Digital Transformation: the Chief HR Officer’s dilemma

People make digital transformation a success

Their ability to effectively adopt (and adapt) digital ways of working and technology drives sustainable competitive advantage. So how can a Chief HR Officer (CHRO) transform and motivate people to realise the benefits of digital for their organisation?  Here are a few ideas…

Workforce re-skilling or up-skilling

Across social media there is talk daily of new ways to deliver projects and services. “Waterfall” approaches in particular are being seen increasingly as too cumbersome and unresponsive for both B2C and B2B customers.

But that shouldn’t mean people who are skilled and experienced in such approaches no longer have value for an organisation. If anything, it’s not the fact they use “Waterfall” that counts, rather it’s their industrialised and tacit capabilities that delivers benefit. Furthermore, should these resources choose to exit an organisation en masse, it will probably be weakened severely (possibly in terminal decline) anyway.

Consequently, re-skilling and up-skilling activities (like training or mentoring) should be cognizant of the value every person brings to the organisation – no one gets left behind.

These activities are also vital at a time when potentially many people are feeling vulnerable because they feel their skills and experience no longer fit in a rapidly changing digital world. Yet it is their competency, performance and motivation that will make digital transformation successful.

Team risk organisational culture

Innovating products and services using digital confers competitive advantage. Agile’s philosophy of “fail fast, fail often” enables such innovation. To realise the benefits of Agile-enabled innovation requires people to have the confidence to fail and learn effectively from this iterative experience.

People should also feel they are not being blamed individually when innovation fails – for digital transformation to succeed (controlled) risk and reward must be shared by the whole team. Consequently it’s essential an organisation builds genuinely integrated business and IT teams that take risks together to maximise the opportunities for innovation. This cultural value is intrinsic to helping motivate people’s performance because individuals, teams and the organisation as a whole demonstrate that they care about the same things.

Always aim for better

In an environment where people are making grand claims about their digital transformation skills it’s essential to remember that trust and authority should not be assumed; it must be earned. This approach must come from the top of an organisation and also be a key factor when recruiting resources. Only when everyone in an organisation demonstrates thought leadership and commitment to digital will such transformation succeed.

If you would like to find out more about how digital transformation can benefit your business, please leave a reply below, or contact the Sopra Steria Digital Practice.

Data: exhaust rather than oil but key to turbocharging performance

My likening data to a by-product of combustion rather than its fuel may seem strange, especially as I have argued that superior data-driven insight is the most sustainable source of competitive advantage in the knowledge economy.

Analogies can help our thinking in two ways – firstly grabbing attention to change a mind set; secondly changing the way we think to support behaviour changes. In the context of the latter, analogies are a staple for therapists – as anyone who has recently visited a physio or other therapist will probably remember. And given the continuing need for organisations to change – whether by continuous improvement or more radical transformation – analogies of the second type are a valuable enabler in business.

Data as the new oil fits into the first type of analogy. It’s memorable, signals value (both fuel and lubricant to the global economy) with some eco-friendly overtones (the age of oil is over). So it stands out. But does it help beyond that?  Not really.  There may appear to be some mileage in the refining idea. But crude oil is refined into multiple different products – jet fuel at the top end of the quality spectrum and bitumen at the bottom with petrol, diesel, gas, lubricants, marine fuel and liquified gas coming somewhere in between – all of which are then sold to different types of customers. Outside organisations that specialise in data monetisation, the data as oil analogy doesn’t really stretch into anything that has practical application.

A far more useful analogy is seeing data as digital exhaust. Automotive exhaust was originally collected and treated in catalytic converters to meet emission controls. Similarly data in organisations has traditionally been collected to meet regulatory requirements – financial reporting, compliance, etc. Catalytic converters were replaced by turbochargers which didn’t just ensure that regulatory requirements were met, they recycled exhaust emissions to improve performance.  And turbocharging technology has developed to such a level that a small car can achieve 60 mpg driving across a town while emitting cleaner air than it takes in.

In the case of digital exhaust, the turbocharger age is just beginning.  The organisations who achieve superior performance will be the ones that recycle data most effectively to reduce costs while providing a superior experience to customers (and other stakeholders), differentiating them from competitors and driving growth in revenues and investment returns.

