People before technology on the transformation journey
‘Look for solutions that stand the test of time, that are still aligned after three or five years’
Paul Prior: ‘Use a scoring mechanism to prioritise the list of projects and the vendors to make them happen.’
Irish companies can learn from the experiences of their international counterparts as they embark on their own digital transformation journeys, according the Three Ireland head of digital Paul Prior. Among the key lessons to learn is the need for patience, says the award-winning expert who has worked with a range of global leaders including Netflix, Alibaba, Uber and CitiBank.
“Shareholders want immediate gratification on investments but it’s not always possible, and a nervousness about what a company thinks its customers need can result in hurrying the wrong things to market,” he cautions. “Look for solutions that stand the test of time, that are still aligned after three or five years to the reasons you made the changes in the first place.”
And customers don’t always know what they want. “You have to facilitate conversations with them to find out what they want and adjust your strategy accordingly. Only then can you enter the explicit phase of actually delivering the product or service.”
That’s the right way to do it – people before technology
Another key lesson is that digital transformation is about people not technology. “Historically we thought digital transformation was a technology change, but we are coming around to the idea that it’s much more about human beings,” Prior explains. “If what you do is aligned to basic needs of belonging, autonomy and relatedness – identified as fundamentals of human psychology - it will dictate an appropriate technology. And that’s the right way to do it – people before technology.”
He points to the trend towards no-code solutions that allow people who aren’t trained developers to create applications as a great example of how a technology environment is catching up with human needs. Similarly, an emerging network technology like 5G is being pushed by businesses but it’s people who will ultimately dictate how it will be used.
Cultural change is essential. According to Prior, people either recognise the importance of organisational culture to digital transformation or they fail. “The way to change culture is one project at a time,” he advises.
“Start by identifying a high performing team or business unit in your organisation that can work autonomously and make them the poster child for change. The leadership has to back the successes and make sure it cascades all the way through the organisation. The goal is to move from a siloed to horizontal business model, from decisions made in isolation to decisions made across the whole business. When you hear the same narrative from the boardroom to the receptionist, you know a company is on the right journey.”
One of the hardest things to do as part of a business transformation programme, is to change behaviours to align with new strategies, Prior notes. “The only way to change the established way of thinking is one conversation at a time. People need to be brought in on the journey in order for them to understand the context of what you are asking of them. It’s tough, but you have to loosen beliefs in things that are no longer working.”
Each channel should have its own metrics and measurements
Another challenge relates to productivity, resourcing and capacity. “A team might be working really hard, but they might not be working smart”, he explains. “Data turns this from a subjective to objective discussion, and it’s why measurement and metrics are so important for successful change. Digital transformation is about moving from siloes operating independently to multiple channels becoming part of the same customer journey. Each channel should have its own metrics and measurements. Try to build dashboards around them to measure productivity and identify where there is spare capacity. This provides objective oversight and facilitates a process of continuous improvement.”
The continuous nature of transformation requires organisations to be agile, he points out. “By definition transformation isn’t a journey with an end, it’s a voyage of perpetual change. Be as agile as possible by responding to change on a quarter-by-quarter basis, because that’s how fast everything is moving. At the outset of the journey, stakeholders have to agree on what the organisation wants to achieve given its current structures, but also understand that new iterations will come along that necessitate starting from scratch.”
Acquiring the right tools and technologies is a big part of the journey. “Instead of different areas of the business making decisions in siloes, they all have to come together and make digital decisions based on feasibility, commerciality, and desirability,” Prior advises. “Use a scoring mechanism to prioritise the list of projects and the vendors to make them happen. Put in place a trusted methodology that works for everyone and then trust the methodology; it’s the best way to ensure success.”