How can a Chief Digital Officer make a difference to C-Suite?

Digital transformation offers a range of benefits for your organisation’s C-Suite and their business areas. However these stakeholders will also have legitimate concerns about its implementation.

It’s the role of the Chief Digital Officer (CDO) to empower and support the following senior managers to address the people, process and technology challenges to maximise the chances of success.

Chief Finance Officer: For a CFO, digital transformation offers a potential “rapid” return on investment because it delivers benefits incrementally versus a big bang approach. This Agile approach also helps spreads organisational risk because it drives ownership of digital across all business areas.

However, accounting for rapid service change can be problematic because it’s hard to distinguish CapEx and OpEx budgets from each other (is website optimisation a transformative or business as usual activity, for example?). Consequently it can be harder to trace financial/bottom line benefits to such change – an issue further exacerbated by limited benchmarks and other evidence being currently available about successful digital transformation. Is it all true good to be true?

To address this, the CDO should take ownership of the strategic benefits case for digital transformation in collaboration with the Chief Finance Officer and be responsible (and accountable) for ensuring its effective realisation with the whole of C-Suite.

Chief Marketing Officer: A CMO will want to use capabilities enabled by digital transformation to deliver (big) data powered personalisation of products and services to customers. This blending of customer and user experience design together creates responsive aligned sales channels that should increase competitiveness in disruptive uncertain markets.

Such transformation may require a costly re-branding exercise and the organisation itself may not be able to move quick enough to deliver these benefits before competitors start imitating such innovation and steal market share. Furthermore, social media customer engagement poses reputational risks that if mishandled could damage the organisation’s brand permanently.

The CDO should be constantly selling (evangelising?) the benefits of digital for customers and employees to drive buy-in of digital transformation from C-Suite. Key to this is the CDO using social media to personally spread this message (and commitment) constantly, consistently to market and internal stakeholders. In addition the CDO should proactively lead service and product innovation to help the CMO maximise the full benefits of digital.

Chief Operating Officer: The COO will like the way digital transformation empowers employees at all levels to deliver greater organisational efficiency and effectiveness. This includes the required breaking down of business and IT silos to realise new ways of working using digital technology. These strategic benefits include the design and implementation of a future proof operating model that can meet further market disruption and technologies.

But the COO may find such change highly challenging because it probably means a fundamental redesign of parts of the whole organisation – a major pain point could be the existing IT legacy systems that have to be adapted or worse yet replaced to enable such capabilities. Further problems could also arise from having to deliver high, unrealistic expectations for big data and analytics. Other people and process issues may also present blockers to success (for example incumbent teams having to transition from Waterfall to Agile).

In response the CDO needs to take a thought leadership and implementation role in the design and realisation of a new digital operating model with the COO. Part of this role is providing “hands on” management consultancy capabilities required to successfully implement a model that addresses these technology, people and process challenges. This will make the CDO a critical friend and partner with the COO in delivering successful digital transformation.

Chief HR Officer: Like the rest of C-Suite the CHRO will want to realise the people benefits of greater employee empowerment, integrated working and building of internal capabilities. Not only should digital transformation increase market competitiveness, it should have a positive impact on employee development opportunities, morale and performance.

Yet given the immaturity of digital transformation such business change could be problematic – existing employees may lack the skills and confidence for it to be successful. Training such resources may also be costly and set unrealistic expectations for their performance. Recruiting for new specialist roles (like Data Scientist or Agile Coach for example) could be challenging as there is limited supply right now in the labour market for these resources and high demand is pushing up/inflating salary expectations.

Both the CDO and CHRO need to have a deep understanding of these business change and HR issues. Key to addressing them is having the CDO apply market insight to help find the right best practice approach to up-skilling and training while also leveraging networking contacts to help find the right resources. The CDO must play a material positive supporting role to the CHRO to get people in the right place to deliver Digital Transformation.

Chief Digital Officer – potential benefits for C-Suite:

  • Digital strategy and benefits management/ownership
  • Evangelist driving buy-in and innovation
  • CX/UX target operating model design and implementation
  • HR and business change in-house consultancy

How can a CDO maximise the benefits of Digital Transformation for your organisation?

If you would like to find out more about the role of the Chief Digital Officer in C-Suite please leave a reply below, or contact the Sopra Steria Digital Practice.

