Transformation is the new order. Whether it is the physical layer or the cloud, IT chiefs in the enterprise sector are overrun with vendors promising solutions wrapped in transformation-led messages. What does it all really mean and is there really any consensus on how transformation is defined by enterprise IT professionals in Australia?
IT leaders from Sydney and Melbourne were invited by CIO Australia, Computer Merchants and IBM to discuss what defines transformation and how it impacts their businesses. The result offers valuable insights into areas of commonality as well as differences across the spread of verticals. All participants shared details on what constitutes a transformational effort in their business, what needs have to be met and how to tackle the technical and cultural challenges involved.
For David Leong, CIO at law firm Arnold Bloch Leibler, technology transformation means unsolicited disruptive change and doing things completely differently.
“From an ICT perspective, we are changing how we deliver services and solutions. We are essentially moving towards a subscription/consumption-based hosted services approach and organising ourselves to meet user expectations. The key drivers are higher demands, tighter timeframes and an ‘always available’ mindset.”
Transformation is about staying relevant and surviving, said Computer Merchants’ managing director , Norm Jefferies.
“While transformation has always been necessary, the speed of disruption in the digital era means that organisations must transform quicker than they have in the past with a focus on automation and speed.”
“We are looking for ways to increase our market share, improve customer satisfaction or lower the cost of doing business. Almost every week we implement two or three innovations ranging from simple and quick system improvements to larger scale projects like creating mobile apps that interface with our ERP system to assist customers and staff.”
For Probuild Constructions, digital transformation means having the ability to trial any application and access it anywhere at any time, while not being concerned with datacentres or physical machines, said group IT manager, Adrian Stagg.
In recent years, Probuild removed its datacentre and transitioned all services to the cloud. The strategy included moving to Office 365 to reduce costs and address a lack of internal infrastructure skills across the business, and shifting its disaster recovery infrastructure to Microsoft Azure to improve performance of the underlying database.
Improving client service and allowing staff to better collaborate are the hallmarks of good transformation for chartered accountants and advisory firm, William Buck.
“Technology transformation is anything that has an impact on client service and experience through a change related to technology, business process mapping and automation,” said IT manager, Lalitha Koya.
Over the past two years, William Buck has standardised and simplified IT by rolling out infrastructure-as-a-service and software-as-a-service platforms.
Key projects resulting from this include the roll out of a cloud-based document management system, migrating entire workloads to the cloud, and standardising internal business processes through automation, added Koya.
Driving transformation in healthcare and seeking high impact improvements is the focus for The George Institute for Global Health. This takes a variety of approaches including research leading to better evidence-based clinical guidelines, conducting rigorous clinical trials and developing innovative tools for clinicians and patients.
“These invariably all heavily leverage technology and key technology facilitators for our transformation goals which include statistical analysis and data mining; data, process, and quality management systems; knowledge management, and collaboration tools,” said Dr John Wastell, director, global information and technology, The George Institute for Global Health.
“They also include mobile app development [tools and capabilities] all in the context of highly dependable delivery,” he added.
Mobile apps have the potential to drive major transformation in health. This is central to a number of projects where the healthcare organisation develops an app and then conducts rigorous scientific evaluation of its efficacy in improving outcomes, said Wastell.
“Examples include a study in Iran focusing on home care disease management and decision support; aiding village health workers in India with clinical decision support tools; and studies in Australia seeking to improve treatment adherence of patients with chronic cardio vascular disease.”
The organisation has also created an app focused on the prevention of diet-related ill-health which has been deployed across several countries.
“In addition to mobile apps, we have significantly transformed our core technology to ensure it delivers to the highest standards. This is particularly relevant where sensitive medical and trial data is involved. It is also relevant to ensure all of our staff are empowered with secure and reliable tools needed to support their effectiveness.”
The use of technology to completely transform the operation of a business is not without its cultural challenges. People do not necessarily like change and IT chiefs need to tread carefully to overcome push back from staff when new technologies are introduced.
