Sam Button, Head of Growth, Roar Media
At the U.S. Online Digital Transformation Conference in October, we hosted a very interesting panel with senior digital leaders from different organisations and backgrounds. The panel consisted of Tom Sampson, CIO F35 JPO at US Navy, he is responsible for all IT & systems for the development, production and sustainment for the F35 aircraft worldwide for the US services and customers around the world. Jeanethe Falvey is the Chief Digital Officer for The City of Boston, she has been working for 3 years to support Boston’s user experience across all digital platforms & delivery points. Gaurav Jaiswal is the Chief Product Owner at Pearson, he leads digital channels & experience at the world’s leading digital education company. He works with the global eCommerce aspect of their business. Mohannad El-Barachi is the Co-Founder & CEO of Wrk Technologies, he is a serial entrepreneur focussed on identifying areas of technology which are nascent. Wrk are a business automation company looking to streamline how companies deploy automation.
Defining digital transformation
Mohannad takes his experience from both the clients who he works with and his own companies’ internal digital strategy. Digital transformation is a buzz word, their focus & understanding is around enacting change of people’s perspectives around embracing technology to be able to do useful things with this. There is no silver bullet with emerging technology, but we should educate with tangible innovations to embrace technologies which enable continuous improvement.
Gaurav sees digital transformation being the fundamental reimagination of business in the digital age, a foundational change in how an organisation delivers value to their employees, customers and partners. Transcending the traditional business model and disrupting the way platform, product and processes are viewed.
Core principles for success include set a bold vision, identify your north star based on exponential thinking and a close symbiotic partnership between business & tech with agile execution being a way to fail fast, fail forward.
The pandemic has caused a radical rethinking with companies having implemented years’ worth of transformation in a few months.
Jeanethe noted that digital transformation is a continuous journey. The evolution of your organisation & how willing they are to change to meet the new demands of a changing environment. Improving both internal & customer facing processes & systems for the benefit of employees & customers.
Transformation of your organisation is about how you approach the work you are doing & how tools, processes, people & technology are able to improve the processes you have. Changing the mindset of your employees is the optimal way to transform and become more efficient, together with technology this can lead to lasting innovations.
Due to the pandemic there has been a massive increase within internal collaborative software. However, these innovations need to be implemented inline with the needs of your workforce, ensuring the digital workplace is built for your workforce and their user experience is at the heart of the evolution.
Information security was a major aspect for Tom Sampson to consider during the move to remote work, keeping sensitive government information safe required a VPN which was designed for a small number of people in extreme circumstances. Within 6 months they are now have 92% of their workforce working remotely through the VPN, this had challenges with protocols & bandwidth which were overcome to have full efficiency.
Embrace and understand that change can happen instantaneously in very meaningful ways, it is good to think about small, low hanging fruits which can make a huge difference to employees and customers. It is a great idea to look at technologies which have the most impact on efficiency and to look at automating mundane tasks where possible, so they can focus their human cognition on upskilling themselves and the team around them.
Focusing on safeguarding customer & employee wellbeing is vital during this period of time and beyond, we must support employees with group & individual education. It is important, for this and professional development, to provide the right support to allow for continued learning through digital technologies, self-learning and collaboration.
The impact of the pandemic
Tom highlighted the challenges of getting all departments onboard with digital transformation when he established their vision for the use of enterprise technologies back in 2018. This was viewed with scepticism by some with the team using quick easy wins for proof of concept to gain support from the wider organisation. However, due to Covid-19, people started knocking on the door of the digital team for technologies which could enable remote work sustainably with no loss in productivity & efficiency.
Covid-19 forced the hand of everybody, even employees who were not digitally native had to embrace technology which helped them realise the capabilities were available to them with dedication & training.
As technologists in the public sector both Tom & Jeanethe agreed that before the pandemic it was like pushing a rock uphill to implement new digital technology, as soon as Covid-19 forced everyone to work from home they compared this to chasing the rock downhill with all the digital capabilities they were requested and able to implement across all departments & services.
The focus was not just on internal experience but also on the best ways to communicate with customers & users and meet their needs. This also increased the use of technologies to modernise services & outreach whilst customers were unable to interact physically.
Supporting the workforce
The biggest change was not the technology, the paradigm shift was with the people within the organisation. Exuding trust attracted employee’s eagerness to adopt technology, this was achieved through a plan that was clearly communicated to all employees around the implementations, training and best practices around remote work and how they are looking to innovate over the coming months. There was a need to reiterate this vision repeatedly and engage employees for their ideas to encourage accountability & autonomy.
Compassion & empathy were huge in supporting the workforce from the top down. Authentic emotional intelligence, increased happiness & motivation through helping all individuals deal with a change which most found rather daunting. Educating people to improve their own mindfulness practices and be vocal and open with any issues they are facing.
Gaurav also promoted the need to express and highlight hope & optimism, shining a light on the positives and improvements which have been recently implemented and what the future will look like for the organisation & employees.
Leaders have to be adaptive and flexible, the best way to lead through these times is to show real care for your employee’s wellbeing & their engagement.
Mohannad stated that during the pandemic it helped having tangible aspects & practices as core principles, this was key in keeping employees happy & comfortable. Wrk’s key principles were: Consistency over communication of information, weekly company updates & surveys, personal budgets for hardware to improve their home office.
Self-serve transparency through dashboards & providing access to strategic planning details are a great way to encourage engagement within the evolution of the company. The pandemic has further reiterated to all employees that companies cannot stand still, this embracement of change has fueled a thirst from the workforce to look at what is next for their organisation. Providing a window into the future plans of the company which is found through self-discovery and not avidly promoted can help to increase employee engagement & trust.
The pandemic has also increased the drive for employees wishing to upskill themselves and learn new digital technologies. Personal development is something that we should provide, giving employees the opportunity to equip themselves with the knowledge to thrive.
Another major change this year is the diminished reluctance in investing within digital technologies. Suddenly businesses are releasing funds for digital teams to improve services, however, this presents issues as they have high expectations, demands & are looking for implementation within small timescales. As digital leaders, there is a need to educate business heads on the timescale & planning required for these technologies to be useful and lasting. We know that new digital capabilities have to be driven by employee centric requirements & not just because other organisations are doing the same. Being selective about technology implementation is extremely important and this needs to be reiterated to business leaders.
Automation is a technology many companies were implementing before Covid-19 to increase productivity, this is something which has been accelerated due to the pandemic as it can be a real advantage for remote workers not having to perform mundane tasks. The thesis around Wrk is that AI, RPA & Machine Learning are extremely useful but also hard to implement successfully, they act to remove the complexity of automation so this can be much easier to implement & monitor.
Gaurav praised Pearson’s use of automated chat bots to provide excellent customer service before and during the pandemic. He stated their business performance of product launches, analysis and learnings from this has been massively improved through big data. Collaboration & monitoring tools have also been extremely helpful supporting the digital workplace before & during Covid-19.
Technology can be used to learn about the function of your organisation, functions which are working and what has the potential to be improved. Looking at digital transformation you have to use a combination of the data available and thoughts & feelings of your employees to decide the best way to move forward.