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Digital transformation in action: insights from the front line

Conversations about the catalysts, key themes, success factors and lessons learned in the digital transformation journeys of Australasian organisations.

For me, one of the standouts of this year’s Intergen and Empired Convergence series was the digital transformation in action panels. Across eight panel sessions, we had the chance to hear the real life stories and lessons of digital transformation directly from 28 business leaders across numerous industries, each of them intimately familiar with the challenge of digital transformation today.

Client panels - Intergen Convergence 2017
See footnote for captions

As I said in my introductions to Convergence, the nature of the conversations we are having with our clients has changed significantly in recent years – now they’re much less about specific technologies and much more about business outcomes – and to hear their honest, unmediated stories was a real highlight, and a great snapshot of the priorities being tackled head-on by Australasian businesses today.

Whether it was an ‘aha moment’, a burning platform, or the proverbial slowly-boiling frog making digital change a necessity rather than a nice-to-have, each business leader spoke in no uncertain terms of a strong impetus and need for transformation.

Yet, while there was widespread recognition within Australasian businesses and leadership teams that digital transformation should be right at the top of the organisational agenda, many spoke of the understandable challenges that come with turning this intention into reality, even when the spirit is willing.

This delta between saying and doing is clearly reflected in the results from Microsoft’s study from earlier this year of the progress of digital transformation in organisations across the Asia Pacific region, finding that while nearly all business leaders agreed that every organisation needs to transform into a digital business to enable future growth, only one third of their organisations have a full strategy in place to make it actually happen.

And perhaps what resonated most strongly from the reflections of our panellists was that the biggest challenge (and opportunity) of all doesn’t lie in nailing the mother of all technology roadmaps and getting the technical nuts and bolts in place (although that’s an important challenge in itself, of course); it lies in selling the vision, in understanding your organisation’s fundamental ‘why’, in engaging your people and bringing them on a journey of constant change.

In essence, our leaders told us that successful digital transformation relies on a – sometimes radical – change in mindset, a rethinking of the fundamentals underpinning everything we do and why we do it.

And while technology features in the digital transformation equation as one of the most crucial enablers under the hood, when it comes to the big picture, the technology itself is largely irrelevant: the digital transformation story is one of vision and leadership and a complete focus on people-centred change, not to mention the need for the bravery to question the status quo and potentially challenge or dispense with long-held conventions.

And these days change is constant; the digital journey has no finite endpoint. Consequently, our comfort zones need to shrink. AUT’s Liz Bashara summed this up, explaining that she challenges her teams with the question: “Are you comfortable being uncomfortable?”

Because that’s what’s required.

What were, or are, the catalysts for digital transformation?

From across the Convergence series panel conversations, a number of clear key catalysts for digital transformation emerged, chief amongst them:

  • Customer experience as the ultimate differentiator and success factor
  • The need to redefine organisational purpose and relevance
  • The impetus for transformation created by business change
  • Market competition – the need to grow (or even simply to maintain) market share
  • Industry changes – keeping up with – or ideally ahead of – the Joneses in your sector
  • Risks posed by legacy systems
  • The engagement and experience of the people within our organisations

What were the recurring themes throughout the panels? 

Digital is a part of everything, not an adjunct.

As Bob Smith, CEO of Public Trust, says, he doesn’t have a digital strategy; he has a business strategy.

How we drive and manage digital transformation requires a total rethink – but who’s responsible?

Much conversation was had across the various panels about where responsibility for digital transformation should lie. Within this, business leaders contemplated the changing role of the CIO as organisations realise that IT departments shouldn’t necessarily be the sole custodians for these changes.

The vision should be leader-led; the team should be cross-functional; an organisation’s people should be engaged and informed throughout the journey.

Panels discussed the need for a Transformation Office, or, at the very least, senior people across the organisation with the mandate to drive (joined up) digital transformation. This sentiment was echoed in findings from IDC last month, stating that the foundations for digital success can be largely attributed to the proactivity of executives in “establishing technology strategy and prioritising investment towards business outcomes.”

Adam Dodds, IDC’s A/NZ Research Director for Channels, Alliances and Cloud Brokerage, says:

“The Digital Leadership team of an organisation is starting to form. These roles differ from the traditional C-Suite, and are reflective of the future model of operations.”

We need to think about and be consciously planning for the workforce of the future. How do we equip ourselves with the right people and skills? What do we need to do to engage millennials and leverage their digital fluency?

