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Digital transformation, once begun, can lead different places than initially envisaged, finds Alex Meehan

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8 January 2020 | 0

If there is one prevailing trend that has made itself heard above the noise in 2019, it has to be digital transformation. The reason is simple — technology has reached the point of utility when it makes sense for companies of all sizes to take stock of how they do things and ask the question, is there a better way?

Often the answer is yes because there are tools on the market now that just were not accessible when the average Irish company was first laying out its stall. No company gets to survive into the long term without cultivating the ability to adapt to market conditions and information and communications technology (ICT) changes just like everything else. 

Digital transformation has been covered a lot in the pages of TechPro in recent months so this time, we are looking at those organisations that have taken these journeys as well as the companies that have guided them, to see what transformation has enabled, and where the onward journey might lead.

 

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Fundamental change

“It’s not possible to engage in a digital transformation process without experiencing fundamental change to how you do things. For many companies, getting their heads around this idea of transformation and how it applies to them can be the first challenge,” said Grace O’Rourke Veitch, sales director for Dell Technologies in Ireland

“Often, they fall in love with a particular technology and have decided to go all in with that but when you start digging a bit and you open up the business conversation, asking them what they are trying to achieve as a business etc then things sometimes start to go in interesting directions.”

The reason is that very few companies that set out on a transformation journey end up exactly where they think they will. It turns out that the very process of rethinking and reorganising the way a business operates has the capacity to fundamentally alter it.

“We need to look at what’s possible and desirable, and budgets can be an issue so it’s up to us to help make a business case for what we recommend as well as giving flexibility in terms of how to execute a digital transformation plan. It might mean looking at the as-a-service model so the costings can be planned out over time as well as taking into account future projections,” Grace O’Rourke-Veitch, Dell Technologies

“Our job is to pull out those business objectives and then prioritise them. There isn’t a fix all for everything for the next five years, so you have to triage their issues and figure out what success would look like for them. In the case of Ryanair for example, it was about reducing ICT down time because that had the capacity to really impact that company. Ninety eight per cent of its revenue is driven through its web site,” said O’Rourke Veitch.

“So that was a money and business driven process but it’s different for each organisation.”

For Dell Technologies, the key to a successful journey is making sure that the right foundations are laid in the right way to support what it’s thought the future will look like. While there is sometimes tension in this process between what’s available and affordable now and what might come down the line, Dell tries to position its clients so that they’re well set up for the long term.

“We need to look at what’s possible and desirable, and budgets can be an issue so it’s up to us to help make a business case for what we recommend as well as giving flexibility in terms of how to execute a digital transformation plan. It might mean looking at the as-a-service model so the costings can be planned out over time as well as taking into account future projections.” 

Continual reinvention

According to William Waldron, client services director with Singlepoint, digital transformation should not be thought of as a one-off process, instead in an ideal world, companies should continually reinvent themselves to keep up with the market. 

“Customers typically start with a definite business goal in mind when they set out on a digital transformation journey, but the reality is that things often change along the way and the most effective journeys are those where the company remains flexible,” he said.

“Customers typically start with a definite business goal in mind when they set out on a digital transformation journey, but the reality is that things often change along the way and the most effective journeys are those where the company remains flexible. There can be unforeseen developments. The important thing is to be open to these developments,” William Waldron, Singlepoint

“There can be unforeseen developments and that can be anything from realising how much their internal culture has to change to perhaps identifying opportunities in the market that had been overlooked. The important thing is to be open to these developments.”

The most usual way in which companies experience change on these journeys, according to Waldron, is in their internal organisational structure. 

“That always seems to change. If a company is in the retail space for example, they often move into the online space and that naturally is going to have a big effect on how you’re structured internally and on how they service customers. The kind of culture that’s needed to underpin one versus the other is quite different,” he said.

“For example, we worked with the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (ISPCC) to bring in a new digital platform, an omni-channel contact centre, that would allow volunteers to talk to children through various channels but using the same interface. All of sudden, the ISPCC was able to facilitate people working remotely where it hadn’t been able to do that before.”

That required the ISPCC to restructure its resourcing, but it also required retraining. It is one thing for a staff member to talk to a child on the phone and quite a different thing to manage a text interaction with one.

“There is a different approach needed in order to build trust. Essentially though, you never finish the journey – transformation is an ongoing process,” said Waldron.

Case study

“Our advice to others considering reinventing the way they do things to develop a digital product is this — I would strongly advise you pick your partners well. Also, build out a minimum buyable product – this allowed us to fully test and operate the system without the pressure to have to get it to market by a certain deadline,” Julie Gibb, SimLocal

Julie Gibb is chief technology officer of SimLocal, a Singlepoint customer that engaged in a digital transformation project with the company that ended up being so successful, it was used by Google as a case study at a conference in the US. 

