Embracing Digital Transformation Conversation Series
This collection of interviews is compiled from Inspired/By, panel discussions about business, design and creativity developed and moderated by Royann Dean. The digital transformation series explores the importance of digital transformation and creative intelligence in business strategy, entrepreneurship and business growth.
Interview 01: Part 02
Thriving and Surviving in the New Digital Landscape
In this interview, Gravette Brown, Chief Commercial Officer at Aliv telecommunications, and Albert Wilson, Senior, Data Analytics at KPMG Bahamas, discuss the all-important “buy-in”, the causes of resistance to embracing digital transformation, and ally-ship.
Here are the main points:
Digital transformation is not just for IT. All departments have a role to play.
Don’t get lost at sea. Ride the wave and stay connected as new developments emerge.
Embrace the discomfort. There are opportunities in breaking the routine and finding new methods.
Continue an open conversation. Forming groups to inform policy- making will assist in advancing technological development.
Digital transformation is a term growing in popularity but what does it mean? In a new way of working, digital in business is a tool for continuity and to meet the needs of an increasingly demanding marketplace. And it needs creative thinking to make it work.
Now, let’s discuss the process of getting all departments on board and how they each fit into the greater picture of a successful data strategy. How will your company overcome internal and external challenges?
“You can see the fear of the unknown as an opportunity instead of opposing it.”- Garvette Brown, Aliv
At Aliv, the team is composed of younger individuals and has a culture that is not typical for the Bahamas. What are some aspects of your corporate culture that facilitate a moralistic approach to a digital company?
Garvette Brown (GB): Even though that is true, the things we are doing in digital are still new even for younger generations of Bahamians. We spearhead most of the digital transformation within the marketing department, but it does require all players to get involved and be on board and to really understand how it can transform their business. How can it help them make their sale? How and where is the business moving? Why is it important to the business of the future? Especially if you’re out there in a sales capacity. Sometimes you just sell what’s in front of you. Having that appreciation and knowledge of, yes, I do have to sell what’s in front of me but I also have to realize what’s coming and what's new and think about how I can incorporate that into my sale. That requires knowledge and a greater understanding. For example, if someone gave me water bottles. I'm going to sell water bottles, but then think that in the future water bottles won’t exist because of plastics in the ocean. We need to get ready to talk to that issue. And in speaking to that can help you make the sale. That’s a more sophisticated approach. Notwithstanding, you still need to get people calibrated to what's happening out in the greater world. What are global trends and not to be so insularly focused thinking “this is how we’ve always done it in the Bahamas” which is the greatest impediment to implementing all of these changes not just within your internal organization but also externally, the other partners that you need to work if you’re going to seriously affect change or seriously create real transformation is you need all of your external partners to also work.
When you look at who is using the service or facility another component of this is that you have to design that process out like a journey. The analog components of these steps must function properly or else the digital part will lose its effectiveness. You want to get the most return out of the digital investment as possible. In working with external partners, you may map out that journey for your particular component, but when you get to the external part of it if those partners have not “bought into it” or are not on board you then have a process that’s broken.
Albert, the clients at KPMG do you find that there are some clients that “buy in” more readily to looking at the data, and if they are not buying in, who is it that you find that needs to champion a project to move it across the chain?
Albert Wilson (AW): We have experienced quite a dichotomy when it comes to the “buy-in” at the client level. We see clients that have really been pushing some of these digital transformation strategies and understand its importance within their organizations. They are really communicating it amongst the relevant teams within their firms. But then, we’ve seen clients that are generally supportive of it, but have quite a large number of people or functions that don’t buy into it as yet.
What are the causes for resistance?
AW: It’s a mix of fear and comfort. I think it's when they view data, analytics, or digital transformation in general, they think that whatever solution we’re offering will replace what they currently do, making their function in that position redundant. That’s not necessarily the case. The idea behind digital transformation is to make functions a little bit more efficient, but then take more strategic perspectives when it comes to analytics. We’ve seen in a lot of cases with clients that have become comfortable in what they typically do throughout the course of their day. They operate within a very conventional business model and don’t necessarily want to break that mold. They are of the notion that if it’s not broken, no need to fix it. But if it takes twelve steps to do something, and we reduce it to two, why not optimize it? It's really trying to get them to come out of their comfort zones and pick up some of these ways to do things more efficiently and take a more strategic approach to their data.
GB: I agree with Albert. It is fear and comfort. I think that in discussing these topics with people we must be more frank in confronting the fact that this is the way the world is going. It's not a train we’re going to stop here in the Bahamas. So we really have to jump ahead and encourage each other to get on the train. Yes, redundant jobs are being replaced, and it's becoming more about the bottom line, so you have to figure out how you can capture all of this change that is coming. Resistance will not protect you for very long, if at all. It only means you will be more likely to be trampled along the way of progress. You can see the fear of the unknown as an opportunity instead of opposing it. Especially in the Bahamas, I think more people are realizing that this is a way for them to engage in a way that they would have been prevented from doing because they didn’t have the capital, resources, or connections. They can now build for themselves.
