How to run a successful business transformation
Luke Stow Interview: A CIO’s guide to digital reinvention
January 23, 2018
At the tail end of last year we met experienced CIO, Luke Stow, to discuss the key trends influencing energy retail.
Following the popularity of our first interview, we’ve delved deeper into Luke’s knowledge reserves and unearthed more pearls of wisdom – this time with a focus on the digital reinvention process as a whole.
Luke’s experience managing and implementing transformation programs across communications, aviation and energy, means he is well versed in the intricacies of business reinventions. Read on for tips and insights into the vital areas of any digital transformation – right from cultural change through to selecting the right solutions – from someone who has been there and done it.
For any organization using technology to reinvent itself, what would you say are the key things to focus on?
Transformations are always difficult things. To be successful, I think the key thing to focus on is really making sure the organization is ready to make that step. Cultural change is far more important than many organizations realize as the foundation for the change that’s required.
Cultural change is far more important than many organizations realize as the foundation for the change that’s required.
The new technology, new processes and the new way of working are obviously significant. But, it’s about making sure that everyone in the organization is of a mindset that it’s not about the technology, it’s how you use these newer platforms and work with them in a way that’s going to bring maximum value to the end customer. This is critical for any transformation to be successful.
What do you think about the term transformation, how do you get people to get on board with it?
To be honest, I think the word transformation is overused. I believe ‘business reinvention’ is the best way of thinking about it.
A lot of people within corporate organizations have been through a number of transformation and change programs. These programs have often been ongoing over a long period of time, without there really being any success.
As a result, suffering from change fatigue is a common thing that I hear about when I talk to boards, executives or any other people within businesses about their experiences with transformation programs.
Instead, looking at it as business reinvention helps people to think in terms of what will we look like on the other side of this change? And how do we reinvent ourselves to bring maximum benefit to our customers and our business? It’s about making that sustainable change that most businesses crave for.
For any reinvention project, how do you go about getting internal stakeholders on board to get sign off?
Getting external, and internal, stakeholders on board the type of reinvention that’s required to enable your business to get the maximum benefit from cloud-based technologies can be difficult. There are some key things from my experience that have worked.
One is to really make sure you take all those stakeholders through the journey and map out why these type of technologies are going to enable business reinvention.
Don’t just look at yourself and your own industry. Explore what’s happening outside of that and be open minded.
The second thing is about showcasing case studies and proof points that demonstrate where these technologies have made change in other businesses and other industries. Don’t just look at yourself and your own industry. Explore what’s happening outside of that and be open minded. For example, in my experience, what worked in aviation was applicable to energy retail.
The third point is to ensure you always keep the benefits and value that the enterprise is going to derive from these platforms front of mind. Alongside this, make sure you involve your stakeholders and get input as you go through the evaluation process and start to talk about the cultural change required for the technology to work.
Those 3 things have proven successful for me to bring stakeholders along on the journey of cloud adoption.
How do you ensure the initial objectives of a business reinvention don’t get lost as the project runs its course?
When I think about the most successful business reinventions that i’ve been involved in, I think that weaving that consistent message about the reinvention through all communication to internal staff, stakeholders and customers is really quite key.
Always think, why are we making this change and what do we want to achieve out of it? Make sure that is communicated and also weaved into general conversation within the team.
Ensure that all suppliers and internal stakeholders involved in the reinvention are clear about those key message points. That’s been by and far the most successful thing that I’ve seen during business reinventions.
You’ve overseen a number of successful digital reinventions. What is it that you look for in a set of solutions to make them productive?
When you’re considering what’s going to make a difference in a business environment, I think of it in quite a modern way.
Look at the iPhone. If you chose a single app on an iPhone to complete all your tasks, you’d be making a big mistake. Imagine the time it would take to navigate and find what you need, or to make any changes to your phone.
Cloud-based technology enables you to have the components that all work together – like the iPhone – to give your users a personalized, purpose-built experience.
The analogy I’d give is that most big systems you can now buy, and have been able to buy for some time, only enable you to have that one app on an iPhone. Whereas, modern cloud-based technology enables you to have the components that all work together – like the iPhone – to give your users a personalized, purpose-built experience.