What IT service management can learn from CrossFit

Six months ago, when my children told me I was “great to bounce on”, I decided to sign up at the local CrossFit gym. I’d heard from friends that it was a good way to get in shape fast. CrossFit has a reputation for being somewhat tribal, with participants enthusiastically cheering, back-slapping and wearing garishly coloured clothes, so it was with some trepidation that I signed up for the induction to my local ‘box’ and set myself on a course to…

Forge. Elite. Fitness.

Two days later, it hit me hard. I couldn’t bend down far enough to put my socks on. Even brushing my teeth hurt! My head was full of acronyms such as WOD, AMRAP and EMOM and strange expressions such as “I totally RX’d Linda today, but I know I can lift more on the clean.” In short, I was a confused and broken mess. But something inside me clicked. I liked it and strangely, I embraced the pain. I was hooked.

I gave myself a week to recover and then bit the bullet and stepped back into the fray, partly because of what it could help me achieve over the longer term. I knew results wouldn’t come quickly, but with perseverance I was sure I could reach my objectives.

As weeks have turned to months, I’m still going, getting fitter, faster and starting to become a little less bouncy around the midriff. It still hurts, but I push past this and keep going because the will to succeed outweighs my desire to be a children’s trampoline.

For me, IT Service Management sometimes feels the same.

Bonding through adversity

It can get pretty intense in the box. Everybody is competing against themselves and the pain is very real even though the barriers to success are often more psychological than physical. A strong spirit of gym camaraderie is essential in getting the best out of everyone. Encouragement and praise is plentiful and audible; this helps maintain commitment and energy levels even when the going gets really tough.

It’s the same in an operations team that works in a fast paced, high pressure environment; a strong team spirit is essential in maintaining throughput of work and ensuring the team does not burn out. Give support to your colleagues, whether it’s a pat on the back, a well-timed joke or a few beers, it can make the difference between a team coping and falling apart. Get to know one another, trust each other, and enjoy working together.

Speaking a foreign language

“What on earth is an AMRAP?! You jerked what?! Your favourite Girl is Nicole?!” Such are the musings of a CrossFit newbie, as the acronyms and bizarre phraseology make CrossFit initially impenetrable.

IT Service Management (ITSM) can be just as bad. To the non-initiated, the fact that an issue is not the same as an incident which is not the same as a problem can be something of a conundrum. ITSM has an abundance of acronyms, abbreviations, and terminology that means nothing to your average developer, let alone the Chief Finance Officer (when you are trying to explain why you need £10K for that critical but under-performing SAN array).

I don’t think that’s a bad thing. Sometimes it helps to feel you belong to a private club that shares the same goal and interest. Having a common language helps us talk in a consistent and professional manner.

Scaling enables continuous output

At its most basic, scaling is the use of tools or alternative techniques to make CrossFit exercises easier and is particularly useful when you are starting out. Many routines (such as pull-ups) are beyond the reach of most mortals, so anything that makes the job a little bit easier is a godsend. It’s not cheating; it simply allows you to progress at your own pace and, most importantly, maintain it.

Going lighter isn’t the enemy to CrossFit. Stopping mid-workout is.

This is equally true of ITSM, where the ability to consistently deliver and maintain throughput is key to successful operations. Overburden a vital function and you might as well rip up that forward schedule of change.

We need to scale our operations. The use of tools to automate processes can pay massive dividends through the release of resource. If a process is slowing you down, make it more efficient. This doesn’t have to involve full blown Lean-ITSM. The removal of just one redundant step could mean the difference between getting that change deployed on time and missing the deadline. Consistent throughput of work though the removal of constraints is the key here.

Again, but faster

CrossFit is about getting stronger, faster, leaner and tougher. Athletes achieve this by performing an activity, analysing their performance, and then seeking to improve on this the next time round. CrossFit continuously encourages you to try to go that little bit harder, push that little bit more and find that last little pocket of energy you didn’t even realise you had.

ITSM should be like this. We face criticism for being overly bureaucratic, cumbersome, expensive or ineffective. These criticisms are not without merit and, like my ever-expanding waistline before CrossFit, are often the result of apathy and a reluctance to look introspectively for the source of the problem.

