Points of View

Ditch the diesel: How to go ‘Straight to digital’ at a pace that works for you

Jan 24, 2020 Melissa O'Brien




Market disruptors like Lemonade and Tesla are captivating customers and forcing incumbent players to change how they operate. When an enterprise goes “straight to digital,” it is has decided that enough is enough. It wants an operating model that is digital to the core. The silos and sluggish delivery associated with legacy outsourcing arrangements are no longer acceptable. The December 2019 HFS roundtable in New York City, supported by Wipro and featuring guest speaker Sandeep Dadlani, Chief Digital Officer of Mars, discussed the “straight to digital” trend from a Why? What? and How? perspective.


In a recent blog post entitled Why going straight to digital from your legacy outsourcing engagement is like buying a Tesla, HFS CEO Phil Fersht highlights the frustration enterprises feel by being stuck with legacy outsourcing arrangements. Providers have been allowing little wiggle room for clients to make investments to do anything differently, and, as a consequence, maintain the status quo of antiquated operations. Fersht likens this growing impatience to how the owner of a petrol car feels when they desire the cost savings and environmental advantage associated with an electric car but is stuck with legacy mechanics (service providers) that have no clue about the inner workings of a Tesla.


What one word describes digital for your organization?


Around the table, enterprise leaders described “digital” challenges that have nothing to do with technology. A pharmaceutical company mentioned changes to intermediary and distribution changes, and an insurance carrier lamented its difficulty in knowing its customers before there is a death or tragedy. A global financial services company struggles with silos and the disparity between goals in IT and operations, while a media conglomerate shared the challenge of dealing with new entrants in its competitive landscape. The common theme: none of these challenges have to do with technology. They are competitive issues to which there is a distinct digital element, but one that has more to do with talent, change, and learning than with technology. We asked each of the delegates to describe their “digital” journey in one word, and the resulting word cloud is in Exhibit 1. Not one of these words is about technology.



Exhibit 1: Digital is less about technology and more about people 





Source: HFS Research



The first problem with “going digital” is assuming it’s a technology initiative 


“Tech is people,” said Milan Rao, President – Marketing, Innovation & Technology and Global Head for Manufacturing & Communications Business at Wipro. People need to have the ability to learn, re-learn and unlearn in order to make changes for digital transformation.  As a service provider, we are providing people with the right tools to become digital ready through agility, visibility and empowerment.”



Milan Rao addresses the panel


Our participants reached the consensus that there should be no such thing as a digital strategy. Companies need a CX strategy, a growth strategy, and a partner and employee strategy, which digital technology helps to enable. Here are some of the most important things to consider as you approach your digital agenda:


  • Digital is not about tech; it’s about business… but companies are burying their heads in the sand when it comes to competition. As evidenced by so much of the discussion being about CX (customer experience), needs, and revenues, it’s clear that digital is all about business. But, companies have digital complacency; most think they are ahead of or on par with competition and disruption. While many organizations might have developed a sophisticated front end, many have not connected the dots from the back of the organization to support its digital initiatives.
  • Find partners on with expertise across the digital ecosystem. Seek services firms that are ready to provide digital transformation; partners should be there with tools and talent. Rao spoke about how Wipro has acquired several assets that have created a digital ecosystem to help its customers transform, including DesignIT, which takes a design-led, human focused approach. At its 26 digital studios around the globe, DesignIT teams go about work in a different way than traditional ITO operations and consulting to bring in fresh perspective and ideas. 
  • Prepare talent for the ability to learn, unlearn, relearn, and make effective changes. Organizations need to stop viewing technology as a barrier. Ultimately, the technology is about people, and leaders and employers need to think more about how to embrace technology as an enabler of change. DesignIT for example, has been known to take a “playful unlearning” approach to change management, encouraging people to experiment and figure out what works.
  • Consider your company’s existential decision. As our guest speaker, Sandeep Dadlani of Mars, articulated, “Forget digital. What do you want your company to be?” Mars decided that it wanted to be faster. Coupled with strong growth and data-driven strategy, Mars is using this speed to connect to customers and anticipate their needs sooner.
  • Reframe the problem using design thinking. The most successful companies are now using design thinking to reframe the problems that it encounters in digital transformation. Thinking from their customers’ perspectives is a big part of this—don’t ask the consumer what they want; ask them to describe their life. Doing design thinking as part of “day jobs” is all part of a shift to different skills, embracing data, and an experience-focused ethos.
  • Promote a culture of learning and design. Create small groups of people first; then try things and fail. Encouraging “it’s ok to fail” will help change the culture.


The Bottom Line: Digital is about reframing the problem. As a digital organization, what problems do you want to solve, and what opportunities can digital help you take?


Consider Dadlani’s existential question: What do you want your company to be? Using this as a guideline, define the right problems and opportunities upon which to focus your transformation and the right partners to help along the way.





 Sandeep Dadlani from Mars in discussion with Phil Fersht 

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