We can say with absolutely certainty that the future (even the quite near future) of work will look dramatically different from today. And it’s not simply a case of us implementing bleeding edge technologies and new-fangled bells and whistles around our offices; it’s more so about being able to tap into the zeitgeist of our younger workers (and those who have yet to join us) and to play a role in helping them to develop an ever-changing blend of capabilities, or “21st century skills

Because these are large-scale change projects fundamental to everything we do, not just tech projects on the periphery, or embarked upon in silos, how do we successfully manage this change and engage our people? Especially when you consider that it’s their involvement and buy-in that ultimately determines the success or failure of our transformation efforts?

The need for effective, ongoing, true change management can’t be oversold here.

What are the keys to success?

  • Focus on people first, technology after.
  • Get a great business strategy in place (with digital a part of everything, not as an appendix)
  • But remember, too, as Peter Drucker famously said, Culture eats strategy for breakfast. Your strategy will stall if it isn’t met with the right mindset and brought to life by your people.
  • Commit to innovation and growth. (And not just on paper.)
  • Understand your pain points and work from there. (The ocean is too big to boil.)
  • Remember it’s an evolution. Commit to iterations. (See comment above about the ocean’s boil-ability.)
  • Get the right (multi-disciplinary) team in place.
  • Leadership buy in and vision from the top is non-negotiable.

Key lessons learned?

  • No experience is a bad experience as long as you learn from it. And as long as you fail fast.
  • Digital transformation in each organisation is like a snowflake: while there are distinct similarities from one to the next, there’s no right or wrong, no one single blueprint, and certainly no such thing as perfect. As Vito Forte from Edith Cowan University said, “There’s no secret sauce, not one certain way. You need to understand your own industry, your own company, your own culture.”
  • Build trust in the people around you and get the right people around you – from inside and outside your organisation.
  • Keep doing it, keep coming back to the ‘why’, keep telling stories.
  • Remember if it was easy, everyone would be doing it.
  • Change is hard. But it’s the only constant.
  • It’s not about technology. In the words of Chris Buxton from Statistics New Zealand, “When people think about “digital” they think about technology, but technology is the least relevant thing in a [digital transformation] journey.”
  • Make it about your customer.

If you want to see what Convergence-goers told us about the state of their organisations’ digital transformation journeys, check out and have a play with our Power BI dashboard here.




1. Perth, 11 October (L - R) John Bessey, Executive GM, Sales & Marketing, Empired; Vito Forte, CIO, Edith Cowan University; Mark Winkworth, GM Finance & Business Improvement, PEET 
2. Brisbane, 13 October (L - R) Melany Taniora-Green, Regional Sales Lead NSW/QLD, Empired; Andy Helm, IT Application Architect, ASSA ABLOY; Amanda McMillan, CRM & Network Operations, Surf Lifesaving Foundation
3. Adelaide, 13 October (L - R) Brock Sperryn, Client Executive, Empired; Steve Sturm, Enterprise Systems Manager, ElectraNet; Kerry Maidment-Grocke, Enterprise Architect, ElectraNet
4. Christchurch, 17 October (L - R) Emma Barrett, Executive GM, Solutions and Services, Intergen; Darren Wilson, CIO, AsureQuality; Gabe Rijpma, Senior Director Health & Social Services Asia, Microsoft; Mark Delaney, Digital Strategist, NV Interactive; Katrina Ede, Software Development Manager, Ryman Healthcare; Charlotte Walshe, CEO, Dynamic Controls
5. Wellington, 19 October (L - R) Chris Buxton, CDO, Statistics NZ; Pam Thorburn, Director Student Academic Services, Victoria University; Carmen Casagranda, CIO, CIGNA; Tracy Voice, Director Business Technology & Information Services; Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI); Mark Delaney, Digital Strategist, NV Interactive; Emma Barrett, Executive GM, Solutions and Services, Intergen
6. Sydney, 24 October (L - R) John Bessey, Executive GM, Sales & Marketing, Empired; Norma Abeyasekera, Executive Officer, St Vincent de Paul
7. Melbourne, 26 October (L - R) John Bessey, Executive GM, Sales & Marketing, Empired; Adrian Stagg, CIO, Save the Children; Tom Leydon, Director of IT, Woods Bagot; Ryan Engellenner, Operations Supervisor, Bank Australia
8. Auckland, 3 November (L - R) Emma Barrett, Executive GM, Solutions and Services, Intergen; Reg Prasad, Head of Consulting, Qual IT; Tristin King, Head of Technology, JUCY; Bob Smith, CEO, Public Trust; Liz Bishara, Director Student Hub, AUT; Frazer Scott, Director of Marketing & Operations, Microsoft

Posted by: Simon Bright, Chief Operating Officer, Empired | 04 December 2017

Tags: Digital Transformation, Intergen Convergence

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