Digital transformation goes beyond girding for COVID survival — it enables an unyielding and renewable value differentiation capability
To share the Pointnext view on transforming businesses to effectively innovate in the new era of pervasive digital business, BriefingsDirect welcomes Craig Partridge, Senior Director Worldwide, Digital Advisory and Transformation Practice Lead, at HPE Pointnext Services.The discussion is moderated by Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions.
Here are some excerpts:
Gardner: Craig, how has the response to the pandemic accelerated the need for comprehensive digital transformation?
Partridge: We speak to a lot of customers around the world. And the one thing that we are picking up very commonly is a little bit counter-intuitive.
At the beginning of the pandemic — in fact, at the beginning of any major disruption — there is a sense that companies will put the brakes on and slow everything down. And that happened as we went through this initial period. Preserving cash and liquidity kicked in and a minimum viable operating model emerged. People were reluctant to invest.
But as they now begin to see the shifting landscape in industries, we are beginning to see a recognition that those pivoting out of these disruptive moments the quickest — with sustained, long-term viability built behind how they accelerate — those organizations are the ones driving new experiences and new insights. They are pushing hard on the digital agenda. In other words, digitally active companies seem to be the ones pivoting quicker out of these disruptions — and coming out stronger as well.
So although there was an initial pause as people pivoted to the new normal, we are seeing now acceleration of initiatives or projects, underpinned by technology, that are fundamentally about reshaping the customer experience. If you can do that through digital engagement models, you can continue to drive revenue and customer loyalty because you are executing those valued transactions through digital platforms.
Gardner: Has the pandemic and response made digital transformation more attractive? If you have to do more business digitally, if your consumers and your supply chain have become more digital, is this a larger opportunity?
Partridge: Yes, it’s not only more attractive — it’s more essential. That’s what we are learning.
A good example here in the UK, where I am based, is that big retailers have traditionally been deeply into the brick world experience of walking into a retail store or supermarket, those kinds of big, physical spaces. They figured out during this period of disruption that the only way to continue to drive revenue and take orders was on digital platforms. Well, guess what? Those digital platforms were only scaled and sized for a certain kind of demand, and that demand was based on a pre-pandemic normal.
This transformation is not just an attractive thing to do. For many organizations pivoting hard to digital engagement and digital revenue streams is their new normal. That’s what they have to focus on — not just to survive but for beyond that.
Now, they have to double or treble the capacity of their transactions across those digital platforms. They are having to increase massively their capability to not only buy online, but to get deliveries out to those customers as well.
So this transformation is not just an attractive thing to do. For many organizations pivoting hard to digital engagement and digital revenue streams is their new normal. That’s what they have to focus on — and not just to survive but for beyond that. It’s the direction to their new normal as well.
Gardner: It certainly seems that the behavior patterns of consumers, as well as employees, have changed for the longer term when it comes to things like working at home, using virtual collaboration, bypassing movie theaters for online releases, virtual museums, and so forth.
For those organizations that now have to cater to those online issues and factor in the support of their employees online, it seems to me that this shift in user behavior has accelerated what was already under way. Do companies therefore need to pick up the pace of what they are doing for their own internal digital transformation, recognizing that the behaviors in the market have shifted so dramatically?
Partridge: Yes, in the past digital transformation focused on the customer experience, the digital engagement channel, and building out that experience. You can relate that in large parts to the shift toward e-commerce. But increasingly people are aware of the need to integrate information about the physical space as well. And if this pandemic taught us anything, it’s that they need to not only create great experiences — they must create safe, great experiences.
What does that mean? I need to understand about my physical space so I can augment my service offerings in a way that’s safe. We are looking at scenarios where using video recognition and artificial intelligence (AI) will begin to work out whether that space being used safely. Are there measurements we can put in place to protect people better? Are people keeping certain social distancing rules?
All of that is triggering the next wave of customer experience, which isn’t just the online digital platform and digital interactions, but — as we get back out into the world and as we start to occupy those spaces again — how do I use the insight about the physical space to augment that experience and make sure that we can emerge safer, better, and enjoy those digital experiences in a way that’s also physically safe.
Beyond just the digital transactions side, now it’s much more about starting to address the movement that was already long on the way — the digitization of the physical world and how that plays into making these experiences more beneficial.
Gardner: So if the move to digitally transform your organization is an imperative, if those who did it earlier have an advantage, if those who haven’t done it want to do it more rapidly — what holds organizations back? What is it about legacy IT architectures that are perhaps a handicap?
Pivoting from the cloud
Partridge: It’s a great question because when I talk to customers about moving into the digital era, that triggers the question, “Well, what was there before this digital era?” And we might argue it was the cloud era that preceded it.
Now, don’t get me wrong. These aren’t sequential. I’m not saying that the cloud era is over and the digital era has replaced it. As you know, these are waves. And they rise on top of each other. But organizations that are able to go fast and accelerate on the digital agenda are often the same organizations.
The biggest constraint we see as organizations try to stress-test their digital age adoption is to see if they actually have agility in the back end. Are the systems set up to be able to scale on-demand as they start to pivot toward digital channels to engage their customers? Does a recalibration of the supply chain mean applications and data are placed in the right part of on- or off-premises cloud architecture supply chains?
The biggest constraint we see as organizations try to stress-test their digital age adoption is to see if they actually have agility in the back end. Are the systems set up to be able to scale on-demand as they pivot to digital channels to engage with their customers?
