Digital transformation is an overused term in the industry and has different meanings for different people and businesses. For some, it is IT modernisation e.g migrating to the cloud; for others, it’s business process optimisation through ERP. Some refer it to eCommerce and new online business models for brick and mortar businesses.
As Technical Director of iTechArt Group, my personal opinion is that change should be classed as ‘digital transformation’ only when it is truly transformative, disruptive, creating new business models and broad enough to have a significant impact on almost all facets of the business. It is basically the impact of digital technologies on all aspects of personal lifestyle, business and society.
I want to share my story of driving digital transformation within a complex Telecom operator environment with the goal of providing an insight to help organisations planning or struggling through this journey. It would also benefit the readers who want to understand this term with a practical example.
The Journey Begins
My journey started when I met with the CTIO of the organisation. We exchanged views on the topic of comprehensive digital strategy, strategic IT alignment and its impact on the success of digital transformation initiatives. That conversation resulted in me joining the organisation with a mission to create a new digital department responsible for driving the digital strategy and the transformation.
Being new to the organisation, it was an ambitious task. My play for the first 90 days was mainly focused on understanding the political dynamics of the organisation, establishing key relationships and capturing the “As is” landscape covering people, process and technology aspects. I knew to establish trust, I had to deliver results fast, while formulating a long-term vision and strategy.
I quickly learned that there were multiple owners of digital initiatives spread across a number of departments within and outside of the technology department who were working in silos without a cohesive digital strategy. There were a number of challenges:
- Lack of digital vision and strategy with a limited will to take risks;
- Organically developed siloed systems with weak architecture;
- Broken SOPs and processes with limited governance;
- Fragmented user experience with multiple disintegrated portals;
- Overloaded engineering teams following waterfall practises;
- Bureaucratic culture with resistance to change;
- No digital maturity model and KPIs related to them; and
- Slow modern technology and cloud adoption
To have a comprehensive organisation-wide digital strategy, it was important to break silos and align all stakeholders to establish a common digital vision. For this purpose, the highest level of commitment was necessary. CXOs – including the CEO – were engaged and a cross-functional digital forum was established with representatives from all the departments including technology (Network and IT), Commercial (Sales and Marketing), Legal, HR, Customer service, finance, Corporate strategy, security and Administration. The purpose of this corporate digital forum was to agree on digital transformation vision, strategy, goals and collaborate on digital initiatives.
Vision and Transformation Goals
After a number of discussions with multiple stakeholders, we came up with the vision statement of:
“Enhance the life experience of our customers by becoming a true digital lifestyle partner!”
This means that we would not only provide basic web and mobile app capabilities for our internal (employees) and external customers (B2B and B2C) but will encompass their overall interactions and digital experience.
The high-level goals for the transformation were to enhance customer experience (internal and external), improve operations, be agile and last but not least, create new business models and revenue streams. We agreed that for every digital project, we would have a business case in which we would set specific quantified success criteria against these four goals to calculate ROI.
After setting the goals, we needed a comprehensive strategy that aligned with the vision and corporate strategy. We combined top-down and bottom-up approaches and came up with the transformation strategy with three main programs focused on improving the digital experience of our customers, partners and employees.
Customer and Partner Experience – While formulating the digital strategy, it was important to deliver quick wins to build trust and establish organisation-wide influence. We started with the focus on the end customer and arranged a hackathon to evaluate UX options and revamped our public-facing self-care mobile app. Next came our business self-care app for B2B customers and finally, we enabled partner channels through ”Open APIs” and completed the very first integration with the largest eCommerce portal in the country for online sales through partner digital channels. These efforts resulted in a historic improvement in digital customer experience which was evidenced by increased NPS, engagement sessions and a 207% increase in sales through digital channels.
Employee Experience – A key principle of our transformation strategy was “Inside out cultural transformation” which empowered our employees for operational excellence through digital means and cultivated a digital culture that will have far-reaching benefits to our customers and partners. We had a huge technical debt accumulated over a period of time so we initiated engineering projects with a focus on DevSecOps, architecture, governance and agile transformation. There were initiatives focused around enabling employee collaboration (Workplace, MS Teams), mobility (Employee App, Office 365, MDM, analytics on the go) and automation (digital workspace and paperless approval workflows). We also had to run a number of adoption campaigns and cultural transformation initiatives with the help of HR. These efforts resulted in increased employee engagement, satisfaction and productivity.
New Opportunities – Expected commoditisation of connectivity services led to telecom operators all over the world looking to expand their services beyond connectivity and to transform from CSP (Communication Service provider) to DSP (Digital Service Provider) to get back some of their share from OTT (over the top) players likes of Google, Facebook and Microsoft etc. The objective of this program was to identify new opportunities to create additional revenue streams alongside traditional connectivity business. It proved to be the most challenging one to drive as it was untested waters for the whole industry and limited success stories in the global markets. Having a very tight budget – compared to other operators – for experimentation, we had to rely on available analysts’ reports and partnerships with startups. We identified a list of areas including Mobile Financial Services (MFS), Media, IoT Solutions (Geo Fencing, Cold chain monitoring, Smart metres), API platform, Blockchain, Smart city, B2B solutions and mobile advertisement. We then filtered our initiatives based on marketing insight, Return on Investment (ROI) and Time to value (TTV) quantification and witnessed good commercial success in MFS and mobile advertising space.
This is a story of a successful digital transformation journey and tells how, with organisation-wide collaboration, articulated digital strategy and executive-level support, we changed a siloed organisation into a digital-first and customer experience-focused organisation.
With experience, we learned that digital transformation is about the total and overall societal effect of digitalisation such as a change in mindsets, consumer behaviour and business models. It should not be seen as an essential cost but as enablement of new future business opportunities and growth. It is not about introducing new technologies; instead, it is a journey of cultural change in which business and IT have to work hand-in-hand with executive-level support. Strategic IT Alignment and monitoring adoption, ROI and business value realisation throughout are vital for success.
The key takeaway? In today’s digital age, consumer behaviour is changing fast, customers are spending increased time in the digital world over the physical one. This trend would only increase as we are moving towards the metaverse age. It is therefore essential for any business to transform and take advantage of the innovative digital technologies to understand customer needs and serve in the most meaningful and immersive ways to drive profitable growth.
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