“We were primarily a provider of physical SIM cards but last year we saw the arrival of eSIM technology on the horizon and recognised that this new development was going to have a big effect on our business model. Our existing technology allowed customers to top up and activate prepaid sim cards in seconds while standing in a retail store, but we needed to make ourselves ready for this new development,” said Gibb.

“We decided to embrace the change and to become the first integrated online store for digital SIM cards as they’re otherwise known. It’s a brand new technology that’s being built out as an industry standard as we’re getting our business ready to adopt it.”

SimLocal has a network of retail outlets at airports in the UK and Ireland but this new offering needed to be supported online as well as at these stores.

“From the beginning we had a clear management strategy that was underpinned by technical expertise both in house and through Singlepoint, our technology partner. It was able to draw on expertise from all over the world to support us on our journey as well as expertise we sourced ourselves to help us define what the technology looked like and how it all needed to hang together,” said Gibb.

“Because we took the time to strategize and plan what we needed to do, the roll out went broadly speaking as we expected, but there were also lessons learned on the way. I was recently invited to Google’s head office in California to showcase the online platform we built. The product team there were really impressed with the industry leadership we showed in doing this.”

What SimLocal managed to do was to crack the complexity of delivering an eSIM on demand directly to a customer’s device, something Google hadn’t seen done before anywhere else.

“It was all very much conceptual until we showed them it actually working in real time. The consumer can buy an eSIM from a network and download it onto their device. Getting this up and running involve liaising with the networks, the mobile operators and the handset manufacturers all via indirect channels,” she said.

“Our advice to others considering reinventing the way they do things to develop a digital product is this — I would strongly advise you pick your partners well. Also, build out a minimum viable product – this allowed us to fully test and operate the system without the pressure to have to get it to market by a certain deadline.”

Open minds

According to Rory Gallagher, director of quality assurance at Expleo, the best way for companies to approach a digital transformation project is to keep an open mind and be open to where the journey can lead. 

“One of the big challenges is that the skills aren’t there to support the technology these companies think they are going to use. Based on the business transformation index survey, we know that companies are losing revenue because of the skills shortage and we see that as a challenge companies are having. That’s in no small measure why some of our customers come to us, because they need those skills provided to them,” Rory Gallagher, Expleo

‘Things change, business changes and successful companies understand that and adapt. Many companies engaged on this path adopt agile methodologies and that should build the process while also allowing you to look back, learn lessons and change as a result,” he said.

“That’s where companies can adapt and learn and that’s where they’ll develop much better products than they otherwise would, based on the transformation process, at least in our experience.”

From Gallagher’s point of view, some of the lessons client companies learn are surprising. To start with, most do not expect to be held back by people problems but that is exactly what happens when they decide to implement a technology and then discover they cannot get the people to do it for them. 

“The main one is they are usually brought harshly into contact with the skills shortage plaguing the industry at the moment. One of the big challenges is that the skills aren’t there to support the technology these companies think they are going to use,” said Gallagher. 

“Based on the business transformation index survey, we know that companies are losing revenue because of the skills shortage and we see that as a challenge companies are having. That’s in no small measure why some of our customers come to us, because they need those skills provided to them.”

An example of a recent customer of Expleo’s going through a digital transformation project is Concern Worldwide, which earlier this year overhauled its global fundraising activities. As part of this project, Expleo analysed and streamlined hundreds of Concern’s fundraising processes, with the goal of helping the non-governmental organisation (NGO) to increase donation revenues and improve donor engagement across its global operations.

“We have a commitment to being a digital-first charity. As part of this, we were making much-needed investments in our grant management and fundraising programmes. Expleo’s experience of managing large-scale technology-led transformation projects provided us with the confidence that they could help us on our digital journey,” said Richard Dixon, director of public affairs for Concern Worldwide.

“When we unpacked everything we do, we had more than 200 data-driven processes. Expleo mapped these so we could capture, monitor and evaluate everything to prepare us for the next stage, as the more efficient we are, the more work we can do.”

Concern Worldwide is Ireland’s largest humanitarian aid agency, employing 3,300 staff in 25 countries around the world. It raises more than €190 million annually, including €136 million in grants and €40 million from its fundraising efforts. Together, this funding is used to reach 24 million people in need across the world.

It receives donations from many thousands of supporters each year, with individual transactions and engagements totalling many multiples of that figure. It required a new integrated digital platform to enhance and scale fundraising activities, grant management and supporter engagements effectively. 

“We are increasingly using digital technology to support our programmes overseas. It is hugely important to our ability to donate online quickly in times of emergencies. We can also transfer money to people in need, which is helping us to empower communities,” said Dixon.

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