Having a 3-year vision is now 2 years too late.  

Businesses are increasingly looking for rapid yet strategic ways to modernise in the face of a highly dynamic market, and inflated levels of customer service demanded by a post-Covid customer.

2022 will see a continuation of businesses looking to modernise to survive or thrive. Sadly, this will also mean businesses will jump into making bad decisions. Committing to the wrong software, or whole-sale changes that take 12-24 months to complete.

Change must be far cleverer and diagnostic. Based on the evidence, not knee-jerk reactions to a dynamic market.

What should organisations consider when mapping out their digital journey?

Let's start with what not to do. Don't start with technology. 

Technology is just the enabler of your strategy ‚ not the answer to your prayers. We've made some of our clients ¬£m and not changed any technology.

Always consider the outcomes you want when mapping any change event. Choose technology at the very, very end (if at all).

There are four main areas to look at:

  • Your business vision and 2+ year commercial aspirations
  • The technology system in place and its future agility potential
  • Understand the customer, how they think, feel, and behave on and offline
  • Organisational structures, people, process, ways of working and culture

That sounds like a lot of things to consider all at once, but we advise our clients to take a thin slice across all four areas and choose a candidate place to start that feels:

  • Achievable
  • Exciting
  • Rewarding
  • Rapid

It's important to have a ‚win' under your belt as you start on your journey through continual improvement. It then unlocks optimism and buy-in across the organisation for some of the heavier lifting that may be needed as the months and years unfold.

Organisations need to consider to what extent they want to be self-sufficient. All clients are different ‚ some have aggressive 6‚12-month windows where they want to in-house all digital capabilities. Others are happiest using external specialists for the long term.

Our advice is to start the process and work out what's best for your business as you make progress.

How can you create a culture that embraces digital?

Digital transformations are all about people and how they behave, and what they value. A business that retains a top-down, command and control leadership style will struggle to see any meaningful change to any transformations they start. Likewise, ‚bottom up' transformations need senior leaders to buy into the changes they want to make, so there has to be a blended approach.

Some large organisations create start-up teams within themselves and give that team autonomy to change the business. This can work well as it leaves the rest of the organisation to keep the lights on, whilst innovation happens in parallel. This mitigates the risk associated with wholesale transformation programmes which rarely end well.

The danger here is of course getting buy-in from the wider business which can be harder when it comes to rolling out change. 

That's why embracing an open and transparent culture that looks for leaders in all parts of the business with open lines of communication across the organisation is where we've observed the greatest successes.  

Some of our clients host monthly showcase sessions and take over the main reception area, or large space within their environment. It's a chance for everyone in the business to see what's going on, but more importantly to be ‚presented to' as important stakeholders in the business. 

The leaders of the transformation work present where they are and what they are doing ‚ warts and all ‚ successes and failures ‚ and encourage discussion and feedback.

Because things will go wrong. It's inevitable. But the power is in learning from the experience, sharing it with the business and making new decisions as a result of what you learned.

These types of ceremonies create a culture that embraces digital and empowers people from the bottom to the top of the business to be part of the story, and to see change as an exciting, dynamic, and necessary part of growing the business and their own personal development.

Where should organisations be focusing their efforts and how can they navigate blockers?

To know where to focus your efforts you must first get a handle on where the impact on the business would be greatest, and where the effort needed to change is the least.  

To find this impact vs effort position, businesses need to look at performing several audits namely:

  • Business - How is the business performing commercially today, areas for improvement, opportunities for growth vs the future commercial vision?
  • Technology - What technology underpins the business, and where in the technology system could we identify opportunities to make rapid change?
  • Customer - What do we understand about our customers, why they buy with us and their experiences on and offline in context with market dynamics?
  • People - How are we organised such that we enable and empower people to drive change? 

Performing these four audits gives you all the ingredients you need to appreciate where the value in a change event sits.  

Above all else, customer experience must come first. If you can create a commercial opportunity from the development of a leading customer experience using lean technology ‚ then you are winning.

Overcoming roadblocks are an inevitable part of any programme. They are best navigated by including all stakeholders in the process and designating ‚hands on' or ‚hands off' responsibilities to those involved. You should then be able to see any potential roadblocks in advance and create strategies to overcome them.

How can you measure ROI?

Simply by defining the problem you are looking to solve.

Do not start with "our tech is poor we need to rip it out" or "our people aren't agile we need to do some coaching" or "our CX is bad we need a new one" because change in this manner is almost impossible to measure, and only leads to poor outcomes and the replacement of ‚old' with ‚new' with very little value observed.

Instead, start with defining a problem that if solved would drive a significant outcome. This outcome could be in many areas:

  • People and staff happiness & retention
  • Operational effectiveness
  • Commercial growth
  • Customer acquisition and lifetime value
  • Brand salience and NPS

Once you have defined your problem, then create a simple measurement framework that allows you to demonstrate that you have made progress against that problem.

The solution could be simple at first ‚ for example, improving the conversion rate of a core user journey, built using modern engineering practices and run by a team trialling a new agile process.

Choose something small and manageable and learn on the way. As you grow in confidence you can grow the remit of the work.

Some of our clients have seen progress in their transformational programmes within 3 months, and significant commercial, brand and people impact observed in 12 months.

But you must focus on outcomes, otherwise, you can get lost in the weeds.

How can organisations keep pace with changing technologies so they're delivering the best possible service?

Technology is never the starting point for customer innovation or business transformation. 

Businesses that seek new technology and then try to find ways to use it can find this approach to be expensive and counterproductive.

Choosing the latest technology can carry the risks associated with being an early adopter. We can probably all remember things like Google Glass and the early days of blippAR when innovation was happening in technology, but adoption ‚ the ability for people to change their behaviour ‚ was the barrier.

Instead, look at the customer experience you are delivering and find ways to improve it by experimenting with new ideas and road-testing them with customers and prospects.

There are lots of easy ways to experiment that are cheap and easy to do. We spend time in prototypes and in user research that allows us to get ideas in front of customers quickly without spending money on software.  

For the BBC we have even developed paper prototypes and a set of bespoke playing cards to explore whether a new idea would land with the intended customer groups. That idea was a success and turned into a mobile app ‚ but it had very modest beginnings.

Once you have your validated ideas and devised your ideal customer experience only then you should look to technology to enable the answer.

Sometimes this is a case of researching what the market has to offer and running a pitch to find the best fit for your needs. We always lean towards SAAS products where possible.

Other times you may need to develop bespoke software to create the originality you need in your proposition.

But if you haven't got CTO/CIO leadership in your business then consider hiring an interim. 

Transformation processes lead out of CEOs or CMOs tend to be technology-led ‚ businesses buy software targeted at marketers to romance them with the promise of solving all their problems ‚ software like Adobe suite, Sitecore or anything else in the Garter Magic Quadrant. The reality of large monolithic services like those is they are expensive, tie you in for the long term and you rarely get the value from them.

We see our clients engineer the business they need, not buy expensive tech and try and bang it to fit.

So, start with the customer and worry about the tech later.

What advice would you give for those at the start of their digital change journey?

Start small. Find a valuable place to start that is interesting, commercially valuable, achievable within 12 weeks and involves a relatively small bunch of people.

Get some coaching if you need it to up-skill, learn by doing, be open and transparent about progress ‚ and do not be afraid to pivot and change direction as you learn new things as you go. Change is welcome in processes like this, and the very reason you work in small batches. Good luck and go for it!

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Looking for support with your next digital initiative or programme of change? We can help with design & build, digital strategy, optimisation and training & coaching.

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