Facilities service provider Assetlink Group is currently working on a digitisation project that involves eliminating paper-based forms and double handling of field data. A portal also improves client engagement by providing up-to-date and personalised information.
The cultural piece is always challenging, said Hani Arab, the company’s CIO.
“We had a good contingent who know we needed to improve, but managing their operational duties and giving priority to invest in a new process and technology was a struggle,” said Arab.
“We overcame this by ensuring the ICT team regularly visited sites, shadowed operation team members, and provided immediate support as required. Over 3 to 5 visits per site, there was a much greater uptake of the new solution,” he said.
Computer Merchants overcomes cultural challenges related to digital transformation by involving “absolutely everyone in the business,” said Jefferies.
“Ensuring that we have lots of little projects that can be done quickly means that change itself is always happening – people who put forward ideas get to see them realised quickly and are more likely to put forward more ideas,” he added.
“We have ended up with a culture which looks forward to and enjoys change so much that our technical team is walking taller because they are seen as champions instead of a cost centre.”
Managing employees’ fear that may exist as a result of continued technology transformation is one of the most important cultural challenges faced by organisations in the engineering industry, said Norman Disney & Young’s IT director, Frank Italia.
These fears are largely a result of poor communication, he said.
“Clear and well-articulated reasons that support why the change is needed are critical for effective implementation. Not only will this help employees be comfortable with the change, it also enables them to communicate effectively with clients about the benefits of the changes, and set appropriate expectations as needed.”
Another major requirement is to create a business structure that supports the change and get a firm commitment from the business leadership to champion the change, said Italia.
“To have buy-in from all stakeholders you must have engaged staff and employees for the proposed solution to succeed.”
Culture and strategy
Taking people on the journey with you is often the biggest challenge, said Heather Santin, IT manager at Ansvar Insurance. It often takes some time to realise that using a new technology means replacement of old technology, she said.
“So often the introduction of a change or new solution is perceived as something extra that needs to be done. Show the before and after ‘side by side’ using a diagram, quite simply as a traditional time consuming method and compare to the simplicity of the new solution,” she said.
“Responses can vary as some appreciate what is new while others are concerned that the value they were providing may be lost. The people with great pride in their work may be slower to embrace the new but once transitioned are the greatest advocates.”
Probuild Constructions’ Stagg added that the biggest challenges during the organisation’s transformation projects was helping people understand what technology change meant to the company.
“Internal cultural issues revolved around end user impacts. ‘What do I need to do differently?’ was and is still a common question,” said Stagg.
“There is a financial change to the way in which IT is funded from a lumpy capital outlay to a regular operational pay-as-you-go service. One of the challenges is often moving a workload from one place to another which is not as important as long as it keeps working. So, sometimes, justifying activity in this space requires great skills in the boardroom.”
Branko Ceran, CIO at Cancer Council NSW, said during the not-for-profit’s digital transformation projects, staff commented that business as usual operations were fine and IT wasn’t broken. They questioned the need for change.
“Previous transformations didn’t necessarily achieve the outcomes expected so there were hesitancies with starting the tech transformation,” he said.
Following the organisation’s recent transformation staff are now more mobile and spend more time with customers at events or raising awareness. This transformation is different as it appeals to the interests of relevant stakeholders, Ceran said.
As the roundtable discussion concluded, it was clear that each digital transformation journey is unique. It is important for CIOs to communicate to business leaders the importance of developing short- and long-term KPIs, identifying distinctive IT pain points, and then pursuing investments according to that structure. Investment in digital technologies for the sake of it – or because your competitor did so – will never be as valuable an expenditure as the tools and capabilities that are tailored to suit a specific strategy and circumstance.
But it doesn’t stop here. Well-known consultant and educator, Peter Drucker, was correct when he famously said that “culture eats strategy for breakfast”. Digital transformation will remain rife with roadblocks if strategy is not coupled with an effective change culture that clearly communicates the journey to all relevant stakeholders. Being successful at this will ensure that a true engagement with lines of business, employees and customers will have their expectations met, seeing past immediate challenges to serve as champions of digital transformation.