Digital transformation is constantly being touted as the key to a bright future for every company. It sounds fantastic and after several years of global business uncertainty, an increasing number of organisations have embarked on projects. But are those projects really delivering what organisations hoped for? More importantly, are they really transforming businesses making them more agile and profitable?
The sad truth is no. There are still very few successful digital transformation projects that have delivered on the original plan. Most end up compromising due to problems in implementation. This is nothing new. The question is, what is going on and why?
To understand what makes a successful digital transformation project, Enterprise Times spoke with Martin Bloma, engaged at Tine, the Norwegian dairy giant as a senior advisor and architect. Tine has been working on its digital transformation journey for some time and Bloma has some serious thoughts for anyone embarking on their own project.
Who is Tine?
Tine SA describes itself as: Norway’s largest producer, distributor and exporter of dairy products with 11,400 members (owners) and 9,000 cooperative farms. Our goal being to provide the consumers with food that provides a healthier and positive food experience.
The company operates across a number of countries worldwide. It exports and manufactures dairy products especially Norwegian specialities. It came about when the Norwegian government wanted to support farmers to produce more and win a share of lucrative dairy export markets. In recent years, due to new competition in the market, Tine no longer gets government support. This meant it had to review how it operated and where it could be more effective.
The Tine digital transformation journey
To reduce its costs and be more effective, the Tine board decided that it was time to embrace digital transformation. Bloma says that the project has been ongoing for a number of years and has been through several phases.
One of the key lessons that Tine discovered early on was that digital transformation is not just about IT systems. The business also has to change and that means processes, people and culture. Bloma made the point that without this complete buy-in from everyone and every function, digital transformation is difficult and risks failure, or not delivering on its goals.
Start with greater collaboration both formal and informal
Tine started by creating a collaboration environment that worked across all the stakeholders. To achieve this meant looking at what tools all the stakeholders were using and trying to pick one that was common.
More importantly, was the need to understand that collaboration is not just about the collaboration tools. There is a need for informal tools that allow users to chat with one another. In addition, those lines of communication need to be bi-directional up and down the business hierarchy. To make things easier for Tine, it already had a fairly flat structure. It is one of the advantages of being a cooperative.
To help drive the collaboration, Bloma says that Tine reinvented its Intranet. It moved from being a news feed with little engagement to a core communication hub. It is now widely used to share information related to work and outside. One example that Bloma gave was truck drivers sharing travel news, issues around security, where to stop and where to eat. None of this information was shared on the old Intranet.
Dealing with blockers and resistance to change
In any project that changes how people work there will be blockers. Most are worried that any changes will adversely impact their roles. The solution, according to Bloma, is to engage them, find out what they want, and what they are scared of. Imposing change creates barriers to improvement.
When talking to workers make sure that the conversation is not about head count. Ask what do they want? What is their ambition? What are the problems with the existing way things work?
Bloma also makes the point that people want to be part of the value chain. To that end help them understand how change will enable them to use their knowledge and skills better.
A good example of how to help staff understand how change can benefit them is RPA. Don’t just deploy it for the sake of doing it. Instead, work with employees to understand the mundane and repetitive tasks they have to do. Show them how RPA can be used to automate that and free them up to use their skills to do other things.
Look carefully at apps and make sure they do not create silos
Bloma sees applications as a major area of failure. A lot of projects end up changing nothing. Users get a shiny new UI but that doesn’t transform the business.
Employees often struggle with too many apps. A lot of time is lost switching between apps and worse, data gets locked into an app and therefore lost. Reduce the number of apps and make sure that data is properly shared. This eliminates silos.
Bloma says the biggest thing any advisor can do is: “dare to ask the question, why do you do this?” Users may not know other than: “because we’ve always captured this data.”
To transform the business ask them what else they could do with the data if they had the opportunity. It opens up innovation and critical thinking across the organisation. Companies often spend millions buying in innovation without realising that it is often far cheaper to innovate internally. All it requires is the willingness to allow employees to experiment.
Democratise innovation and ideas
Innovation has limited impact on the business if it is confined to silos. Tine set out to democratise the ideas across the company. It took all the ideas from IT and the business units. It actively sought new ideas from every role in the business whether that be a director or a dairy machine operator. The company then took those ideas and looked at how they could bring about change for the business.
The company also established the Tine Tech Lab as an open tech hub. It is experimenting with 3D glasses and even the idea of 3D printing of food at hospitals.
As an example of how democratising data benefits a business, Bloma gave the example of Samit Saini a security officer at Heathrow Airport. Using Microsoft PowerApps, Saini built a multi-lingual compliance app for non-English speaking passengers. It saved both time and money for security staff and smoothed passenger journeys. Its success has led to over 30 PowerApps developed in-house and being used by security teams at Heathrow. This only happened because there was access to the data and an openness to staff looking to improve what they do.
Don’t be afraid to look outside the organisation
Bloma pointed out that organisations can often be too inward focused. While there is a wealth of knowledge about the business and the industry it operates in, there are always things to learn. Look at competitors and other industries to see how they introduced change. Find those that are successful and see what can be learned from their experiences both the good and the bad.
Learning from the experience of others is about reading case studies and building wide business networks. A lot of people gather contacts through sources such as LinkedIn but may fail to engage with them over time. If you see a case study from a company where you have a contact, talk to them. Find out more about that case study, in particular the things it doesn’t say.
Have the conversation that also asks what didn’t work and why. It may be cultural, political or just the result of poor decision making when it comes to choosing tools and technologies. These are not things that are in case studies but can prevent a project derailing.
Crayon delivers breadth of experience across the business
Getting the right advisors and eventually consultants, on board is critical. Bloma believes that it is essential that they have wide industry experience. That experience also has to be across more than just the IT function.
Bloma said that Tine has worked with Crayon for a number of years across multiple projects. The success of that relationship is built on the broad experience of the consultants that Crayon uses. It is also about the ability to engage both the IT and business functions, bringing them together to get the best solution rather than a heavily compromised one that suits nobody.
Another key benefit that any outside advisor should bring is vision. The ability to look forward beyond any change and explain the why and the how. These are often two difficult areas but are essential in delivering any major project.
Remember to sell the transformation to the business
It is all too easy for organisations to take a decision and push it through irrespective of the consequences. The larger the business, the harder it can be to change the course of a major project such as digital transformation.
Bloma offered some advice to organisations as to how best to approach it. This includes:
- Create relevant stories as to why digital transformation.
- Make those stories relevant to employees to get their buy-in.
- Seeing is believing so take time to demonstrate the benefits of change.
- Create valid Proof of Concepts that employees can understand.
- Take time to demo and listen to concerns.
- Be willing to adapt the PoC and demos based on employee feedback.
Delivering digital transformation sounds easy when presented from a conference stage. Like many things in life, the devil is in the detail. By making this about business transformation not just new technology, there is a greater chance of success.
As Bloma said, digital transformation is about a vision, a plan and a great architect to knit it all together.