August 2018 | Point of View

Digital transformation: Building a coalition of digital achievers

Introduction

“Becoming digital” sits at the top of most corporate strategies, but for many organizations it remains nothing but an aspiration and buzzword. To become truly digital, you first must know what it means to be digital. Many executives with whom we work admit they really don’t—yet. 

That’s understandable. Digital transformation isn’t just about introducing new technology capabilities; it is about navigating a wholesale shift in the way companies think and run—by changing business conditions, culture, and using data to scale and grow a business. That’s a tall order, even for those who feel they are ready to take on the journey. 

Most of our discussions with executives lead to the topic of where to start. We wrote about this in another paper, Digital Transformation: Separating Hype from Reality, where we shared advice with executives who are panicked about their progress: Take a deep breath. Remember, Rome wasn’t built in a day. 

While every organization will have a different starting point for their digital journey, we have observed certain activities that build momentum toward solving the complex digital transformation puzzle. One of those activities is to build, support, and empower a coalition of “digital achievers.”

Chapter 1: What are "digital achievers?"

Digital achievers are people who possess the skills necessary to reshape operations, along with the inspiration and motivation to drive change. Their value is not just in technical understanding; it’s also in their ability to master the foundational elements needed to compete in a world revolutionized by technology. 

Digital achievers do not sit in a single department or function, and they do not have to be product managers—instead, this group is characterized more by their personality traits and their ability to adapt to and drive change within an organization. 

“Coalitions” of digital achievers can have a far-reaching impact on business. But they face the hurdle of working within the context of the organization, which may not be structured to support their success. 

As an organization adopts new technologies and processes that shift toward a culture of innovation and focus, it faces new challenges. Unfortunately, organizational barriers are often the biggest obstacles to change. To create tangible business value, these barriers must come down. 

Many people are not comfortable with change. Digital achievers, on the other hand, begin with a growth-mindset and embrace new ways of working— in new roles and with people from other disciplines. They also have a penchant for solving problems from the customer’s perspective rather than their own or their function’s. 

Here’s what you can do to build your coalition of digital achievers:

1. Pick the right people, particularly, those with fresh perspectives who understand the power of data.

You don’t need to clean house, but you do need to embrace talent that is not afraid to ask questions, challenge the status quo, and experiment with new technologies. Digital achievers understand that driving toward a greater vision requires a clear understanding of where you are today. That starts with data—which companies have in spades but don’t always know how to use. 

Digital achievers possess two capabilities necessary for spotting the opportunities no one has before: analytical acumen (even if not formally trained) to solve problems and, more importantly, a curiosity that compels them to solve problems. With evolving platforms and capabilities today, you don’t need a data science background to be able to make decisions using insights and dashboards. You do, however, need curiosity and creativity around how to leverage that data to make improvements. 

Empower your digital achievers to rely on their intrigue and reliance on data to explore opportunities, create and test ideas, and then build roadmaps for bringing those ideas to life. 

2. Require collaboration across business and technology disciplines.

Bring individual digital achievers together in small, agile, product-focused teams that have a blend of business and technical skills and perspectives. Technologists will understand the ins and outs of systems and be able to read data and patterns, while the business side can think through how that would affect operations, processes, and ultimately, the customer. You will quickly see that such teams work fluidly to deliver practical and value-producing innovation.

3. Encourage rapid experimentation and a culture of learning.

Teams that are scared to fail move slowly—they wait for innovations to be “perfect” and fully vetted. When this happens, innovation is often too late to make a difference. Digital achievers are driven by a sense of purpose and mission and are not afraid to act on it. They are energized by autonomy, experimentation, measurable progress, and momentum. 

Quick wins in the early stages of digital initiatives affirm the commitments they make to the future of their companies. But it’s not only about succeeding quickly, it’s also about maintaining a willingness to fail fast and move on. Digitally successful companies often have failure (or experimentation) baked into their culture, encouraging digital achievers to do things differently and make decisions on new processes, procedures, etc. If it doesn’t work, it’s okay. Failure is treated as a lesson learned and communicated back to the rest of the company about why it didn’t work and what they can do differently moving forward.