Read my article describing how businesses can build a data turbocharger to enable insight advantage can be found here:

What are your views? Leave  a reply below or contact me by email
photo credit: TURBO R via photopin (license)

Improving outcomes with multi agency partners

I was recently speaking to a senior local government officer about her experiences of the difficulties in creating shared services and multi-agency arrangements with local organisations. We agreed that the logic of collaboration to improve performance and generate efficiencies is compelling, but in practice achieving such arrangements has proved to be more complicated. We concluded that although the business logic is often sound one of the biggest hurdles to climb is the practical issues that often have to be overcome to create collaboration.

These difficulties may surface because of differing priorities, differing funding methods, complexity or just simply due to timing.

Recently Sopra Steria has been considering how our experience in developing IT and digital solutions can support the development of the multi-agency arrangements that are becoming more and more important in improving outcomes in some of our most crucial public services. Increasingly, agencies are coming together to ensure that by working more closely together they can improve outcomes to particularly vulnerable sections of the community. We see many excellent examples of partner organisations coming together to break down traditional barriers to put the service to the customer to the fore- front.

However, as in my recent conversation, we often hear how difficult it is to achieve and also how difficult it is to achieve the desired outcomes even when arrangements are developed. It has become clear that whilst multi agency approaches are now being seen primarily to support safeguarding and protection agendas. There is also further opportunity to embed the approach across the public sector to improve wider outcomes and to perhaps support more efficient ways to deliver diverse services.

We have considered how we can best support multi agency arrangements through initiatives such as improved use of shared data to support strong business intelligence and analytics that can help to predict and understand service demand. But, in a recent thought leadership paper, we have also considered seven key steps to consider when planning and implementing a multi-agency initiative. We believe that these steps will help put multi-agency programmes on the right footing from the outset, and create an environment where the specific challenges can be openly and constructively addressed.

  1. Challenge the way things are done culturally – treat it as a cultural and business process change programme for all, rather than imposing any one approach
  2. Contain multi-agency initiatives within relatively small localities – use data analysis to agree an operational boundary based on common need, not organisational simplicity
  3. Build services around the individual – involve service users in the design process
  4. Understand stakeholder needs – build a vision that can be shared by all
  5. Think collaboratively as part of your stakeholder awareness – agree which services are best delivered together – from a strategic and operational perspective
  6. Develop data sharing protocols – agree how data about an individual will be shared securely to deliver the best results
  7. Include cross-sector partners from the public, private and third sectors – consider innovative contractual arrangements that share risk or reward outcomes

Read more in my thought leadership paper “Embedding the Multi-Agency approach” and I welcome feedback on the seven step approach and your view on whether this is useful or if we can improve it from your own experiences. Leave  a reply below or contact me by email.

Working in IT: an education

Building relationships with schools as a STEM ambassador

Following on from our attendance at Leith Academy’s STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) careers event, the opportunity arose for Sopra Steria to welcome a class of third year pupils to the Edinburgh office.

After our visit to Leith Academy, we found that the school pupils (and teacher) considered a career in IT to involve tasks similar to those of a career in admin, using standard tools such as Microsoft Office. The main objective of the day, therefore, was to broaden the pupils’ (and teacher’s!) perspective on what IT really is, as well as give them an insight into the great work that Sopra Steria does in the industry – but how were we going to do this in a way that would make them understand, and do so without being overly technical?

We developed an agenda of activities for the morning, with three separate sessions:

  1. We asked the pupils to break down an everyday activity such as the booking of flights, as we thought that this would be something the pupils would understand and would possibly have experienced first-hand at home. The idea was to break this seemingly straightforward task into its IT sub-parts, showing and explaining how data flows between them. Being an interactive and relaxed session, the pupils really got involved and they clearly found it both enjoyable and fascinating; they were previously unaware of how many different systems there are behind what they saw as a simple process and therefore had no concept of the levels of data involved.
  2. A presentation on UX delivered by Emily Walters and Lynsey Brownlow, which opened the pupils’ eyes to the idea of building good user experience and its importance in the development of well-designed software. This was a hands-on session, and got their brains ticking as they thought about the most user-friendly ways to redesign a standard yoghurt pot!
  3. The pupils were unleashed into the office to chat to members of staff about their roles in Sopra Steria. Rather than give them a set of questions, we encouraged them to think of different questions to ask. As staff from all areas of the business got involved from development through to HR, it gave them a great insight into the varying roles that are available in IT, and it was interesting to see how different members of our staff showed the pupils what they did, or how they answered their questions. It was also great to see such a buzz around the office from both the pupils and our staff!

