There’s a great deal that nature can teach us about successfully getting things done in business. For example, in the world of bees, there is a queen bee who chooses the location for the hive, but then leaves the tasks of finding food and creating a hive to the worker and nurse bees. And it is this collaboration between the different types of bees rather than just the queen that make each swarm successful.
The same is actually true in digital programs. While these projects are of course IT-driven, they should never be considered as purely technology programs. Rather they should be seen as business driven projects designed to deliver a certain business outcome. That is why, as with the bees, you need collaboration between multiple different business functions to drive the digital transformation. Each function’s reason for being is to make the business as a whole successful – so if they all buy into a digital project and perceive it to be important to the success of the business, you get a cohesive approach and a culture which eliminates siloed thinking and finger pointing when things go wrong. It is about making digitalisation everybody’s business.
That said, it is fine to have one person leading the digital transformation, and many great digital deployments have a single figurehead, but I believe it is better to have a group of people, all of whom are invested in the project, driving the whole outcome. This group is ideally composed of people from different functional groups across the business, not just technologists. And that’s because each member of the group needs to keep their eye on how their function can contribute to the overall objective.
Let’s take another look at the recent example from a retailer we worked with to introduce RFID tags. The tags were clearly the technology that made the difference, but it wouldn’t have been a successful project without the wholehearted and integrated support of many business functions: the supply chain system needed to be on point to be able to ensure an appropriate supply of each product, backed up by the procurement system that ensured that the appropriate products were sourced from suppliers. CRM systems were also involved – to identify and promote the popular items that provide the best return on investment. Staff training and education also plays a key role, because in-store associates need to guide potential visitors to the most appropriate products and use the technology to locate the correct product. And last but not least, marketing is also engaged to create campaigns that promote certain key products, whilst ensuring that these will be in stock and in key locations. In a successful digitalisation project, all these systems come together to form their own version of a collaborative hive.
This form of cross-business collaboration also circumvents potential funding issues
If a project is considered to be ‘an IT program’, then the perception is that it should be paid for and implemented by the IT department. That said, pure IT projects are very rare. If you look closely, so-called IT programs have always had business sponsors. These are the stakeholders who are bought in to the project – and stand to gain, or lose, should the project succeed or fail.
So historically, the business would provide the budget and the IT department would implement the program. The difference with digital projects today is that business functions not only provide the budget, but they also have to drive the projects forward. Their role is also to set outcomes for the program and to change the culture of the IT department, so that it is an enabler.
We’ve seen many companies who have done an excellent job of this. For example, I really admire the way Amazon has shifted its business model. As I mentioned before, it is also really impressive how Disney has changed the user experience. While the technology change in Disney was implemented by the IT department, the driving force behind it was Disney’s user experience department. The whole project started with this team, as they wanted to change the way customers felt about Disney.
Another example that’s closer to home for me relates to how buying train tickets is changing. Until recently, your only options for buying tickets were from a ticket office or machine. With rail passenger numbers rising there was clearly an opportunity to improve customer (rail traveller) and employee (revenue protection officer) experience by transforming the way tickets can be purchased, such as through smartphones, and the services train staff can offer.
These examples all have great business outcomes as their objectives – often focused on enhancing the customer experience – with technology as an enabler. Backed by the whole business, with each function working collaboratively towards a common goal, digital projects can really be transformative. There’s so much scope for leveraging digital to make similar changes in any business … as long as you remember to deploy as a swarm and not as a queen bee.