Digital Transformation continues to dominate business headlines and strategy agendas, but what does it really mean and why aren’t organisations seeing success in the outcomes they were striving for? I met with Christine Blyth, Head of Transformation at Afterpay, to discuss her perspective on organisational Transformation.
Digital Transformation has been a buzz word of the past 5 years, but often seems to cause confusion. Can you tell us what it means to you, in simple terms?
To me, Digital Transformation is about how our business can utilise new and emerging technologies to drive business outcomes. Whether those outcomes be customer experience for both internal and external customers, process efficiencies, or innovation. For me, it’s less about the tech and more about value enablement. If any activity doesn’t enable value then I tend to ask myself “why are we doing it”? Technology initiatives have to support the business to scale and deliver new and innovative products that ultimately service the end customer.
The word “Transformation” seems to allude to a one-off process and I think that’s something we need to break down, because the drive needs to be embedding continuous improvement into a culture and environment.
I think the biggest misconception that I’ve encountered when people ask me about Transformation is that the tech is seen as a means to an end or as a silver bullet that’s going to solve all of the business issues. I hear all the time “there’s an app for that” and I cringe. Placing tech at the centre of the Transformation conversation is something that companies need to be wary of. We also need to look at the processes, people, and data flows that wrap around the tech.
Digital Transformation? I just call it Transformation.
What does Digital Transformation mean for the end-users, whether they be internal users or external customers?
That’s a really good question because as with any Transformation, you have to be putting people at the centre of it. Many Transformations focus on tech and forget that Transformation is all about people. Looking at why we undertake a Transformation program and then understanding value creation for customers; enhancing their overall experience is so important. So whether you’re considering Transformation of a process for an internal customer or Transformation in products for the external customer, people have to be at the heart of the conversation.
Cultural Transformation is bigger than tech Transformation, and that’s been one big learning that I’ve had through my Transformation career; if you can’t move the people, you won’t change the tech or the process. Again, we can be quite myopic on what tech needs to be put in place, but what really needs to be identified is what are we actually driving and how technology will enable the outcomes we desire.
To this end, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to when we’re designing a Transformation program. This is my fourth and they have all been really different.
Can you tell me about your biggest learnings and gains from the AfterPay Transformation?
Rather than any specific learnings, it’s reaffirmed the people aspect I mentioned. If you can’t bring people on the journey, you’re ultimately going to fail. It’s very interesting doing Transformation at a company like Afterpay because there’s a lot of building from the ground up as we’re doing a lot of things for the first time. Having said that, the principles of Transformation are exactly the same. People actually enjoy coming to work because their jobs are made easier by automation and things are made clearer by better communication. This being said, Transformation isn’t just about the process and the tech – there’s also an element of the communication, branding and everything else that goes with that to ultimately make it successful.
Why is Digital Transformation so important for businesses? Is its importance equal for all types of businesses and industries?
The importance is not so much with Transformation, but with the ability to keep up with rapidly changing technology and making sure that your business model remains relevant. Staying relevant is something that’s important for every business and every industry but that doesn’t necessarily mean the answer is Digital Transformation. Digital Transformation should be one small element of remaining relevant; just one slice of the pie.
Every Transformation is unique for every business and the agenda needs to be carefully curated with the impact of people in mind to go back to those value drivers discussed earlier.
If businesses are aware of a need to embrace Digital Transformation, why, in your opinion, are so many organisations struggling to get started? What obstacles lie in their way?
There are a lot of reasons preventing businesses from commencing a Transformation program. The term “Digital Transformation” is really overused; if you search it in Google, you’re going to get a whole variety of definitions. Some businesses might be confused as to what they need to do and should first look at their own unique business lifecycle and operating models.
These days, businesses are moving so quick and resources are finite. For executives to allocate money to these big Transformation programs, you’re asking a lot.
In the past, Transformation has meant huge multi-year programs that chew up a lot of resources and money. A lot of the time, leaders don’t actually get the benefits or outcomes they’ve been driving for because the program has been too ambitious and the market has moved before it has been able to finish.
This is where I advocate for the embedding of continuous improvement and having ongoing Transformation as opposed to “big bang” Transformation programs. It’s about teaching businesses to become more agile, how tech enables that, and how we can get our people to think differently so that we can be responsive to change as opposed to having a large scale Transformation agenda.
What does the future Digital Transformation look like? Will approaches and philosophies change?
Transformation needs to be redundant. We need to look at embedding a culture of continuous improvement. It means that these big and costly programs aren’t needed and it’s actually easier to embed the change with people. People get used to new ways of working and being agile because it’s not as jarring as some of these larger Transformation programs can be. We need to stop using these buzzwords and define what Transformation means for our business while getting our teams ready for working in more fluid and changing environments.
When I speak to people about Transformation, I often liken it to a diet. You can do a diet but then eventually put weight back on, or you could completely change your lifestyle which is more sustainable. We need to embrace Transformation as a lifestyle change moving forwards.
Thank you for your time and candour, Christine. We look forward to following the transformation at Afterpay.