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The Art of Management – How to approach digital transformation in challenging industries

Every month, we speak to a different business leader, seeking insights and advice in their area of expertise. Through these conversations we hope that managers and leaders can glean help and guidance on a wide range of business disciplines, which can be used in their day-to-day.

This month, we’re talking to Alex Tebbs, co-founder of the unified communications company, VIA. With a vast career spent in telecommunications, Alex is passionate about helping businesses transform their working practices. We sat down to talk to him about how particular industries can use digital transformation to their advantage.

Hi Alex, thanks for talking with us. Firstly, we’d like to ask how digital transformation has affected your role and your industry?

Working in unified communications, collaboration is an important part of what we do. Technology has undeniably made us more connected than ever before, but that can be both a blessing and a curse. Remote working is a big part of our culture, so it’s always been important for us to lead the way when it comes to making technology work harder for us, not the other way around.

I see digital transformation as an opportunity to design a system where we use technology to the best of its abilities, to make our workflow more efficient, our productivity levels higher and our job satisfaction even greater. I believe it has the potential to revolutionise companies around the world, and I’ve seen it happen first-hand.

 

Two engineers discussing work and using tablet pc

 

Whilst there are undoubted positives to digital transformation, do you believe there are any roadblocks that business leaders should be wary of?

In terms of company culture, there will almost always be nay-sayers who don’t believe in a project at first, so be vocal about your successes to get more people believing in the new system. Once you’ve transformed one process successfully, getting collective backing for future projects will be much easier.

Don’t jump to conclusions too quickly about the performance of new technology after rollout; either positive or negative. A digital transformation requires investigation, careful implementation, and critical review to ensure successful implementation; so be sure to give enough time after launching to tweak your approach for maximum benefit.

You should aim to see a measurable change in something concrete, like revenue, customer satisfaction, or employee productivity. If you don’t see results after a long transition period, then you may need to re-evaluate your strategy.

 

When you work with business leaders struggling with digital transformation, what advice do you give to help them accept and embrace change?

The most important thing is not to be afraid of new technology. We need only look at how much the world has changed over the past few decades to see just how transformative technology can be, and in most cases, people would agree that it’s changed life for the better. There’s always going to be a learning curve involved, but if your business isn’t open to change then it will at best stagnate and at worst fall behind.

Also, don’t be afraid to ask for help. If you don’t have experience with a particular technology or simply want a second opinion on how best to utilise it, there’s a wealth of tech experts out there who can guide you.

 

Asian man in office wearing glasses and blue shirt sits on laptop in modern office

 

Numerous businesses have been revolutionised by digital transformation, taxi hailing for example. However, some industries are staying far more traditional – do you believe that is due to a lack of opportunity for digital transformation or a reluctance from industry leaders?

I don’t see this as due to a lack of opportunity; any business which is going to survive the ‘fourth industrial revolution’ will need to have a vision for how it can continue to grow in an ever-changing business landscape. Our way of life is changing, and the speed and ease with which we can fulfil our needs have become much bigger priorities. Technology facilitates quick and easy interactions that people can access at their own convenience so, naturally, we are seeing consumers gravitate towards companies that are using digital to the best of its ability

Have you found any industries that are particularly reluctant to accept digital transformation and change?

Reluctance to undergo digital transformation is usually rooted in either a lack of understanding or anxiety stemming from a misconception of what digital transformation actually is. It varies from company to company, but more traditional industries, such as agriculture or manufacturing, can sometimes be more reluctant simply because they have had less exposure to the capabilities of modern technology. The mindset can sometimes be “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, so it can be eye-opening for them to see the variety of ways in which technology can innovate their business.

For businesses and industries which are slow to react to digital transformation, do you believe change is best driven by industry leaders or disruptive external parties

Digital transformation can take many forms, and there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Every industry and every business will have different needs and goals for their digital transformation, so getting advice on a bespoke solution to meet your individual requirements is invaluable.

 

Business men in a dark room standing in front of a large data display

 

Sometimes, it can be beneficial to hire someone dedicated to overseeing your digital transformation, who can champion the process and put all their time and energy into ensuring the implementation is smooth and extracts maximum benefit. This also helps to keep the project on track and makes it easier to measure the impact the technology is having.

If you do choose to hire an external party to lead your digital transformation, you should be sure to form a close partnership with them to ensure you get the end result you want. Business leaders should look to combine their strategic vision, customer focus and ability to inspire and motivate with the expert guidance from an experienced digital transformation specialist.

Some business leaders will be concerned that undertaking a digital transformation process will hinder current business activity. Do you have any tips on helping a business sustain its activity whilst adapting to change?

A phased approach is absolutely the way to go. Introducing different elements of your digital transformation in stages allows you to test the waters and iron-out any bumps in the road over a longer period of time, but with far less disruption to the day-to-day running of your business.

Throughout your whole digital transformation process, from conception;’ strategising; implementation; and finally the review stage, you should make sure to listen to the feedback of your wider team. Addressing their concerns and queries is crucial, as is finding solutions to any potential issues they spot that you may have missed. Your team members are the ones who will be carrying out your new workflow every day, so getting their buy-in from the start is key.

Finally, are there any industries you’d unequivocally advocate not undertaking a digital transformation process? 

While I wouldn’t necessarily say that there are any industries that should absolutely not undergo a digital transformation, there are definitely sectors which will have to take into account more considerations when it comes to the implementation of a digital transformation strategy.

 

Woman in warehouse pushing buttons on wearable barcode reader

 

For example, while a manufacturing firm may only need to prioritise concerns about productivity and quality control, an HR company will need to ensure that any new processes introduced still maintain the level of sensitivity and empathy required in certain situations. As I say, every transformation process is different and needs to be bespoke to the company involved. At the end of the day, technology isn’t going away, so finding a solution that works for your business will be crucial for keeping up with the competition

We’d like to thank Alex for taking the time to share his expertise with us. Don’t forget to check out the other articles from The Art of Management, if you’re looking for more managerial tips and advice:

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