Continuous improvement processes should strive to first understand the baseline. Once this has been established, they must analyse the system to find out what can be added, removed, refined or improved to accelerate the flow of work. Then rinse and repeat. The team should always be challenging itself to go faster and improve performance but not at the expense of the overall machine. The value chain is only as efficient as its weakest link, so focus on the least efficient components first and make sure that when you cut out the fat, you are not losing some of the muscle with it.

“Having arms like Arnie won’t help you run any faster!”

Shout it out

“There’s only one rule of CrossFit and that’s that you never, ever, stop talking about CrossFit!”

CrossFit people can get a little obsessed and it does have a tendency to border on the intolerable for non-CrossFitters.

In my career I’ve come across a lot of ITIL* evangelists; hardcore supporters of the cause, unwilling to accept that there may be other ways of working or that, just perhaps, full blown change control isn’t required to reboot that printer in the lobby. But ITIL and ITSM is something to get passionate about. When I first found ITIL it was nothing short of a revelation. Here was an approach that allowed IT organisations to shine, add value and actively demonstrate, with meaningful metrics, how and why they were doing a good job and making a difference.

ITIL has come a long way since then, and now has global support in industry, but we shouldn’t be devout followers, deaf to all criticism. ITSM practices need to adapt if they are to keep pace with cloud, digital, and similar emerging technologies.

We have built ITIL and helped to promote the ITSM movement that has radically transformed the way that businesses have operated IT and it’s just as relevant now as it ever was, if we keep it fresh.

That is some achievement and, just like CrossFit, I think that is worth shouting about.

What do you think? Leave a reply below, or contact me by email.

(* ITIL – formerly known as the Information Technology Infrastructure Library)

Blending Kipling with stakeholders to gain Insight Advantage

Rudyard Kipling is an unlikely candidate as a guru of Insight Advantage. But as a Nobel Laureate for Literature, he understood the role curiosity plays in firing the imagination. Both curiosity and imagination are as important now as when Kipling was at his creative peak and wrote “I keep six honest serving-men” – essentially his recipe for creativity.

In our white paper on How to Improve Business Performance with POST-Digital Capabilities, Elliot Howard, John Batchelor and I outlined the importance of customer curiosity, a term first coined by Elliot. We wrote:

“Customer curiosity extends beyond simple customer centricity, it incorporates constant focus on improving insights into customers so that why they behave as they do is as well understood as the more easily identified what, where, when and how elements of behaviour. It requires a culture of experimentation. Experiments create new data and new insights. And ultimately customer curiosity is about creating an increasingly rich data profile for each customer.”

In essence, customer curiosity boils down to asking questions – more importantly, asking the right questions. And while customers are the most important stakeholder group a business has, they are not the only one. Insight Advantage stems from curiosity about each stakeholder group – how they can be better served and gain created as a result.

The second article in my series on Insight Advantage describes how you can blend Kipling’s honest serving-men with stakeholder theory to identify the questions that you should be asking, rather than simply asking the ones that you know can be readily answered.

What do you think? Leave a comment below or contact me by email.

Three ways to tell if your digital strategy is moving in the right direction

So you have a digital strategy in place and being implemented. It’s early days and things seem to be moving in the right direction… but you’re not so sure?

Here are some ways to help quickly assess if your planned business transformation will deliver the right customer and business benefits in the end:

1. Assess senior managers’ understanding of the agreed business case

Different managers and their business areas will need digital to deliver different benefits for it to be considered a success. But all should have a shared, consistent vision about why your business is making this major investment. Ask your senior team individually to briefly explain the key reasons and intended outcomes of your organisation’s agreed digital strategy – any material differences (or lack of understanding) could indicate some fundamental issues with implementation at this early stage.

Worse yet, if a senior manager answers by only referring you to your Chief Digital Officer (or equivalent) to explain what’s going on there could be some serious issues about their buy in to the whole enterprise!

2. Consider how dependent success is on mobile

SMAC (social, mobile, analytics and cloud) are arguably considered to be the key integrated capabilities businesses must have to successfully compete today. It’s likely your digital strategy will include these elements with a focus on mobile as the main platform to deliver the right customer and employee experience.

However, there could be a risk that your strategy makes your proposition to market too reliant upon mobile to remain competitive (while taking for granted or neglecting your wider value chain). This is especially important given this platform is subject to further disruption and challenges from other emerging technologies (most notably, wearables).

