Dynamics Matters Podcast Ep 75: Why digital transformation is no longer all or nothing

With special guest Rob Smithson, UK Business Applications Lead, Microsoft

✔ What transformation is (and what it isn't)

✔ Where automation fits within transformation

✔ Why the end result is about people, not technology

Transcript

Welcome to episode 75 of the HSO Dynamics matters podcast.

Your regular sonic dive into the world of Microsoft technology related matters and much more besides.

I’m your host, Michael Lonnon.

I’ve a question for you …

What do you think digital transformation is?

If I asked 10 people that question, I think I’d end up with 10 different answers.

So to get to something more definitive I posed the question to Rob Smithson, UK Business Applications Lead for Microsoft. Who better to ask!?

So, grab a brew, sit back, relax, and enjoy the show.

Michael Lonnon

Cloud or on premise, just to bring it back to technology.

Rob Smithson

Absolutely, cloud. I’ve spent a long period of my time working in the cloud space. So yeah, cloud.

Michael Lonnon

Why would you advocate that over an on-premise approach? Generally speaking, I know it’s horses for courses, but generally, why would you go cloud?

Rob Smithson

I think two reasons. One would be, you get the economies of scale of big business investment for you, who may be a small business, and that’s something you couldn’t set up or fund yourself if you’re running on premise. And the second one is absolutely security. So, you get the security of the entire cloud, which again, you’d never be able to replicate as a small business. So, I think it brings a lot of power and functionality to small businesses.

Michael Lonnon

We’re chatting a bit today about digital transformation. Now, that to me, is a little bit of a buzz phrase, because it’s a catch all for everything that means anything in regard to technology and change. I’d love to find out from you, how you articulate digital transformation?

Rob Smithson

I would agree with you, having spent a long time as a consultant myself, I’ve definitely heard and used the phrase digital transformation. I think most people think it’s a large-scale technology project but having led a number of those projects over the years, I would say that actual digital transformation is always about making an employee’s life better, or our customers experience better, and improving those things using technology. So, I think those are the most powerful ways of realising then digital technology in real life.

Michael Lonnon

A lot of organisations we talk to when they are describing the technology projects that they’re going through, they do often refer to it as a digital transformation. Do you think people think of it as different to the way you describe it. I like the way you’ve described it by the way, it’s always about people process before any kind of technology, but I think there’s a different meanings, or people perceive it to be different, than you think.

Rob Smithson

Yeah, I think if you spoke to maybe a product manager or a programme manager, you know, they may see digital transformation as their opportunity to lead a programme changing from a technology that they see is outdated, or that’s causing them problems within an organisation and moving to a technology that gives them a lot more functionality features or excitement for the people that use it. So, I think yeah, the alternative meaning could well mean bringing change to an organisation and through technology.

Michael Lonnon

It’s about change. So, it is about making customers lives and employees lives easier. I also hear in discussions with organisations that transformation is often seen as a large, all-encompassing thing, that it’s going to change the very foundation, the structure of everything they’re doing, but that’s not necessarily the case, digital transformation isn’t all or nothing.

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Rob Smithson

It’s definitely not. And I think the art of success is an organisation’s ability to bring about any change, certainly seen a number of programmes over the years, where an organisation tried to do too much and as a result of making the scope too big or too refined, they ended up bringing very little change and that was disappointing for everyone involved. So, I think I would always advocate for delivering in phases, a phased approach now is very important, and I think technology enables that. I also feel like you should always try and use data to guide you as an organisation where you should invest

Michael Lonnon

Data comes up a lot as well, in the conversations we have. Why is data important in when you’re talking about transformation and change?

Rob Smithson

I think data is important because it tells you facts, doesn’t it? I mean, it gives you it gives you the reality of a situation. Oftentimes, as individuals, we use our gut feel we make decisions that may have huge financial implications based on what we think is the case, but data clears up some of that grey area, and gives you the facts and figures in black and white. Now data isn’t the be all and end all every time, but I would definitely advocate for data to be a significant part of an overall picture that you use an intelligence picture that you use to make a decision, especially one that you’re using to drive some investment.