It was clear that the pupils enjoyed their day, with positive feedback from both themselves (especially after they told us they had been looking forward to the day after looking up and researching our company and what we do) and their teacher, who was so impressed with our morning that she asked if Sopra Steria could act as Leith Academy’s STEM ambassador. This was a great achievement and conclusion of the morning and we hope that we can continue to build strong relationships not just with Leith Academy, but with other schools in Edinburgh and beyond.

Sopra Steria has since been approached about the possibility of doing days like this again; if this is something that you feel could benefit your school, please feel free to get in touch – we would be more than happy to help! You can leave a reply below, or contact me, or my colleagues Ross Graham or Stephen Readman by email.

The potential impact of digital transformation on an organisation’s strategic assets

And ways of turning them into opportunities for growth

With all the hype surrounding digital it’s easy to forget that the value such transformation creates for an organisation also poses strategic risks. This can be felt acutely in terms of its non-current assets; the fixed or intangible resources owned by an organisation that it uses to generate revenues.

Whether an organisation has made a strategic investment in digital or is competing in a market being disrupted by it, the long term value of these assets will materially change. Here are some indicative examples of such risks and the strategic opportunities they create for sustainable competitive advantage:

Property unprofitability: as customers switch to “virtual” digital channels for products and services, footfall in physical spaces like retail stores fall – yet organisations still carry the cost of maintaining these properties and supplying them with stock. This is a serious challenge right now for many of the UK supermarkets who are experiencing such increasing dis-economies of scale that could result in an unrecoverable loss of their long term profitability.

Opportunity? This could be an opportunity for diversification – reuse these physical spaces for a different, complementary purpose – like blending customer experiences with other brands to increase differentiation, and optimising and consolidating supply chains. Grocer and catalogue brands are already trialling this together in the UK. More radical moves could include re-purposing these properties to serve an expanded range of digital services – such as acting as a high street located distribution and customer service centre for goods ordered on-line or, alternatively, use them to deliver benefits for local communities or charities to help engender a positive brand image.

Equipment obsolescence: the UK public sector has seen a range of IT-enabled channel shift initiatives being implemented over the last ten to fifteen years. However, the rate of technology change has meant many of these assets have already been written off or are fast becoming obsolete. This can be seen explicitly in the vastly different attempts at centralised on-line citizen and business services implemented by the last two British governments. There is also anecdotal evidence of IT hardware being procured by UK public sector organisations that failed to realise any material benefit – for example, handheld devices that were bought in the mid noughties to help council workers carry out field work now rendered obsolete by smartphones and tablets.

Opportunity? In response, the present UK Government has redesigned the way it procures IT services with an emphasis on sharing and mitigating such risks of equipment obsolescence with suppliers, including the requirement that cost-optimised open source, configurable software and cloud hosting must be used. This application of supplier management means it’s in suppliers’ interests to ensure their procured IT services remain up to date (so they don’t become obsolete) while also materially reducing any potential write-off costs for UK Government. A further option could be to rent them from suppliers (to remove the risk of equipment obsolescence) although this could create other complex, unfeasible risks for UK Government about the ownership and liabilities of such rented services.

Intangibles overvaluation:  in this “social media hungry” age where reputation is everything, intangibles are critical assets for any organisation’s growth. These non physical, long-term resources (including licences, software and brand) help an organisation to grow and retain market share. Yet digital disrupters have successfully eroded the value and useful life of these intangibles in many sectors – most noticeably in Telecoms where fixed-line voice licences, text messaging services (i.e., software) and brand, are rapidly losing strategic value as customer loyalty evaporates. In response, many Telcos are pursuing an aggressive ‘digital first’ strategy to drive differentiation and cost optimisation – yet further consolidation of these businesses looks inevitable.

Opportunity? A digital disrupter’s strength comes from leveraging new ways to interact with customers and suppliers without having to make a fundamental change to the underlying product or service. Arguably its weakness is that it can be easily imitated by existing market incumbents (providing they can move fast enough) using a cost or differentiation focus. For example, they “reconfigure” existing intangible assets to engage specific market segments in new innovative ways the disrupters don’t offer because they can’t “change” the product or service itself. Some UK Telcos are proactively targeting B2B market segments with Internet of Everything (IoE) services by leveraging the value of their existing brand and licenced network capabilities. A bolder move could be to exit unprofitable markets like B2C and use these savings to create new “digital intangibles” (such as an IoE design service, apps development, social media branding) to drive strong strategic partnerships with specific B2B clients.

What strategic risks and opportunities do you think organisations face as digital continues to penetrate all sectors? Please share your feedback below.

