Thinking outside the Digital Transformation box | Christine Ashton, former SVP Technology, Thomson Reuters

David speaks with Christine Ashton about the practicalities of digital transformation. So often the term is bandied about loosely, but in this conversation, Christine gives it weight when she talks about her definition, the attitudes organisations should have and all the opportunities and tech available which were not previously.

Christine has a wealth of experience, having held the positions of CDO and CIO for some big players like SAP and Thomson Reuters respectively. Christine uses her experience to advise various organisations.

What is digital transformation? – 00:01:00

I like to think of it as three different things. Digitising process, digital products and developing servers wrappers that go around the products and the services. The reason perhaps we think it’s new is that years ago it was hard to do it, the technology wasn’t really there. The good news is, now the technology is there and it works. There are so many great products, like software as a service – type products, you’ve got a whole new set of intelligent enterprise resource planning tools, robotic process automation, machine learning that now can actually help organisations to restructure, but change how work gets done in their organisations, where it gets done. Things are really changing, so it’s important for companies to think about how they benchmark themselves. I call it the digital tipping point. Because years ago probably, we started to do companies A – Z, start at one end of the company, we’re going to transform you and then, start to end. These days it’s a more sophisticated approach. We have to be quite thoughtful about the approach and where we put our efforts, so we transform the bits that are really going to add value and there are great examples out there. What’s super important to look at is not only where you’re in your current industry, like water, how do I rank compared to other water companies? But also important to look horizontally, across industries and those industries that are adjacent to you. A great example of modern digital technology is Peloton, what they’ve been able to do is leverage, exercise machines, and digital media and then they’ve put them together to wrap around the services and create a whole new product.

How should you transform? – 00:03:49

Lots of companies are being disrupted in their industries, so initially they think, ‘we better change, we better invent some new products’, but perhaps what they’d be better off doing is revoking at some of their existing processes and saying ‘can I make these better?’, ‘can I automate them so I can spend less of my staff’s time doing the things that machines could do?’. Machines can match invoices. Also, learning to help your company move from rear-wheel steering to front-wheel steering? so you’re not looking in your mirror all the time, but you’re looking at where you’re going. There are lots of places to start, where can I start where it will deliver value customers would pay for? Also thin about, ‘how can create slack in my organisation that means I have the resources to do that?’. Nobody is going to say to a company, ‘we don’t mind if you increase your running costs to this’. I think that is the current dilemma. So if you can create some efficiencies with the modern ERPs, CRMs and all of these types of technologies and reallocate your staff to those higher type of activity, it enables your company to be more predictive, and be able to monitor in real-time, what the customers are doing. what are the customers asking for? You start to get to a different place. I suppose what I’m saying, it’s not always about having the digital product first, the app on the phone, sometimes it’s about sorting out resorting out your processes.

A culture of trial and error – 00:06:08

The ones that are surviving are iterating all the time and they’re sorting out ‘what can I do better from an operations point of view, from a customer value point of view?’ And they’re iterating all the time. And they’re starting to reformat their companies, several times a year. You can’t do that if you’ve got fixed technology. Your technology has to be super agile. So part of this, that’s why digital transformation is not one thing, it’s about your underlying business platform needs to be agile as well, so that you can reformat your company. again, there are some great examples out there of companies that have done that an become very successful as a result.

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