Digital Transformation in the New Normal

Tech leaders from the law, IT and hospitality sectors discuss the future of digital transformation and legacy infrastructure.

Perhaps one of the most important—and used—words in technology this century, transformation has come to mean anything between changing individual habits to disrupting entire sectors. Now, in possible the term’s twilight years, the question begs: what does transformation look like in the next normal? Let’s briefly expand that question. Business leaders are constantly looking at new opportunities to strengthen their brands, secure new customers, build upon the strength of their existing partnerships and create a culture that is at home innovating in calm as well as in rough seas. We can all agree that 2020 falls into the latter category; most markets have been shifted so far off base we’re still understanding the consequences of those reactions.

With Peter Stojanovic moderating, the speakers of this roundtable include:

  • Charlotte Baldwin, Chief Digital & Technology Officer, Freshfields  Brukhaus Deringer
  • Shobhit Kumar, Associate VP, HCL Technologies
  • Paul Sims, Chief Technology Officer, Halfords
  • Conor Whelan, Chief Information & Operations Officer, Experian
  • Phil Scully, Chief Information Officer, Costa Coffee


A new transformation?

So, in a very new normal, what does transformation look like, what do you need—and is the term even necessary for the world of work we’re just getting a taste for?

Charlotte Baldwin, Chief Digital and Technology Officer at Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, and recently nominated as one of the top CIOs in the UK 2020, kicked off the roundtable debate.

“This year has certainly provided new opportunities as well as challenges but one thing we need to understand is the importance of agility,” she began. “The demands on CIOs and CTOs has increased over the last decade as technology becomes more of a core component of business. The pandemic has emphasised that core component and this is where agility comes into play: we’re now seeing evolving needs on a more regular basis; technology is moving at pacem our clients and our business needs require pace too and our responses should be match that.”

Baldwin went on to conclude that the only want to meet those demands at a suitable speed was to “ruthlessly prioritise”. Her advice to fellow technology leaders was to focus on what is truly business critical and will support growth and clients over the next six months. That means taking tough decisions, she admitted, “slowing some things down, bringing new things up” but the important thing was to keep it all fluid, especially knowing we’re about to enter into another great experiment: hybrid working.

Halfords’ CTO Paul Sims agreed with the prioritisation approach, but noted how challenging that is in an unpredictable market. “How do you prioritise for an event you don’t yet know?” He then, fortunately, answered his own question.

“There is a need for adaptability,” he said, “and to ask yourself does my technology stack allow me to be adaptable.”

He then provided an example.

“At Halfords we have stores take pictures of your car’s registration number and from a screen in the store we can advise them what window wipers to order for example. And yet, in a pandemic, people don’t want to touch the screens, understandably, so we have an opportunity to change.”

Costa Coffee is one such brand facing change. The British high street is facing severe headwinds, compounded now by a pandemic.

“When thinking about prioritisation,” said its CIO Phil Scully, “you’ve got be prepared for those that are within your control as well as those beyond.”

Experian’s CIO Conor Whelan agreed: “We’ve all got our investments to operate toward and what helps with that is clarity; clarity on what the business needs—which is made harder by remote working.”


Agile frictions

Whelan has also encouraged his team to move away from the term ‘transformation’, citing ‘continuous improvement’ as a far more appropriate name. These short, sharp changes help keep the business always moving forward and typifies the agile way of working promoted by startups.

Beware though: agile methodologies do not sit well with the finance department, as Whelan revealed.

“The finance department wants costs down to the pence but that’s not how agile buckets work. The challenge is how you prioritise the common denominator, which is resource.”

For Shobhit Kumar, Associate VP at HCL Technologies, the questions around prioritisation and adaptability showed that these leaders at least are tapped into the new way of innovating. Transformations in the new normal don’t have to be labelled transformational to deserve the word; even the idea now that a business can hire someone in a different country and it does not matter because of remote working, is a form of transformation, he intimated. And, ever the pragmatist, he reminded the roundtable that remote-first is the new normal, so at least there we can predict and plan for the future.

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