Michael Lonnon

We’re starting to suggest here that transformation is not just about technology, it’s about people processes, data, other components and what you’re seeing and what you’re an advocate of is that if you’re going to make change, change that lasts and that adds value you’ve got to look at these different components process, people, data and technology, together, in order to succeed.

Rob Smithson

100% yes, I do agree with you on that.

Michael Lonnon

What sort of positive changes are you seeing in organisations that are taking not an all or nothing approach to this transformation but are looking at it in a modular way?

Rob Smithson

I actually think that one of the good things, if there were any to come out of the Covid pandemic, is, organisations in the UK, especially now have to think in a more resilient way. So, they’re thinking in a way that says, we’re going to get through the ups and downs of the economy, or the response post COVID, supply chain issues, they’re definitely thinking longer term than I saw them thinking before. So that’s great. I think also, the economic situation we find ourselves in and have for the last few years means that businesses are trying to do things in a phased approach more consistently than they were before. I think that that is driving a better way of delivering a technology outcome than previously when it was a big bang approach and, as you talked about earlier, of trying to do everything at once and solve every problem in one go. So, by solving high value problems first, and then using the results of that initial phase of a project to guide where you go, and phase two, and three and four, I think organisations are seeing value quicker than they were previously and that’s exciting for us as Microsoft and no doubt for yourselves as professional services partners.

Michael Lonnon

Yeah, it’s great, it’s good to see as well. Surprisingly, in public sector, we’ve seen a lot of change and innovation, in particular, as organisations start to realise that transformation isn’t an all or nothing approach. So, we’re seeing particularly with technologies, such as dynamics 365, a modular approach so you might have the foundation, but you might put different elements in as the needs fit. Is that a direction Microsoft is taking moving forward?

Rob Smithson

I do, I think Microsoft has always been good offering a modular approach. If you think about the mix of products we have from end to end, they cover so many areas, that businesses will tend to take a selection of those products into their organisation and Dynamics is no different. A number of organisations now are interested in the business application suite through power platform. So that’s a product that most organisations and people listening to this will have heard of and it’s certainly a product we see having tremendous success at the moment, particularly now, with the economic factors that are becoming a concern for CIOs and other leaders within industry is how do we automate, how do we bring costs down, how do we enable the people that we already have in an organisation to become citizen developers and develop products for us without having to bring in expensive contractors and hire additional people to focus on that. So, our products offer a lot of value, and they lend themselves to that phased approach I’ve talked about and the modular approach you talked about, which is enabling businesses to start at a small level, and then build and develop as the project comes together and as they see the positive results of those programmes.

Michael Lonnon

The bit you said at the very beginning, which I really liked was it’s not about the technology it’s about the end result and it’s about using people processes as part of that.

Rob Smithson

Our big focus at the moment is our products surrounding other products and us enabling a business to get value out of them. So, if you think about Viva sales, for example, that is a tool designed to give employees data from systems that organisations have already invested in elsewhere in products they’ve used to using everyday like teams and Outlook. So that’s a very important message for us at the moment is Microsoft enabling businesses to get value from their existing investments through Microsoft technology.

Michael Lonnon

That is really key, because, again, you’re talking with large organisations that would have invested in lots of different technologies, not just Microsoft. So, it’s as important that it’s complimentary, or these things are integrated, or at least they work with each other to provide value is otherwise just creating silos upon silos.

Rob Smithson

That’s our mission: to get rid of those silos, and to give businesses the benefit of the investments they’ve already made. And some of those investments will have taken them years to put into place. So, in those circumstances, now’s not the time to take that out and replace wholesale so why not use our technology to get value from what you’ve got, but serve it up in a way that enables an employee to access it without having to move all over the place to different screens, different tools and train them in all of the above?

Summary
I rather like Rob’s take on digital transformation.

That it’s always about making an employee’s life, or our customers experience better. And improving those things using technology.

Note how it’s not about technology. Rob goes on to suggest that only by looking at the positive impact it has to people’s lives can you say whether you have true digital transformation.

I imagine this isn’t something new to you, right? It just means keeping staff and customers front of mind at all times when considering any change. And perhaps the easiest way to do this is by asking yourself, before you make any decision, what’s in it for them?

Thanks for listening, until next time, take care of yourselves.

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