August 11, 2016

Surviving Digital Transformation



While at the 16th Annual Government Contact Centre Summit this week, I had the opportunity to present around the topic of ‘Surviving Digital Transformation’.

Digital Transformation is an often misunderstood concept and a process that requires great resilience, determination and skillfully executed project and staff and stakeholder leadership.

I took the opportunity to present my thoughts around what Digital Transformation is, how to roll it out and how to survive! Here’s a recap of my presentation.

What is Digital Transformation?

Digital Transformation is driven by two main benefit areas: Improved customer experience and Improved business efficiencies (cost, speed, accuracy).

But what does ‘Digital’ mean today? In short… technology. But different to the traditional focus of IT or ICT we’ve had for the past few decades.

  • IT has a systems focus
    It’s primarily interested in keeping systems stable and secure.
  • Digital has a people focus
    It’s about the customer, business processes and culture.

There’s sometimes a tension here, Digital will ask for something that IT can’t or won’t do. Digital will push for wild new ideas and IT will resist and demand a more robust approach to mitigate risk, sometimes real risk and sometimes perceived risk.

Who’s right? Neither approach is right or wrong. We need both. In fact, there’s something powerful that happens at the intersection of technology and people. That’s where you get:

  • a fantastic customer experience
  • efficient processes
  • stable and secure systems

The importance of a people-first culture

In rolling out Digital Transformation at scale, it’s all about people: Customers, processes and culture.

A great digital experience needs to do more than just take an existing process and make it easier, it needs to restructure and combine services to meet customer needs comprehensively, end-to-end.

Don’t focus on top-down mandates, focus on willing collaboration by building true partnerships. A true partnership has a shared vision, but also shared risk and shared reward.

First set a customer-centric vision. Share the risk by helping out partners when they are struggling with their deliverables and share the reward by celebrating the wins together.

Start small, just a couple of partners at a time. Co-design the approach and standards with them. This creates buy-in but also an extremely strong customer-centric culture. It will then spread from partner to partner organically, like a virus! (in a good way).

Talking to customers is critical. But don’t forget to leverage the insights of your Customer Service Advisors and front-line staff. They talk to your customers all day and are an incredible source of insight.

Embracing Digital Disruption

Disrupt yourself or be disrupted—John Chambers, CEO Cisco Systems

This is the catchcry of the modern era.

Uber is the often referenced example, but there have been many where industries have been turned on their heads as a result of innovative private companies. And technology is making this kind of disruption easier.

The public sector sometimes feel safe, government is the only provider for most of its services, and therefore can’t be disrupted!

In truth, most of what government does can be outsourced, privatised or delivered through partnerships. For example, getting a drivers license in Alberta Canada is completed by visiting private storefront shops, usually operated by insurance brokers or private registry offices.

If we can’t deliver a great customer experience efficiently, then there are private innovators ready to fill the gaps we leave. Over the weekend, the QUT held a ‘Disrupting Law’ hackathon to do just that.

How can we compete?? Think like a startup!

  1. Use strategic foresight to anticipate future challenges.
  2. Find a customer need among the challenges. Then work out the best way to solve that need, even if it seems ridiculous. This should be a comprehensive end-to-end solution for this customer need.
  3. Next, quarantine a small team from standard processes. Allow them to follow lean and agile methodologies. Starting with small experiments and prototypes, iterating quickly into more feature-rich releases.

How to survive Digital Transformation

Digital is now our BAU and change is constant.

These bring with them fear, uncertainty and doubt. Over time, these in turn lead to stress, change fatigue and Burnout!

Stress is deadly. Dr Peter Fuda is a leadership researcher, author and inspirational presenter. He makes the distinction that we are surrounded by pressures, and that pressure can be good. However its up to us to not let that pressure become stress. But it’s easier said than done.

Change fatigue is insidious. I see it as a type of learned helplessness. “It didn’t work last time, so I won’t even bother this time.”

And burnout? Well that can be short-lived, or quite debilitating. Trying to be all things to all people, trying to deliver transformation through sheer force of will and extended hours on the job. These are short-term tactics and if you use them long-term will result in years of reduced energy and significant effort to fully recover from. But there are simple changes you can make to how you operate, and sustaining digital transformation becomes much easier.

How to survive?

Look after yourself first. If you aren’t operating at full capacity, you’re letting your team and colleagues down.

Take a long term view. Sure it’s often two steps forwards and one step back. But you need to appreciate the progress and success you’re having over time.

Next, build resilience in your staff. This is easiest through training in Emotional Intelligence and mindfulness. But also through the power of positivity.

The power of positivty

I was once very cynical of the Pollyannas I bumped into in the workplace. I have to admit, I judged them very quickly. I assumed their assessment of what was going on was flawed, and felt much better about my somewhat negative but justifiably ‘realistic’ view of the situation.

Over time I learned that rather than focusing on what’s right and wrong, it’s better to focus on what’s useful or not useful.

Then through experimentation I found that being negative was not useful in so many situations whereas looking on the bright side was useful time and time again.

Yet, we often defer happiness (and optimism) in life so we can work towards success.

Shawn Achor presents a wonderful TED talk about research he’s been doing on happiness and positivity and it’s impact on the workplace. I can’t do a better job than he of explaining how powerful it can be. I recommend you check it out.


In short, Shawn found that success doesn’t lead to happiness, however… Happiness actually leads to success!

In particular, I find having a regular practise of reflecting on people and things you are grateful for extremely energising.

Lastly, Foster a culture of lifelong learning and cross-skilling in your team. This has a few benefits. Staff are equipped to be flexible in a changing environment. They are also able to help each other out more, which makes it easier to create a high-performing team, where you can scale up in particular skills to meet team goals and deadlines together.

Teams that have these attributes are able to look past the day-to-day frustrations and see the bigger picture positive impact they are making, keeping them happier in the face of constant change.


In conclusion, it’s important to learn from yours and others successes and failures. In doing so, you can not only survive Digital Transformation but succeed in transforming your organisation for the better.

Surviving Digital Transformation

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