One way to test this is to review your strategy’s effectiveness without mobile  – how hard would other assets in your digital mix like social, analytics and cloud have to “sweat” to deliver a comparable (or better) customer experience? How adaptive are they to different platforms apart from mobile?

The customer is king; mobile is king. Removing this focus enables the identification of potential gaps in your digital strategy that could be turned into opportunities to integrate these wider SMAC capabilities deeper into your value chain to drive sustainable competitive advantage.

3. Compare your digital strategy’s transformation roadmap to your previous change programmes

Like any other large scale business transformation programme there is a risk you might be trying to deliver too much change too quickly – an initiative overload that results in failure.

Digital transformation is about adopting new ways of working using the right technology to differentiate the customer or employee experience and optimise costs – the same ultimate goals of any business strategy. This means you can and should regularly compare the progress of your digital strategy implementation to previous experience to assess its ongoing performance and feasibility. Continually applying your own baseline understanding/insight of your organisation’s people, processes and technology capabilities should help mitigate delivery risks and enable you to realise the right tangible business benefits from digital.

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.

Northern powerhouse: devolution steps up a gear

So what’s all this fuss about a Northern Powerhouse?

The phrase conjures up images of JB Priestley’s polluted industrial landscapes, dark satanic mills, flat caps and ferrets, but this could not be further from the truth. We are talking about corridors of power from Liverpool, through Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield to Hull and Newcastle, based on investment in better infrastructure and building upon the physical and cultural renaissance in the major northern cities.

Lord knows that the regular drivers of trans-Pennine M62 and the rail commuters from Liverpool to Hull will be crying hallelujah for the investment in the connections between cities. Never have so many people languished for so long in the packed carriages and car park mimicking roads of the UK countryside. In Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne’s words: “The transport network in the north is simply not fit for purpose.” It is quicker to travel the 283 miles from London to Paris by train than it is to travel less than half that distance between Liverpool and Hull.

Within 40 miles of Manchester, you have Leeds, Sheffield and Liverpool, Lancashire, Cheshire and Yorkshire – a belt of cities and towns that contains ten million people – more than Tokyo, New York or London. Sopra Steria’s base in Cheshire supports activity in the public and private sectors, delivering digital solutions to global and regional business problems on a local basis.

But it’s more than investment in the physical environment, it’s also about the devolution of powers to the region. A Minister for the Northern Powerhouse working within the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG), a Teeside MP James Wharton, was appointed by government in February and he will oversee the devolving of powers over skills, housing, police, health as well as transport to the northern region. Within a month an interim Mayor will be appointed by council bosses to lead the Greater Manchester Combined Authority before the election of a successor in 2017.

Mr Osborne has promised just over £11m to invest in tech incubators in Manchester, Leeds and Sheffield to support SMEs to grow into the engine of the northern powerhouse. Further investment has been promised for a Fintech Innovation Hub focusing on the financial service. His Tech Nation report published in February, noted the 170,000 currently working in digital business. The Budget announcement detailed further investment and support that could be called upon to deliver:

More than ever before, the advantages that digital can bring will need to be applied with vigour. The perceived disadvantages of distance from the financial and business markets of central London will need to be foreshortened through virtual cosiness. The vibrancy of northern business will need to radiate across electronic networks to attract further investment and growth on a global basis to prevent leaching from other UK regions. Devolved development is all about placing the whole of the UK on a higher platform for economic performance.

The public sector could benefit from this burgeoning of local digital business and innovation as it will face major challenges to meet the demands of the northern citizenry while managing within an ever tightening public purse. The Greater Manchester Combined Authority will be fully responsible for how this transformation of the public services unfolds, and the scrutiny of this change will be acute, particularly with the health and social care services at a cost of £6bn. Other regions, such as Wales, have felt this high degree of scrutiny over their stewardship of health services and been found lacking, so the achievement bar is high.

The potential is there for a Northern Powerhouse, supported by digital innovation, emerging and pioneering business and local democratic muscle, that develops its own wealth-generation and shapes public services to reflect the needs of their local communities.

What are your thoughts? Leave a comment below or contact me by email.

New kids on the blockchain

At Sopra Steria we often talk about a world ‘beyond digital’. This is so that we can help our clients to prepare themselves and their organisations for the challenges they are likely to face looking out three to five years into the future.