4. Use technology to increase pace and accelerate innovation.

Rely on technologies like cloud, micro-services, and abstraction to allow your coalition to work and iterate without negatively impacting teams upstream and downstream in the workflow. 

Digital achievers move quickly by biting off smaller chunks of work—continuously looking to data to help them innovate quickly, evolve operating models sooner, and create value immediately, while leveraging data to iterate and improve. The project/initiative is never “completed” or “done” but continually made better. Set clear key performance metrics that can be achieved in short and iterative process, then hold your cross- functional team of digital achievers accountable to influencing change across the organization! 

Digital achievers can exist anywhere within the organization. Some are in business functions. Some are in technology teams. Regardless, their digital acumen isn’t necessarily defined by their roles as much as it is by their interests and motivations—which is what you should be looking for and harnessing. 

Your digital achievers may not work together today, but when they do, their collective capabilities can turn a company into a modern competitor built to grow and thrive.

Chapter 2: How are organizations harnessing digital achievers to advance transformation?

Consider these examples of progress that we have seen during our work in the marketplace, when companies find and empower a coalition of digital achievers:

A large Northeastern utility set out to implement an advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) program that would provide customers with more frequent and granular energy usage data, empowering them to manage their consumption. The core of the program was a multi-year initiative to deploy 5 million smart meters and use IoT (internet of things) tools to consolidate massive, disparate data sets and convert them into actionable business insights.

To do this, the utility found and engaged digital achievers within many aspects of its business who were motivated to drive change within their functions and beyond. Starting with a series of workshops, the utility brought together people from all levels and business functions—including legal, customer outreach, corporate communication, digital customer experience, and AMI, among others. These events helped surface and engage digital achievers who, today, are linchpins for helping the organization advance toward its vision of delivering real- time grid performance data and insights.

An insurance company wanted to attract young buyers and increase overall revenue. A team of digital achievers paved the path to transforming the company’s infrastructure and identified the technologies necessary to achieve business strategy. They collaborated to define a complex set of integrated capabilities that enabled the company to deliver on customer expectations, including a content strategy, digital sales processes, measurements, marketing agency management, and organizational structure. They also helped engage others in the organization—from executives to front-line employees—to deliver on the plan.

An online tax preparer’s coalition of digital achievers used data to quickly understand how customers interact with its systems—a task that Google Analytics and other tools had not been able to solve. From this insight, they employed agile methodologies to develop a cloud-based, high-volume event-capture system and a new platform for identifying the full spectrum of possible events within the system. The speed and productivity of these digital achievers was striking: In just one month, the solution captured 1 billion events. Within three months, the system unlocked the data necessary to study customer patterns, diagnose customer experience issues, and interact with and provide solutions to customers in real time. All of this happened with no disruption to the business.

Even at West Monroe, we’ve even seen the power of digital achievers. West Monroe hires hundreds of new people every year, and their information must be entered into a laundry list of systems—from time and expense tracking to payroll to portal and communication tools. Digital achievers spotted an opportunity to alleviate our HR team from tedious manual efforts involved in populating this information into many systems. They innovated by programming a “robot,” named Rosie. Rosie completes the data entry in minutes, and our HR professionals have freed hours of time that they now spend with recruits and new hires.

Conclusion

How will you build your coalition of digital achievers? 

Every organization, even those early in digital transformation, has some fertile ground for digital achievement and innovation. The key is to find it, empower it, and use it to advance. 

Today, one of the characteristics we see in successful digital organizations—whether they process insurance claims, operate tax software, or deliver energy—is that they are beginning to act like high-tech companies. They organize people into smaller, product-focused teams to accelerate innovation and pace. With the qualities and traits above, digital achievers are ideal candidates for working as part of small, agile, multi-disciplinary teams organized for delivering technology enabled products that engage customers or other stakeholders. 

If provided the opportunity and supported in the right ways, your digital achievers can come together in coalitions to create visions, map the route forward, and enable progress toward your future in a digital world. In doing so, they will inspire others and help you begin to build a culture ready to move quickly and adapt to future competitors. They will challenge leadership to accept change more rapidly, and that is where the real transformation will begin to pick up speed. 

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