Digital Transformation – from customers, to technology, to people

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Estimated reading time: 5 minutes.
Audience: Management

Digital Transformation is, no doubt, one of the hottest current topics. I was invited the other day to a most interesting round-table discussion on why the customer should be at the heart of a digital supply chain strategy. It was a brilliant exchange of views from across the industry – and my thanks go to @TobyWright and to @JohnMcNiff for organising the round-table, at The Telegraph.

In preparation for the round-table I put some thoughts together on the subject of Digital Transformation. I’d like to share them with you and incite some comments. Here we go.

Take your employees along on the digital transformation journey

Customer-centricity is absolute key to a successful digital transformation. My approach to a digital transformation is to start with understanding the customer, then design the business digital strategy around it, then look at the Data, People, Processes and Technology required to support it.

Considering that the customer’s needs and behaviours change and evolve, it is critical to build agility in the organisation’s structures and processes, so that the organisation can evolve as well. This is where engagement with employees becomes critical. I involve staff as early as possible in the design of the cross-functional teams, to build the agility required by the company. This follows training of employees and a continuous improvement approach, where processes and technology are further optimised.

The digital transformation mantra of “customer centricity” needs to be extended to internal changes as well. When changes are introduced to internal processes and technology, staff need to be treated as customers in relation to the respective tools. When they are not, it creates gaps that are reflected in poor technology adoption and ineffective new processes.

Make the most out of new tech

The greatest opportunities come from the way one can combine these new technologies, as building blocks for an engaging and coherent experience to the customer. We need to re-think e-commerce interaction, reaching customers in a familiar environment through deep marketing, and offering them a meaningful and guided experience. Machine learning and AI, coupled with solid data are core ingredients – from smart Customer Relationship Management, to friction-less Enterprise Resource Planning, to intelligent CPQ (configure, price, quote), etc.

Get data right. Seriously.

I’ll keep this short as talking about data is a guaranteed way to put people to sleep 🙂
Data is the cornerstone for a digital transformation. By data I mean both the data structures (fields, relationships etc), and the actual information that populates these structures. Data structures and models need to be mapped and defined. Data quality needs to be managed and should give you a good understanding of how complete, unique, timely, accurate and consistent it is.

Getting someone who can understand data and can drive the effort of keeping your data clean is essential. Artificial intelligence, machine learning, all those advanced technologies that you want to take advantage of, won’t work without good clean data. The principle of garbage in – garbage out still applies.

Overcome barriers while turning your data into insights

Skills, Repository, Tools, Security, Integration, Costs, Buy-in – these are all barriers that need to be overcome when turning your data into insights. Regardless of whether the data is in the cloud or not, the most important factors relate to your analytics team. My favourite recipe is to embed a data scientists (someone who is genuinely curious about data) with a business team (who have the business expertise) and with a good storyteller. The data scientist finds what looks to be of potential interest, the business team validates its relevance, and the storyteller describes this in a way others in the company can make sense of it.

After getting the analytics team sorted, the next question is how you democratise access to insights – which is key if you want to have a data-driven organisation. This is where data architecture plays a heavy role – defining the best repository for the type and size of your data. Is it structured, is it big-data, is it going to grow? Then comes the visualisation element – how are you going to empower your staff to access analytics? The interfaces play a significant role here. Depending on audience and the type of insight, you might need self-service dashboards for common reports, and advanced tools for data exploration and deep insight.

The architecture and its interfaces need to be reviewed by cyber security and legal (think GDPR), and then you need to have a cost estimate. Be aware of the data gravitation – the more data you have in one location, the more other data and applications it’s likely to attract, and for cloud models, this is going to impact future costs.

Last but not least, implement an awareness program to ensure buy-in from the right audiences. Insight can go against gut-feel, and there is a need for introducing analytics in the right way to ensure staff embrace it and see the value added to their job.

