Digital transformation: How to make sure your project is a success

From building enthusiasm for change to experimenting with innovations, four digital leaders explain how to ensure your digitalisation project remains on the right track.
Written by Mark Samuels, Contributor

Many firms are keen to embrace digital transformation, but how can your business encourage staff to deliver change projects? Four digital leaders provide their best-practice tips for getting employees to make the most of digitalisation programmes.

1. Run innovative programmes to build enthusiasm

Linda McBain, director of digital at Save The Children, says the success of any digital transformation is directly related to inspiring the employees who will deliver change. She wants people at all levels of the charity to be excited about the power of digital disruption – and has run innovative programmes to help build enthusiasm.

"We started doing 'lunch and learns', where we brought in individuals from big organisations like Facebook, Google, and Adobe, who gave their time and suggested how we could use digital to grow. That got people across the organisation excited," says McBain, who spoke at the recent Adobe Summit event in London.

"We also identified people in the business who were most enthusiastic about digital and gave those cheerleaders more training so they could go to their departments and think about how they could inspire others. You have to take digital out of the hands of the few; stop seeing it as a dark art and empower your people to deliver."

McBain says the board also recognised there was a gap in knowledge at the most senior levels of the charity when it came to understanding the impact of a digital transformation programme. They recruited their first digital trustee, who is an expert in marketing and experience. McBain worked alongside him to set up a digital advisory board.

"Again, we brought in industry experts to consider areas like AI, big data, user experience and content and they helped us make sure we're innovating in this space and to think about new trends before they're happening to us," she says. "They challenge the board and make sure they're thinking about digital and focusing on the right strategic areas for the long term."

2. Develop the right skills across your ecosystem

Liv Brahin, head of group marketing and communication services at finance firm UBS, says the key to driving a successful digital transformation initiative is to ensure as many people as possible are on board. While that might seem like a straightforward proposition, Brahin says the likelihood of success can depend on the type of business you're in.

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"The average tenure of our staff is probably higher than modern firms," she says. "That means there's a lot of expertise and skills available to tap into in across the organisation. But at the same time, you have to also make sure you continue to develop the right kinds of skills to drive the digital transformation."

Brahin says employees need to know that learning new skills creates a personal advantage, both now and in the future, if they enter the job market. Executives must make sure their people can see the overall aim of the business strategy, that they can see the role they can fulfil, and that they can see the impact they can potentially have.

"You must have the right people in your team and the right partners," says Brahin. "It's an ecosystem – it's all about having the right people to understand customer challenges and how you can solve them. You need to bring your stakeholders into a co-creation environment to believe in what you're doing. And then you need to make sure your function enables people to make the most of their skills, rather than you having to do the work all the time."

3. Set clear key performance indicators

Phil Lewis, director of digital transformation at retailer Boden, is another tech leader who says the focus on skills is key to delivering change. He says executives looking to transform customer experiences for the better through innovative technology must first raise the overall digital acumen of their businesses.

"We were a print-heavy business and digital is different, with specific terminology and key performance indicators (KPIs)," he says. "We've been running master classes in digital for everyone in the business and this helps people understand the power of change."

Lewis says Boden is very clear about the KPIs it wants staff to deliver. These KPIs includes a series of broader strategic pillars and more specific aims for 2019. He says this tightly focused approach has helped Boden create what he refers to as "an objectives-led business".

"We're setting KPIs to help people get us to the right place. They know how what they do affects customers and the business on a day-to-day basis," says Lewis.

"Helping employees understand that their objective is about fulfilling what our customers need and how we can help them fill their baskets with the right products. It gets our employees to think about data that shows how our customers use the site, but it also gets them thinking about the end-to-end journey."

4. Experiment with tech to build strong customer relationships

Derek Hemphill, head of digital content at NatWest, says successful digital transformation is about how firms use data to engage with customers. He says banks are seeing less traffic in branches and more online through mobile banking. If you have less face-to-face contact with customers, then your staff have to think about how they build brand loyalty in a digital age.

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"Digital is about creating a form of communication that boosts customer engagement and builds the brand," he says. "You have to understand your audience through your data and we're moving into that space – we want to interact with customers in a new way."

NatWest has found video plays a key role in delivering this digital transformation. People who complete mortgages online receive a personalised video that reconfirms their mortgage details. Hemphill says this approach is still at an experimental phase but it demonstrates how firms can use technology to build strong bonds with customers in a digital age.

"We're only now exploring the opportunities," he says. "When you look at your marketing mix, some brands have used it as an instant feedback mechanism, such as asking Alexa to send a sample as a result of a TV ad. People talk with voice assistants very differently to how they might interact online. As a brand, you have to have think about how technology can help you but how it also fits into a broader mix of customer-facing technologies."

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