That’s a very good point. From an organizational perspective, what that also means is that organizations have an opportunity to determine where their resources get spent in terms of developing human capital. If your industry is changing and using new technology, even though some of the jobs that exist today may be redundant, you create new jobs and therefore you need people with newer skill sets.
“The entire organization would be affected by any digital transformation strategy, so it’s important that cross-functions are able to “buy into” the strategy and see where they fit in.” - Albert Wilson, KPMG Bahamas
There are many different parts of an organization that drive this implementation. Historically, it’s been driven by IT and upgrading infrastructure but a lot of companies also upgrade marketing, advertising, and digital capabilities. That’s changing as companies worldwide increasingly employ a holistic, digital-focused strategy. Which department owns and manages it in your organization, or is it a more collaborative process with a cross-functional committee composed of several departments?
GB: At Aliv, in terms of using digital tools to create new products, we’re seeing a lot of that is coming out of the commercial team which encompasses traditional marketing and product development. But then certainly working with all of the departments to increase success, because we have to integrate it into our network. We can’t do that without the help of the network, engineering and IT teams. Technology has become very much a big equalizer and people have access to it and knowledge of it so there’s no longer only one department “owns'' technology. It’s owned by everyone.
AW: We’re seeing a lot of the non-IT functions within companies are actually pushing forward digital transformation strategies. We’ve seen it come from financial and risk departments. Generally, the entire organization would be affected by any digital transformation strategy, so it’s important that cross-functions are able to “buy into” the strategy and see where they fit in.
What are some of the challenges that you face within the organization when it comes to digital transformation “buy-in” regarding cultural issues, entrenched viewpoints, resistance to change, legal and compliance, or the stymieing of progress?
AW: One of the sources that I’ve encountered that limits a lot of the digital transformation is regulations, and to the extent, international regulations and their obligations to different companies. One of the bigger ones being the EU's *GDPR- a policy that ensures or suggests that companies have a more sophisticated approach to how they collect, store, and transfer personal information about people. It's about protecting the privacy of the customer.
AW: Exactly. We’ve seen where a lot of these international regulations start to limit how companies can see how digital transformation strategies can be implemented. They look at these regulations and know that the onus is on them to have a very secure protocol for data collection, storage, and transferring. This particular policy mirrors some of what the Bahamas has in our own data privacy laws. It’s a little more strict and the penalties inferred are very significant.
GB: Some of the policies need to be updated. The last update was about ten years ago. When you talk about impediments to moving forward, it is the regulations. Because we have not designed for it in our policies. So, as a result, there's a lot of lack of knowledge. There’s nothing specifically on the books when approaching the various regulatory bodies with a new product. When you get down to the players that actually need to act on it for them they don’t have a playbook that tells them what to do in this specific situation. Not only do we need our companies and our people to be entrepreneurial and think about what’s next and what’s new, but also need our institutions to think about that as well. It’s about seeing where the trends are and readying ourselves ahead of time as opposed to waiting. These transformations are happening rapidly. Competitively this kills any advantage if the governing bodies are slow to act.
What then would put the fire under these policy makers?
GB: It’s lobbying. It’s having the conversation. I wouldn’t say that there's a complete lack of interest, it's just getting everyone to see. It’s a lot of engagement from the highest to the lowest. Get them to understand not just theoretically, but why it’s necessary to implement it and devote time and resources to it now. There's a lot of negative to be said of lobbying agencies and firms in the US and nefarious deeds that are attributed to them, but as an industry group, it does give you a convening call to highlight and educate.
What role does technology play in the client experience for your companies?
AW: We see that technology improves decision making within KPMG as a firm, but also with our clients. It allows us and our clients to make decisions that are more fact-based rather than just “gut feeling”. It’s also allowed us to see the need of adapting to some of these strategies we implement but also applying sophisticated strategies within their functions.
How are you presenting the data to your clients in a way that tells the story of the information that is understandable and the best way to use that data?
AW: This is where the disconnection can normally come in. To mitigate this, we employ a number of visualization software to really grab that data and tell a story. We don’t just want to show you spreadsheets, but one dashboard with “actionable insights” with the most crucial data. We focus on the backend to getting the AI into the company and we spend a lot of time on the frontend trying to tell that story. Once you have collected all of this data, start to process it, and you get your meaningful data from that processing, if there’s a disconnection with the actual insights and the clients are unable to understand what it means- it doesn’t matter. So, it's really trying to simplify that frontend experience.
*The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is the toughest privacy and security law in the world. Though it was drafted and passed by the European Union (EU), it imposes obligations onto organizations anywhere, so long as they target or collect data related to people in the EU. The regulation was put into effect on May 25, 2018. The GDPR will levy harsh fines against those who violate its privacy and security standards, with penalties reaching into the tens of millions of euros. (from: https://gdpr.eu/what-is-gdpr/)
Conversation taken from the 2019 Inspired/By, a live panel discussion at The Current Art Gallery at Baha Mar, Nassau, Bahamas. Responses have been edited for brevity.