Leading by Example: Getting Digital Transformation Right First Time

By David Steer

Businesses embark on digital transformation projects for a plethora of reasons, though typically they are looking for improved efficiency & productivity, better management information & insight, possibly cost-cutting, but certainly improved customer engagement and service.

In general there is always a common theme though. A key driver will be non-existent, fragmented or legacy systems which are no longer working for the business in question.

Kirona’s field service management solutions are at the heart of many digital transformation projects, and we have successfully delivered hundreds of such projects over the last 10+ years.

We find that the best and most successful projects tend to be driven by the business leaders or department heads themselves, rather than IT. If the project has an enthusiastic, even evangelical sponsor, who understands the business need and is already embedded in the day-to-day operations of the target business area, things generally go much more smoothly.


North Lanarkshire Council: Embracing Digital Technology

One such example was a deployment of 1300 home-care workers at North Lanarkshire Council. The head of service there came up with the idea of mobilising his workforce with digital technology and was determined to drive it forwards.

Obviously, IT have a vested interest in ensuring that the solution is fit-for-purpose, scalable, supportable and increasingly these days – secure. As such, the business area can’t fly solo in these projects, IT must have a seat at the table from the beginning, but functionally, the best solutions are driven by the business need, not the technical ones.

In the case of the NLC project referred to above, the head of service involved the council’s IT team to frame the technical solution, but it was definitely his baby throughout.

Don’t get me wrong, digital transformation projects led by IT can also work very effectively, but they must have the full support and ongoing collaboration of the operational managers before they start. The worst kind of project is when the business ends up feeling like IT are forcing a solution onto them.

Having a well-considered business case at the outset, with a clear vision of the ROI and success criteria is also vital – ensure you understand what a good outcome should look like. This will help to avoid missteps and dead-ends along the way from which you would need to recover or retreat.

Again using the NLC project as an example, they established right at the outset that they could save over £250k per year, on postage alone, simply by providing the home-care workers with their weekly schedules using Kirona’s Job Manager mobile app, rather than posting out weekly rosters.

A common mistake that businesses also make is not fully understanding their own current, as-is processes in sufficient detail before engaging suppliers. I can recall many meetings with clients where we sit listening to the customer representatives arguing about how their business processes operate currently. That’s just a waste of time and energy for all parties. Getting this stage right involves consultation across the business area, not just relying on the perception of one or two individuals in the business.


Balfour Beatty: Reviewing the Solution Design Phase

A recent example of this was a project we undertook for Balfour Beatty in their Gas & Water division. They came to us with a clear understanding of their current business operations, with all the multi-faceted workstreams that they wanted to improve. This made the modelling of their solution much simpler as we had access to the key operational managers throughout.

Getting that right, should then result in a much clearer set of requirements. However, a word of caution here. We often see requirements from clients where they have pre-empted the solution design, even the user experience, down to user-interface elements like field labels and button clicks.

That is usually a mistake – especially when adopting packaged, best-of-breed solutions for digital transformation; that should be the job of the supplier. At the point of procurement, a client is buying a concept – the end result and optimal user experience, whilst influenced by the client, should come from the supplier – that’s what you’re paying for.

This process is what we at Kirona call the Solution Design phase. This is where the high-level requirements and ambitions of the customer are mapped onto a suite of technology products to deliver the desired outcomes. This phase is critical to the success of the project for many reasons – both technical and practical.


Defra: How We Map Processes into a Technical Solution

This has been very evident throughout our work with Defra. As you can imagine, they have literally hundreds of different business processes under their regulatory and legislative remit. With Kirona’s suite of products, they had a digital transformation of many of these processes from paper or spreadsheets.

Defra will articulate the process they currently undertake, and Kirona’s Implementation Consultants will then map that process onto a technical solution. This happens incrementally – each individual process and work stream can be quickly mobilised and deployed.

Once the vision starts to crystallise into a deliverable solution, that’s the best time for the client to start driving end-user adoption. In our experience, this is probably the biggest area of risk with digital transformation projects – persuading the end users to adopt the new technology.

There are often long-entrenched processes which people have followed for years and are therefore reluctant to change. There is also a fear-factor for many end-users. Will they be able to grasp the new technology and understand it? What will the change mean for the day to day job roles? Is there even a risk of them losing their jobs?

We find that early engagement with key end-users is vital. We often advise clients to seek out a small group to be heavily involved throughout the project. It’s good to choose a mix of people for this group – both tech savvy evangelists along with sceptics too.

As for technical challenges, the main one is usually integration. Few digital transformation projects are starting with a clean sheet. In most cases, you are ripping out one set of technology from the heart of a business and replacing it with something new. That something new, still needs to interface to whatever systems remain in the IT ecosystem.

There are myriad ways of solving this problem, but starting early in the project is vital – and this is where the IT department are critical to the success of such projects. They need to have a deep understanding of the technical architectures currently in play and what interfaces either are /can be available for the new solution to work with. A clear blueprint of integration touch-points, technologies, protocols, scaling metrics and exception management are vital here.


Summarising the Implementation Process

Finally – start small. We have always found that the most successful large-scale transformation projects start with just a small pilot. This could be just deploying a single work stream or process, or just small number of users in a limited area. You learn a lot from these whilst minimising risk and business impact and maximising your chances of a successful project.

Digital transformation is not a solo mission; it needs to be driven by the entire organisation, from CTO to IT manager. With the right technology, people and processes in place, you could see immediate results and long-term benefits.