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Digital Transformation Stories: Slalom

Digital Transformation Stories is a new series of interviews Manchester Digital is conducting with our members, ranging from those who help facilitate digital transformation processes to those who have been through or are going through a transformation themselves, to find out more about their experiences of digital transformations and share their advice.

Joining us this week are Slalom, a modern consulting firm focused on strategy, technology, and business transformation.

Could you tell us about your organisation and how you support businesses who are going through a digital transformation?

Slalom is a modern consulting firm focused on strategy, technology and business transformation. We combine personal connections in our local communities with global scale.

We support businesses going through digital transformation in a number of ways; helping define their strategy and roadmap, ensuring that they have the right technologies aligned to the right business processes, while realising value and achieving sustainable change by focusing on people (employees and customers) throughout. 

In addition, Slalom has the capability to develop and deliver world class digital products to our customers, blending design, engineering and analytics expertise to help them drive better outcomes for their customers.

We don’t see digital transformation as a one-off exercise - it is an ongoing journey. The journey will include introduction of flexible ways of working which set organisations up for continued success.

What impact do you think the Covid-19 pandemic has had on how businesses approach digital transformation, and what trends do you think we’ll see fuelling digital transformations post-pandemic?

The pandemic rapidly identified those businesses that had embraced digital transformation already, who were agile and connected enough to be able to respond quickly to changing customer demands or behaviour, and were resilient to the changes enforced on their operations by the lockdown. It also identified those that were not ready. Overall, the pandemic has highlighted the need for businesses to embrace technology and all that it entails. 

Moving forward, we will see a renewed drive to generate valuable insights from data, a greater willingness to embrace the cloud and all the benefits that it offers, and a desire to be more agile, so we’re able to remain competitive, getting new products to market more quickly, and engaging with customers more effectively.

What do businesses need to consider when mapping out their digital transformation journey?

One of the key considerations for a digital transformation is to be clear about the problem the business is trying to solve, and not to lose sight of this. Often there is not a single problem, instead there are a series of inter-related challenges that need to be understood and prioritised. 

Think big, start small. Focus on the destination, but not at the expense of making progress.  Plan yes, but do not spend so long planning that you don’t take action. The target destination today is unlikely to be the ultimate destination as the world will change too much for that.  

In defining your destination, understand the impact of the change on customers and employees (If they are not going to be impacted, where will the value be generated?).

Once there is a clear understanding of the problem, it is possible to start to shape the solution. This should be broken down into bite-sized chunks so it can be delivered incrementally and iteratively, realising tangible value each step of the way.

The capability and capacity of the business to deliver the change is a key factor, together with an understanding of the cost and potential disruption, underestimating this can undermine the process from the outset. 

As well as delivering the change, it is important to consider the capacity of the business to absorb the change. How to ensure safe transition into operations? Who will be impacted? How will they be impacted? What other challenges are they dealing with?

A successful change process will allow the business to move forward and leave the past behind.  What does “finished” really look like?

What role does culture have to play in digital transformation, and how can businesses create a culture that embraces digital and mitigate risks?

As with any meaningful change, culture has a huge role to play in a successful digital transformation, although it is often overlooked. No matter how much effort you put into changing processes, roles, titles and ways of working, if you do not achieve cultural change, then things will eventually revert to the way they were.

Changing culture is hard but not impossible. It needs to be led from the very top of the organisation, fuelled by a clear, compelling case for change (the “Why?”) and be continuously reinforced with actions as well as visual symbols, prompts and reminders.

Change can also be strongly influenced from the “bottom up” by helping the team understand the opportunities created along the way. This is often facilitated by the introduction of new talent, or partners, bringing different capabilities and experience in working in different ways. Every new hire will change the culture slightly.

Successful organisations often demonstrate a growth mindset, openly communicating the impact of successes, reflections on failures and the lessons learned along the way.

As the journey is likely to be a long one, one of the most important features of successful organisations is resilience, aided by empathy and provision of guidance and support.

How can businesses learn where they should be focusing their efforts and navigate roadblocks?

Whether the objective of a digital transformation is to deliver incremental business value or to address an existential threat, it is important for it to be owned by the business. This requires leadership alignment on priorities, as well as clear ownership of areas of activity and associated outcomes.

Even when establishing foundational elements such as establishing a new platform, it is important to focus on a specific, high priority use case or business problem so that value is realised as quickly as possible.

Triggers for a digital transformation can include emerging competition, performance issues, feedback from customers or employees, or changes to the operating environment. Lessons learned from early adopters can help inform the approach which can be further developed through discussion with peers and partners.

Roadblocks are often internal. As a result, leadership alignment is also critical in managing complexity or inter-dependencies, and to enable rapid decision making to maintain momentum.  

How can businesses measure ROI on digital transformation?

Although funding approval for an agile digital transformation can be a challenge as it rarely aligns well with established Capex funding processes, ROI can partly be measured in the traditional way, based on tangible and intangible benefits delivered by the process.

Of course, non-financial metrics are also important. A digitally transformed workplace is typically happier, more dynamic and more innovative. This can be measured through metrics like employee engagement and unplanned attrition rates. 

If done right, experimentation, creativity and innovation will result in some failures. Within this context, metrics on how many projects have been stopped can be valuable, as well as how many have been successfully delivered.

How can businesses keep pace with changing technologies to ensure that they're delivering the best possible service?

It is almost impossible to keep pace with the changing technological landscape. Trying to do so would likely result in organisational inertia as introduction of new technologies continuously distract attention before any progress can be made.

Instead, the trick is to establish a flexible, functional platform capable of meeting today’s business needs, and which can be scaled, enhanced and extended as the business grows and requirements evolve. As a result, we see an increasing move to component-based architectures which allow organisations to develop and work with an ecosystem of technology partners. 

If you could give one piece of advice to a business at the start of their digital transformation process, what would it be?

Get started. And start with what matters most… build confidence and momentum in the process by demonstrating early value against clearly understood business priorities (e.g. revenue, customer experience, operational efficiency). 

To find out more about Slalom, click here.

Want to tell your digital transformation story?

If your company would like to feature in a future edition of this series, contact for more information.

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