For more information about Digital Transformation please contact the Sopra Steria Digital Practice.

Demystifying UX: it’s just like riding a bike

What is UX design?

Ever since the term “UX” (User Experience) design started being used a number of years ago there has been a bit of confusion, especially with clients, as to what UX design actually means. We can explain the methods and processes that we use, but it has always been a bit of a vague description.

The main confusion tends to be that people think that UX design is just a fancy name for (UI) User Interface design. It’s very easy to see how this could seem the case. A lot of the deliverables that a UX designer produces can be very similar to that of a UI designer, but there is also a lot more work going on behind the scenes that is done to produce results that are not as easy to see.

How can we clear this up?

There is always a difficulty in creating a mental model of a digital product. Even with digital products that we use every day, such as email. We tend to default to the visual cues of the product, the email or the inbox, when describing its processes, even though there is a huge amount going on in the background.

One of the reasons for this is that digital products are intangible. We can’t easily lift open the lid and see how all the gears fit together, so this makes it difficult to describe how they work and what they do.

It is a lot easier to explain what a physical product does, because it’s a lot easier to show how it does it. It’s more straight forward to open the back of a clock and see how the bits fit together than to show someone code and explain how it fits together.

A better way to describe what UX design is, would then be to relate it to a physical object that everyone can relate to, and explain how the design of the product is changed to create an experience for the user.

The product

Let’s take a bicycle. It’s a simple product that has been produced for many years and that everyone can relate to. When someone mentions the word “bicycle” or “bike” there is instant recognition as the shape of the product forms in the mind. No more information is provided at this stage, but with what limited information is available, a model is constructed.

The products components

As with any product there are different components that come together on a bike to create the whole. Some of these components the user interacts with directly, while others are there to allow the bike to perform its function. The user interacts with the handlebars, which  turn the front wheel, which steers the bike. While the user does not interact directly with the wheel, the effect they supply at the handlebars directly influences the wheel, which causes a change of direction.

Using this analogy, the cyclist’s interfaces with a bike are all the areas with which they actually interact to perform the task of cycling. These include the handlebars, the seat, the brake levers and the pedals. The other areas of the bike are what could be described as the “back-end system”. These are the components that control how the bike actually works, and the tasks that it performs. Examples of these are the wheels and bearings, the forks, the gears and the chain or the brake cables and pads.

On a bike it’s very easy to see how all these elements connect together to form a whole product, and how a user can interact with the product to create their end user experience – cycling.

How can the experience of “cycling” be designed?

It’s easy to understand what cycling is, but quite an abstract concept to explain. There are lots of elements incorporated into the experience of cycling that go beyond just the experience of interacting with the bike as a product.

The experience includes the feeling of speed, the wind rushing past, the feeling of leaning into the turn going around a corner, the muscle soreness from pedalling and the feeling of cruising along a smooth piece of road. This experience is the culmination of a number of factors including the product, the cyclist and external factors such as the gradient, the type of surface and the speed at which they are cycling.

This means that it doesn’t make sense to say that we are designing “the experience” as much as we’re designing with the experience in mind. We want the experience to be positive, but we can’t force it to be.

Designing without UX

A product like a bike can be designed without using UX design. It would involve being provided with a brief from the client and creating it with the information available.

A designer could have seen a bike before, or cycled a bike before, or even designed a bike before, so they would have in idea of what a bike should look like, and how it should work. They would pull on that experience and create a prototype that fulfils the requirements set down and with which the client is happy. It has handlebars, pedals, a seat, wheels, gears, chains and brakes: everything that the user needs for the bike to work and for them to be able to cycle on it. The client makes a few changes to the design, and the prototype is created into a product.

This method of design can create a usable product, and can create the experience of “cycling” for the user, but we don’t know if the experience is a good one. There are a number of factors that were not considered and, as such, might mean the user having an unpleasant cycling experience.

Designing with UX

Some of what is mentioned above also applies to designing with UX. Once provided with a brief from the client, the designer may have a rough idea of what a bike could look like based on their previous experience. This would not, however, be the design that the client sees. There are other steps that will influence the design before then.

The first step is to ask the client why they want to produce a bike? Who are they making it for? Who is the target audience? What are the goals for the business when producing a bike? All companies need to sell their products to make profit so that they can continue to operate, although some have very different reasons for doing so.

