Every business is now a technology business, so goes the axiom, because digital expertise is now the only way they can engage with customers, clients, partners and the rest of the world. But if every business has that, it is by definition not a competitive advantage. What should businesses do now with their digital expertise to break out in front of their ranks?
Steve Madden, VP Digital Transformation & Segmentation Marketing, Equinix; Mel Reyes, CIO and Cybersecurity Leader; Alex Bazin, Vice President Digital Transformation, WNS Global Services; Nick Rawlings, Head of Transformation, Covea Insurance; Clare Ward, Digital Strategy and Transformation, all share their views and offer advice on their own digital journeys’ progress, as Lea Sellers moderates.
Nick Rawlings kicked off the debate by describing how he’s looking to build digital advantage at Covea Insurance.
“We’re reviewing our digital strategies through two lens: one is through a customer lens to optimize their experiences and create value propositions in new, connected ways; and the second is an internal lens, reviewing our operating model to identify inefficiencies whilst moving to integrate closely with suppliers and partners.”
Ultimately, he added, building digital advantage is to disrupt your business model—which explains his almost panoramic view of Covea Insurance. As its transformation lead, Rawlings has to be able to add the financial case to any major change proposed, and given insurance is one of the least digitized industries—and most at risk from automation—there are potentially myriad changes.
For Clare Ward and the aviation industry in which she has experience, the threats are far more immediate. The Covid-19 pandemic has ripped through airlines’ cash flows meaning there is less money for transformation. That doesn’t mean some innovative players aren’t still evolving, though.
“Customers want touchless travel in a pandemic,” Ward told the roundtable, “and one case study caught my eye from this year: Dubai Airport Immigration have launched iris recognition scanning as a way to dispense with passport control. It’s right on the money and a great example of building digital advantage.”
Ward was the former CIO of Kenya Airways so understands the pressures facing technology leaders in a cash-strapped sector. Her fellow speaker on the roundtable, Alex Bazin, however, is VP Digital Transformation for WNS Global Services, a global provider of business process management and outsourcing solutions, and its industry has fared better.
“With extra capital and that flexibility, we have the ability to review our business end-to-end,” said Bazin. “We never begin with the technology when looking to build advantage—too many focus on shiny new tools—but instead it’s about what the business needs and the strategies we need to employ to deliver on those needs.”
It’s true that executives can become excited by new toys and technologies. Keeping up with competitors and constantly pleasing clients and customers is a cycle that encourages us to reach for short term solutions. The roundtable’s technology leaders recommended a different approach: wide-field view, patience, investments in your teams, and, importantly, strong partnerships. As the roundtable stated, transformation is not a one company experience.
Fortunately, Steve Madden of Equinix was on hand to offer a partner’s perspective.
“At Equinix, we’re in the middle of this digital shift. Businesses want to reinvent themselves with digital infrastructure, with flexibility to leverage specific ecosystems and think commercially about how they do new business, win new clients. But you shouldn’t do it all yourself,” he added.
Another part of the roundtable focused on priorities. With the sheer amount of the business requiring continual change, there must be some elements that do more to shunt forward a firm’s digital capabilities?
For Clare Ward, her priorities as a consultant fall under customer experience and operational costs, whilst Alex Bazin mused on the importance of data-led decision making that means every strategy is based on intelligence and not assumption. As for another contrast, Nick Rawlings explained that Covea’s focus is on the deeper impacts on its operating models, “only investing in the systems that help channel and product, agnostically, to maximize the impact of its capabilities.”
Mel Reyes and Steve Madden largely agreed with these foci, before they both themselves considered how technology leaders ought to measure the success of their digital programmes.
For Reyes, success in all about the customer experience.
“I advise a lot of businesses and I take it upon myself to explore the sector in which I’m advising to understand the levels of experience. Take small-scale business banking in the US: I tested a lot of businesses and they were all over the place, but I found one that had a streamlined site, great security, intuitive features—once you find one like that you don’t turn to the competition.”
For the latter, Steve Madden, his response was a little more philosophical.
“Success,” he said, “means that your challenges and constraints are now your strengths. “Let’s say you couldn’t reach enough customers and that was your challenge. So you review your processes, secure the technologies, get your teams onboard, partner with the right provider, and in a short period of time you can deliver services everywhere.
“Those are now strengths and mean you can compete with the best of them comfortably,” he added.
The rest of the discussion unanimously accepted that a digital advantage was a necessity and the components that make a successful, sustainable digital roadmap transcend sector lines. These technology leaders agreed employees are vital to get on board with digital upgrades; solid and secure data provide the stability from which companies grow properly; partnerships add professional guidance and technical expertise to move forward—and spot your unknown unknowns—whilst the customer experiences accurately informs you where you need to be. Because the advantage isn’t being digital, it’s being the best with digital capabilities.
This roundtable was in partnership with Equinix.