Get the right people with the right skills

My technology operating models are of the type “IT Light” and “cloud-first”, and this drives the type of skills I am after. This meant that I have to buy, steal, borrow and develop people with skills in agile development, automated testing, dev-ops, infrastructure-as-code, etc. Data analytics skills is an area that is more complex, not only because of the complexities of the field, but because an organisation most benefits when the analytical skills are complemented with business ones. Depending on the situation, there is a judgement call to be had. Is it more effective to get a data specialist trained to understand the business, or a business person to understand data analytics? On the latter one can take advantage of government apprenticeships schemes, to train junior staff into becoming the next data analysts embedded with the business. The time it takes to get these skills on-board varies, and the shortest path might be just to combine data analysts and business people in a multi-disciplinary team – which brings me back to the agile approach… 🙂

 

Is a degree relevant to IT Professionals?

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Here is an article in which Alison DeNisco (@alisondenisco) reveals that 75% of tech leaders don’t require a computer science degree for developers and IT pros, published on February 19, 2018 in TechRepublic’s CXO Section.

My position? Different:

While the nature of the role dictates if there is a requirement for a degree or experience, for broader roles such as analysts or architects, the degree is a requirement along with other professional requirements, said Flo Albu, Group Chief Digital Officer for Westcoast.

“As a recruiter, a university degree gives me the reassurance that the person has been exposed to the necessary wide array of subjects in the respective area,” Albu said. “These are subjects that otherwise most people won’t cover in their own time. Apart from this exposure, it is the structured way of thinking taught in universities, that I find valuable for certain roles.”

There are exceptions to this rule, of course, Albu added. However, he found that degree-educated applicants tend to be more able to formulate the right questions that need to be answered, which will eventually help them avoid becoming automated. “This is the skill that ultimately will allow one to avoid being commoditized,” Albu said. “Knowing how to formulate the problem is what would set one apart, in an era where finding the solution to that problem is more and more a job for the computer.”

Read the full article here:

https://www.techrepublic.com/article/cio-jury-75-of-tech-leaders-dont-require-a-computer-science-degree-for-developers-and-it-pros/

On digital transformation

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Here is an opinion poll among tech leaders, on the interest that businesses might have in digital transfromation, by Alison DeNisco (@alisondenisco), published on February 17, 2017 in TechRepublic’s CXO Section

My position?

For Florentin Albu, CIO of Ofgem E-Serve, “the digital transformation in our case is closely linked to the improvement of customer journeys, and to an optimization of business processes that will lead to operational excellence,” he said. “New technologies and the younger demographic are key factors considered in this transformation.”

Read the full article here:

http://www.techrepublic.com/article/cio-jury-more-than-half-of-cios-have-no-formal-digital-transformation-plan/

US elections and their impact on IT

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How will the Clinton or Trump presidency affect IT – in a CIO Jury article by Alison DeNisco (@alisondenisco), published on November 07, 2016 in TechRepublic’s CXO Section.

My position?

The two candidates have taken very different positions on technology and innovation, said Florentin Albu, CIO of Ofgem E-Serve. “Based on the information in the public domain, it appears that Clinton intends to increase the technology skills available in the country and is open to measures such as high-skill immigration,” Albu said. “This should have fairly immediate effects in terms of giving US companies continuous access to qualified tech workforce.”

Clinton’s focus on cybersecurity means that security companies will be encouraged to innovate and compete, especially in the area of encryption algorithms, Albu said. And her support for net-neutrality should ensure there is no corporate-tiered internet.

Meanwhile, “Trump appears to have a different stance on net-neutrality, with potential negative implications in terms of wider accessibility to the net,” Albu said. “A strong focus on homeland security could result in weaker encryption for US IT exports. The unclear position on highly-skilled immigration might result in a shortage of specialist workforce.”

Read the full article here:

http://www.techrepublic.com/article/cio-jury-more-than-50-of-cios-say-new-us-president-will-impact-the-future-of-tech/

An increase in Internet security threats

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IT leaders perceive an increase in cybersecurity threats, as revealed by Alison DeNisco (@alisondenisco), in an article published on September 16, 2016 in TechRepublic’s CXO Section.

My position?