Wouldn’t it be great to componentize all of your technology and all of your platforms so you can interact with your customers in a way that’s convenient for them?
That way, when you make changes in the future, those components can come off and you can add new ones into the environment that are going to be complementary to what you’ve already got. Rather than rebuilding and reassessing every time you want to make any step change, as you would have to in that single system or app. I don’t see the sense in doing that.
Are there any good examples of solutions in the market that replicate this model?
Take Salesforce and their AppExchange, it’s a good example of somewhere you can find components that live together and can work together seamlessly.
I think for a modern platform, just like the iPhone with its various applications, this allows you to choose the applications that are going to work for you and your enterprise. You can then get them in place quickly and leverage what comes out of the box to start rapidly build a great customer experience.
Along with this next-level customer experience, you can quickly build business processes that enable you to automate, reduce manual intervention and remove the steps that bring about errors and a cumbersome customer experience.
What are the key lessons you’ve learnt when implementing new systems?
The key takeaways I have from implementing cloud-based technology is to really ensure that you have clear ways of working with that technology. Then you can implement quickly, and repeat the same processes into the future.
I’ve already touched on this, but by and far the biggest lesson is to ensure that cultural change has occurred prior to, during and continues after the implementation. This means spending a big chunk of time making sure that people are clear that it’s really not about the technology and the underlying process, but how they engage with these processes and systems to make a difference to the customer.
Your people are the frontier of the change – the platforms and processes are just the enablers for that human change.
What do you think represents project implementation best practice?
Best practice in terms of project implementation, particularly of cloud-based technology applications, is to get a minimum viable product (MVP) out quickly and work out what’s going to be of most value for the enterprise and the organization.
Get a minimum viable product out quickly and work out what’s going to be of most value for the enterprise and the organization.
You need to put that MVP out there and iterate from there. Cloud-based platforms are really enablers for a new way of working. So for your implementation you need to consider how do you change your work practices to enable quick, easy to understand change, so that you can bring the benefits to your customers quickly.
What would be your top tips to consider when evaluating a solution provider?
I think what’s really key in evaluating a solution provider is to engage with the provider directly. Talk to them about what they’ve done locally, where they see their product moving to in the future and what real, live examples of success can they share with you.
Steer clear of the noise that you’ll be presented with from various quarters
But, it’s also important to try and steer clear of the noise that you’ll be presented with from various quarters. Stick to talking directly to the provider of choice. Work with them on what you want to accomplish in your business and what they’ll be able to provide you as part of their solution. I think that’s sensible advice.
Are there any cases where you would advise selecting a traditional monolithic Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system over cloud-based technology?
Look, the choices you have are really broad and I’ve come across this kind question a lot in my engagements with boards and executives. There’s a discussion around whether we just continue to leverage off an existing ERP implementation investment or to even buy another ERP system.
My answer is really straightforward. The answer is no.
I think those all-in-one systems are dead. What we’re talking about now is the reinvention of technology into these smaller components that can be implemented quickly and worked with to impact your business right now. It’s not a choice at all. It’s a different equation.
ERPs offer you scale and the ability to see your financial transactions in one place. But the cost of implementation for customer facing technology and for all the end-to-end systems in your business is not viable anymore.
Choosing an end-to-end ERP solution for your organization, from my experience, is like pouring cement into your organization.
Choosing an end-to-end ERP solution for your organization, from my experience, is like pouring cement into your organization. It bounds things up and if you want to change anything it’s months worth of wait, it’s expensive, it doesn’t give you the chance to move quickly or reinvent the way your organization works. There is a certain process that needs to be followed and its cumbersome in terms of sign off, it doesn’t really equate to value for the organization or the customer.
Cloud-based technologies give you the ability to move more quickly and give your customers a better experience, right now. They can enable you to work in different ways, and do it in a way that’s componentized.
That’s the way most modern organizations are thinking about how to get into the digital age – and to engage with customers in a way that they’d like to engaged with.