For this example, let’s say that the target market is 16 to 24-year old males, and the company wants to make a profit by selling enough of their bikes, but they also want the target market to associate their brand with well-designed, solid products that perform at a high level. This information can be used to create “personas”, which gives the designer a reference point for all the design decisions that they make throughout the project. It is to ensure that they are designing for the user, not for the client or themselves.

Now that we know who target market, and the business goals for the product, we can start to research what the target market want from the product, and how competitors that already have the desired brand image have achieved that goal.

User research with the target market will discover that a large number of 16 – 24-year old males are interested in mountain biking. This includes cross country, trail and downhill mountain biking that can be done all over the country, and also at specific specialised areas in forests and national parks.

The competitor analysis of other companies in the area shows that those who produce quality, high-performing products use strong, solid and light materials, and have put their products through rigorous tests to prove that they perform at the highest levels. Research into these products give the designer an idea of what designs have proved to work successfully, and can influence the product that they are creating.

Using this information, the designer can begin to create a prototype that is tailored to the target market and the task identified, is using the appropriate materials, and is using known effective design solutions. The designer will also pull on their own experiences from previous products that they have worked on and incorporate them where appropriate.

This prototype is then tested with users in the target user group and in the environment where it is most likely to be used. It is unlikely that the first design created will be the most optimal, so the feedback provided from this testing is fed back into the design followed by further cycles of testing and design iteration until the design is the best that it can possibly be. Only then will the design be put into production and the final product created for sale.

However, this isn’t the end of the product life cycle. The designer should take feedback from those who have bought and used the product extensively to see how it can be improved, and release regular updates to the product, creating versions 2, 3 and beyond, getting closer and closer to providing the best cycling experience for the cyclist.

Just like riding a bike

It’s clear that the bike produced using the non UX method will create a bicycle – it will have handlebars, a seat, wheels and all the other components that make up a bike, but if it was used in the same scenario as the one that was produced using the UX design method, then the experience for cyclist will be very different.

So, UX is just like riding a bike, but the experience can vary quite a lot depending on the bike.

What do you think? Leave a reply below or contact me by email with your thoughts.

The “observer effect” applied to digital transformation

A different take on GDS’s Performance Platform

The “observer effect” states that whatever you observe, by the very act of observation, it changes. Developing tools to measure the performance of a digital transformation – such as the GDS Performance Platform – is a key step of any transformation journey itself, as it can accelerate the process and guide it to bear positive outcomes.

The act of measuring is change itself

In science, the term “observer effect” refers to changes that the act of observation will make on a phenomenon being observed. This is often the result of instruments that, by necessity, alter the state of what they measure in some manner. A commonplace example is checking the pressure in a car’s tyre: this is difficult to do without letting out some of the air, thus changing the pressure.

The GDS’s Performance Platform

Started as a simple dashboard to display web traffic data on gov.uk, the Government Digital Service (GDS) Performance Platform has now become a key tool that gives departments the ability to monitor the performance of their digital services in real time, aggregating data from a range of sources including web analytics, survey and finance data.

The digital by default service standard – a set of criteria for all government services to meet – now mandates the following four key performance indicators (KPIs): cost per transaction, user satisfaction, completion rate, digital take-up. These KPIs can be used to measure the success of a service and to support decisions and planning of improvements.

Similar to the tyre pressure, the very act of measuring those indicators is influencing and accelerating the transformation process, focusing the departments’ attention to delivering efficiency and quality of service to citizens. This is a key enabler of any transformation journey and it will be interesting to see how far the Performance Platform will go in the coming years.

(Note: although this example is specific to the public sector, the above is easily applicable to private organisations too – this will the subject of another blog post).

Where next? The difference between performance and evaluation

Performance measurement and evaluation are complementary activities. Evaluation gives meaning to performance measurement and performance measurement gives empirical rigour (evidence) to evaluation.

Performance measurements do not question the objectives themselves and, therefore, stop short of any final judgement as to whether the programme or activity was good or bad – only if it was successful (or not) within the narrow confines of its mandate.

The current debate on Gov2.0/Government as a Platform is precisely around the purpose of governments in the 21st century, with two schools of thoughts arguing that it’s the profitable thing to do or, well, it’s the right thing to do.

Although a clear approach on how to evaluate the impacts this approach will have on the wider society is not yet agreed, tools such as the Performance Platform can and will inform and support this discussion.

What do you think? Does this capture the distinction between programme evaluation and performance measurement – or is there a lot more to it? Is your organisation measuring the performance of its transformation? Leave a reply below, or contact me by email.