Florentin Albu, CIO of Ofgem E-Serve, said he believes internet security threats have increased on two dimensions, following a constant rate of growth year-on-year. First, “they have become more sophisticated, with new tools and exploits coming to life,” Albu said. Second, “ransomware has continued to expand into becoming something of a commodity of the malware world.”

It’s also worth noting that some of these tools appear to be associated with past initiatives carried out by state actors, Albu added.

Read the full article here:

http://www.techrepublic.com/article/cybersecurity-two-thirds-of-cios-say-threats-increasing-cite-growth-of-ransomware/

A mid-life crisis of back-office business tech

midlifecrisistechIn 2016, the back-office business tech marks the 45th anniversary of Email on its computer networks. It had 16 years of nagging Skype messaging, and a 15-year love-hate relationship with Share Point. More recently, it has started using a flashy new cloud ERP solution. Is it having a mid-life crisis?

On a more serious note, during the past 45 years of modern computing, we have witnessed a fantastic technology progress which has been the direct or indirect source of business value in companies large and small. We have also entered the digital age, with everything virtual or “in the cloud”, enormous computing power at the tip of our fingers, instant access to data anywhere, and overall, a level of tech innovation that permeates through, and positively changes, all aspects of our daily lives.
Looking at business-supporting technology (think your regular back-office environment), we have also seen huge improvements over this period. Computers that are faster, smaller, cheaper – to the point of becoming a commodity. Smart devices. Applications that enhance productivity & collaboration in real time. Tools that help us visualise and interact with data, bridging virtual and real. Paperless environments. Decision support with advanced analytics based on huge amounts of information.
And yet, I believe that the rate of innovation in business-supporting tech is slowing down. In fact, I would argue that over the past 5-10 years we have just seen more of the same, with a dressing of the Moore’s Law: tech that gets faster, smaller, or with nicer interfaces, without being fundamentally different. Like a rock star in a mid-life crisis, back-office tech releases old hits, re-packaged and delivered with a few extras. And like the rock fans, users are talking about the times when the original hits really made a difference.

Where is the problem?
The problem that I see here is not with the technology, it’s with the business process, and here is why.
Technology supports the business processes which we have put in place. It ideally should automate or eliminate the repetitive and low-value steps of the process. It should support us, in bringing value to the process through our judgement, creativity and innovation.
By optimising the underlying technology of a business process, we can improve the corresponding steps of that process: e.g. switching from fax to email will make information transfer instantaneous. However, optimising the technology that supports a process is not the same with optimising the process. This is where I believe that many businesses have failed, resulting in staff becoming victims of the Moore’s law, and investments in technology not delivering the expected value.
While computers and systems get faster, humans still require about the same amount of time to analyse data and reach conclusions, take decisions, etc. While we can have instantaneous exchange of information, this does not mean that we can process it at the same rate at which we receive it – and most of us have our inboxes to prove it. By introducing new technology without a review of the business processes, there is a chance of improving a step in the process while making the end-to-end processes less effective.

Is there a solution?
Whether the tech improvements are driven by vendors (e.g. upgrades included with your licenses) or by technology refresh programs, an analysis of the business processes supported by this tech is a must. If your business can afford it, having external advice on business process improvement can be very helpful. Management consultants come at varying levels of experience and cost, and doing your research beforehand can save money and ensure effective results.
There is, also, a self-help solution: democratising business process mapping and analysis across the enterprise. You can have a good start by offering staff training in documenting business processes (e.g. BPMN 2.0) and encouraging critical process thinking. This would not replace external expertise; however, it would be an approach beneficial in the long-term. It will not only instil innovation and empower those involved (as change is driven by internal sources rather than being imposed externally), but it will also create a distributed team that has the understanding of your business processes, and can analyse technology impact.

Conclusion
Shiny new tech might not be the solution to your back-office business mid-life crisis. You need to step back and ask “How would I do this if I were to start from scratch?” every now and again. Are your business processes (or their steps) still relevant, particularly in this digital age?

Do you have an opinion about this subject? Don’t just keep it to yourself, share it here:
What 3 back-end, tech-enabled business processes would you change if you were to start your business from scratch, and how?