Lessons from Covid-19: Digital transformation in a fraction of the time and how data professionals can help
10 Data Leaders Zooming on a sunny Friday afternoon. What could be better? A lively, informative conversation about;
- agility … AND
- the biggest mass digital literacy programme in the world
Alex Leathard: Head of Data & Insights @ Planet Smart City
Alexandra Graff: Business Intelligence Manager @ CBS Interactive
Allan Engelhardt: Corporate Consultant @ Barnett Waddingham
Avi Marco: Chair & Data Leader / Mentor @ Ammonite Data
Chris Bryson: Global Analytics Director @ Webhelp
David Hayter: Head of Data & Analytics @ Karhoo
Keith Robinson: JMD @ Ammonite Data
Nick Masca: Head of Data & Data Science @ Resolver Group
Phil Marks: JDM @ Ammonite Data
Richie Ramsden: Head of Data science @ AkzoNobel
Vlad Jiman: Group Head of Analytics Platform & Data Engineering @ Pets at Home
Covid-19 is brutal and has changed everything, more rapidly than anything else in my lifetime. The pandemic is catapulting the world into a future that will never be the same. We are learning lessons along the way, quickly. Businesses have changed strategies, products and services, processes and people. These are some thoughts and quotes from our latest ‘Leaders in Data’ Zoom table;
Acceleration; “We have been talking about becoming more agile as a business and discussing what business case we could focus on and suddenly 60% of the workforce is working from home.”
In normal times, if a digital transformation is planned over 3-5 years, it has probably already failed. Employees, goals, environments change too rapidly over that time. You need only to look at what BA are doing to their staffing levels to see that. We are now in a period of extreme urgency, so the luxury of having six or twelve months to make changes isn’t available.
Major digital changes are now happening in days and weeks instead of months or even years. Boards have just had a crash course in the benefits of digital transformations. Over time, the gap between the digitally transformed and those who hesitate will become very apparent.
Covid-19 it is frightening a lot of businesses who have seen their revenue streams collapse overnight. A lot of digital transformation programmes are being driven from a place of distress. Companies are at the point where money is tight. The key driver is cost cutting.
This crisis has also accelerated a shift in priorities, maybe not before time. Rather than purely concentrating on helping clients make sense of their data, thoughts have turned inwards.
“In the last few weeks we have realised, we need to focus much more internally. How are our employees doing with all this change? Who is working at night? Is that out of choice? How do we check-in on their well-being? What happens to productivity? How do we judge productivity?”
Agility, one of the drivers for digital transformation, has become so critical right now. Whereas data was perceived as not accurate or complete enough, now data leaders are realising that good enough is good enough if it gets you to make the right decisions quickly.
Data people have a tremendous role to play in that acceleration and change of mindset. They must keep pushing the levels of speed and creativity forward.
Boards now have much more of an appetite to break down any barriers to delivery that might have been there before. It’s less about the technology part of the transformation and more about the people part and the fleet of foot behaviours. We need to question what is enabling us to change so much quicker than before and to ensure that we do not lose that.
Experimentation; “Pre-Covid-19 we had no platform for experimentation in the company.”
Data teams have been presented with an opening for experimentation where there was none, both internally and externally with customers. Questions are now being asked more frequently; How do we experiment with different client operating models? How do we handle all the different ways that people structure their day? How do we do our regular test and learn?
At a macro level, how do you prove to the Board that you are making money? In e-commerce businesses in particular, experimentation is key. You can genuinely transform data projects into pounds and pence, for instance AB testing on pricing for different services.
In digital media, one of the biggest opportunities now is to experiment with new solutions to test how data can be garnered in the new cookie-less world we will be entering.
There are challenges of course. There is a constraint on resources – with fewer engineers, it’s difficult to build some of the experimentation into platforms. Where there was a clear roadmap – it’s been re-prioritised as customers put business on hold. Where internal data has been tested – it has exposed silos.
Some businesses have also experimented with employee well-being, some more successfully than others. From food deliveries for employees in need to instillation of desktop analytics on staff computers. The line between work and home has blurred a little. What was once seen as an intrusion or a step too far into data privacy, some now see as good intentions.
Do we now have a more positive opportunity to use this type of employee data? Spying for the sake of collecting data is dubious. Companies need to communicate openly and be clear what’s in it for employees. That’s even more urgent now and should be at the forefront. Leadership teams don’t want to be seen to be watching what their people are doing.
There are multiple ways of collecting data that are less intrusive, like anonymous employee engagement questionnaires that are easier to introduce in the current climate. Some would rather teams look at their own data, make decisions and adjust their own behaviour, maybe with some Agile coaching.
Is that blurring of lines also moving into the digital transformation space in terms of how companies interact with consumers? For example, non-contact deliveries or working in new local communities and networks that are spinning up around us. How does that all play together? There are a lot of moving parts at play. The companies that are going to succeed are those that can see a clear path through all these moving parts post Covid-19.
Opportunity; “As expensive as this crisis is, it’s been the biggest mass digital literacy programme in the world.”
Going forward, people’s appetite to use technology has been super accelerated. Person to person communication will reduce but the crisis has done a lot to humanise the process rather than being seen as intrusive. We are seeing inside people’s homes and lives and work colleagues are connecting more on a human level.
This has also been an opportunity for many to stop for a few weeks and look at things differently.
In one manufacturing story, they’ve gone from open factories with thousands of non-digital jobs to no manufacturing at all. But they now have people at home, on a laptop, very rapidly learning new digital skills. For them, digital transformation is something that happens across the whole company.
“When they come back to work, we will be giving them the opportunity to put these new skills to the test to improve the processes.”
In a Smart City business, where community managers regularly visited residents, they have developed Google Forms and cloud reporting tools to track sentiment and requirements.
Things have changed forever in terms of digital transformation. Many projects are the same but the way they are being tackled is very different. It’s exciting.
Despite the immense tragedy, we remain optimistic about the opportunities … to do things better. As data people, we have an opportunity to grasp positive change out of this and bring to the fore the insights that are driving these changes.
Productivity that comes on the back of that will far exceed the financial cost that we see today. This crisis could catapult the world into a better future. Here’s hoping.