I shared some of the topics we have identified for a world beyond digital with an audience of digital and eCommerce professionals at a Thought Leaders of the North West event a couple of weeks ago. Our themes seemed to resonate with those in the room prompting plenty of discussion and debate.

One theme attracting a lot of interest was the ongoing challenge we face in the world of Information Security, where we see protection from attack being built into new products and services from the ground up rather than as an afterthought.

We also see an emerging era of unprecedented corporate responsiveness and agility as industry giants look to iterate their business models ‘on-the-fly’ in response to unforeseen threats and attacks in the way Sony Pictures did recently in immediately releasing ‘The Interview’ to digital channels and abandoning its plans for a full theatrical release.

Disintermediation is another concept having an immediate impact on the way we live, work and do business. Services such as Uber and AirB’n’B are already beginning to transform different aspects of the travel industry through their creative use of the crowd, the cloud and the semantic web.

In financial services we see the ‘blockchain’ threatening to disintermediate the traditional banking industry as Bitcoin continues to gain profile and transacting in such crypto-currencies nudges its way ever closer to the mainstream.

“whilst barriers to entry are very low, barriers to mass acceptance remain incredibly high”

It was in this field, at a second technology event I attended recently that I witnessed a tense debate between an established retail bank and an up-and-coming Bitcoin podcaster.

The bank, when talking about FinTech start-ups looking to establish themselves in the emerging global Bitcoin economy, outside of a traditionally regulated banking industry, suggested that “whilst barriers to entry are very low, barriers to mass acceptance remain incredibly high”, which is the kind of thing they used to say in the music industry in the 1990s.

Nevertheless, the power of the ‘blockchain’, the virtual ledger where the crowd validates transactions without the assistance of traditional banking infrastructure and regulation, may actually be found beyond Bitcoin trading, as new and emerging use cases emerge for this technology bring it further into many people’s lives.

One such service which could be leveraged by the blockchain may be that of personal data broking, where citizens take control of the value of their own personal data and begin to firmly negotiate with local and global organisations alike based on the value of their own data as derived from their own connections, online activity and their extended social graph.

Sopra Steria is working with some of the world’s most exciting start-ups in exploring these concepts, as these ‘new kids on the blockchain’ begin to collaborate with us and our clients as, together, we continue to play a vital role in the transformation of business for a world ‘beyond digital’.

We’d love to hear how you think ‘blockchain’ technology will transform our lives. Leave a reply below, contact me by email, tim.difford@soprasteria.com or on Twitter, @timdifford

Photo: used and modified under Creative Commons license thanks to BTCKeychain

Virtual robot workers and the impact on my pension plan

Sadly, I’ve reached the age where I am beginning to count how many years it is until I can start to draw my pension. Most days it’s a number far too close as I generally still love my job, although occasionally other days do have me dreaming that it was tomorrow.

My years of experience (!) in designing and running large back offices in the banking sector have seen me live through the centralisation of these back office functions, their subsequent outsourcing, followed by panicked in-sourcing when the wind or accountable exec changed, the drive towards off-shoring and, most recently, the delight of handling an 800-seat partial on-shoring project for a client.

For each one of those, the primary business case rationale was a step change reduction in the cost of the operating model, with CX being a nice to have secondary benefit when the business case needed a more politically acceptable feel to it!

What I couldn’t see was “what next” in the step change evolution of the back office.

That was held to be true until I reluctantly deputised for my boss at a meeting last year and was formally introduced to the world of virtual workforce robots, and an epiphany happened!

At its most simple level this is a piece of software that emulates the actions of a human in an operational process – once configured/trained, each virtual instance of an FTE is fully scalable, 100% trained, 100% accurate, and is available up to 100% of each 24 hour day.

Depending on your cost base and its location, these virtual wonders can also do the same volume of processing for as little as 1/9th of the cost of a human.

With our partners at Blue Prism, Sopra Steria has developed a Lean Robotic Automation (LPA) proposition, coalescing our deep capability in Lean process management and Blue Prism’s software wizardry.

We are still at a relatively early stage in deployment both internally and externally but watch this space – every commentator and analyst in the marketplace recognises virtual robots as playing a significant part in all our clients thinking within 12 months.

As for my pension plans, they’re on hold for a while – I’ve a target audience in the UK alone of around 8,000,000 jobs to try and automate!

What do you think about the role virtual robots will play in operational processes? Leave a reply below or contact me by email.