BT Business and Public Sector 29 March 2017

Digital transformation is like a box of chocolates

Digital transformation is like a box of chocolates

You never know what you might get - unless you engage your customers and your users on your digital journey – was the general consensus at the launch of the HouseMark Digital Transformation Programme at the BT Tower on 21st March 2017.

The kick-off event brought together housing sector leaders with other leaders who have already achieved a degree of success with their digital strategies as well as innovation experts and futurologists.

There were some inspiring discussions and amusing anecdotes for what digital transformation meant for those attending and their organisations. Ian Wright, Assistant Chief Executive, HouseMark kicked things off by asking the participants to present an object that represented where they were at with their digital transformation plans and what ‘digital’ means for them.

Whilst one presenter cited that ‘digital’ is everything and nothing, it actually means different things to different people. We had digital transformation likened to a tin of spaghetti (untangling the mess); a jigsaw puzzle (filling in the missing organisational pieces but in the right places); and several people presenting examples of older technology that they still use but now has compatibility issues.

This represented the fact that many organisations take a half-hearted approach to digital transformation. They roll out a load of new (at the time) devices but don’t see digital transformation as an ongoing journey of constant change, collaboration and managing progress to really ‘transform’. They’re left with many of the same challenges but the budget has run out to do anything else.

In fact one participant passionately presented an exotic holiday destination as her analogy – she just wants to be there and not have to go through the long journey to arrive at her tropical paradise. But in reality, for digital transformation the journey is the destination and you need to take your stakeholders with you to be successful.

Colin Lees, BT’s CIO for Business & Public Sector talked about some of the painful and rewarding learning experiences in developing apps. Customer engagement is critical for him and he will only deploy apps onto a portal once they have been validated by a minimum of 1000 users. Simon Devonshire OBE pleaded for the housing leaders to take bold steps and be passionate about being innovative – now is the best time for innovation; breakthrough technology is all around us; mundane work is going to become redundant.

But in taking a fearless approach we must not assume ‘build it and they will come’ as emphasised by Jayne Hillditch from HouseMark. This was backed up by Dr Nicola Millard (BT Futurologist) who referred to the Internet of silly things – example of a clothes peg that alerts you when it is starting to rain, when your washing is on the line. Useless.

So how do you make the digital transformation journey useful? You need to take both an outside-in approach (include your customers in design) and an inside-out approach (include your users).

You need to deliver the services that your customer actually needs. An example was given where one organisation, despite going online for most public services, still expected customers to phone in for repairs when this was the best candidate for an online service. Of course there’s still the well-known mantra to consider – users don’t always know what they need. The Henry Ford analogy was referred to twice “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses”.

Internally, you must make your users aware of how what they do today impacts your customers (negatively) and how a transformed way of working will result in better outcomes for both them and your customers. This is typically about untangling the mess and joining the pieces in the puzzle together.

Perhaps with these simple approaches you just might know what you might get and plan for, when it comes to your digital transformation journey.

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