If you haven’t gone through a modernization agenda, if you haven’t tackled that core innovation issue, if you haven’t embraced cloud architectures, cloud-scale, and software-defined — and, increasingly, by the way, the shift to things like containerization, microservices, and decomposing big monolithic applications into manageable chunks that are application programming interface
(API)-connected — if you haven’t gone through that cloud-enabled exploration prior to the digital era, well, it looks like you still have some work to do before you can get the gains that some of those other modern organizations are now able to express.
There’s another constraint, which is really key. For most of the customers we speak to, it tends to be in and around the operating model. In a lot of conversations that I have with customers, they over-invested in technology. They are on every cloud platform available. They are using every kind of digital technology to gain a level of competitive advantage.
Yet, at the heart of any organization are the people. It’s the culture of the people and the innovation of your people that really makes the difference. So, not least of all, the supply chain agility, right in the heart of this conversation. It is the fundamental operating model — not just of IT, but the operating model of the entire organization.
So have they unticked their value chain? Have they looked at the key activities? Have they thought when they implement new technology, and how that might replace or augment activities? And what does that mean to the staff? Can you bring them with you, and have you empowered them? Have you re-skilled them along the way? Have you driven those cultural change programs to force that digital-first mindset, which is really the key to success in all of this?
Gardner: So many interdependencies, so much complexity, frankly, when we’re thinking about transacting across the external edge to cloud, to consumer, and to data center. And we’re talking about business processes that need to extend into new supply chains or new markets.
Given that complexity, tell us how to progress beyond understanding how difficult this all can be and to adopt proven ways that actually work.
Universal model has the edge
Partridge: For everything that we’ve talked about, we have figured out that there is a universal model that organizations can use to methodologically go off into this space.
We found out that organizations are very quickly pivoting to exploring their digital edge. I think the digital agenda is an edge-in conversation. Again, I think that marks it out from the preceding cloud era, which was much more about core-out. That was get scale, efficiency, and cost optimization out of service delivery models in-place. But that was a very core-out conversation. When you think digital, you have to begin to think about the use case of where value is created or exchanged. And, that’s an edge-in conversation.
And we managed to find that there are two journeys behind that discussion. The first one is about deciding to whom you are looking to deliver that digital experience. So when you think about digital engagement, really caring passionately about who the beneficiary persona is behind that experience. You need to describe that person in terms of what’s their day-in-the-life. What pains do they face today? What gains could you develop that could deliver better outcomes for them? How can you walk in their shoes, and how do you describe that?
We found that is a key journey, typically led by kind of chief digital officer-type character who is responsible for driving new digital engagement with customers. If the persona is external to the customer, if it’s a revenue-generating persona, we might think of revenue as the essential key performance indicator (KPI). But you can apply similar techniques to drive internal personas’ productivity. So productivity becomes the KPI.
That journey is inspired by initiatives that are trying to use digital to connect to people in new, innovative, and differentiated ways. And you’ll find different stakeholders behind that journey.
And we found another journey, which is reshaping the edge. And that’s much more about using technology to digitize the physical world. So let’s hear about the experience, about business efficiency and effectiveness at the edge — and using the insights of instrumenting and digitizing the physical world to give you a sense of how that space is being used. How is my manufacturing floor performing? The KPI is overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) in the manufacturing space and it becomes key. Behind this journey you’ll see big Industry 4.0-type and Internet of Things (IoT)-type of initiatives under way.
If organizations are able to stitch these two journeys together — rather than treat them as siloed sandpits for innovation — and if they can connect them together, they tend to get compound benefits.
You asked about where the constraint comes in. As we said, it is about getting agility into the supply chain. And again, we’ve actually found that there are two connected journeys, but with very different stakeholders behind them, which drive that agenda.
We have a journey, too, that describes a core renovation agenda that will occupy 70 to 80 percent of every IT budget every year. It’s the constant need to challenge the price performance of legacy environments and constantly optimize and move the workloads and data into the right part of the supply chain for strategic advantage.
That is coupled with yet another journey, that of the cloud-enabled constraint and that’s very much developer-led more than it is led by IT. IT is typically holding the legacy footprint, the technical debt footprint, but the developer is out there looking to exploit cloud-native architectures to write the next wave of applications and experiences. And they are just as impactful when it comes to equipping the organization with the cloud scale that’s necessary to mine those opportunities on the edge.
So, there is a balance in this equation, to your point. There is innovation at the edge, very much line of business-driven, very much about business efficiency and effectiveness, or revenue and productivity, the real tangible dollar value outcomes. And on the other side, it’s more about agility and the supply chain. It’s getting that balance right so that I have my agility and that allows me to go and explore the world digitally at the edge.
So they sort of overlap. And the implication there is that there are three core enablers and they are true no matter which of the big four agenda items customers are trying to drive through their initiative programs.
In digital, data is everything
Two of those enablers very much relate to data. Again, Dana, I know in the digital era data is everything. It is the glue that holds this new digital engagement model together. In there we found two key enablers that constantly come up, no matter which agenda you are driving.
The first one is surely you need intelligence from that data; data for its own sake is of no use, it’s about getting intelligence from that dataset. And that’s not just to make better decisions, but actually to innovate, to create differentiated value propositions in your market. That’s really the key agenda behind that intelligence enabler.
And the second thing, because we are dealing with data, is a huge impact and emphasis on being trusted with that data. And that doesn’t just mean being compliant to regulatory standards or having the right kind of resiliency and cybersecurity approach, it means going beyond that.
You need to gain intelligence from the data; data for its own sake is of no use, it’s about getting intelligence for the datasets. And that’s not just to make better decisions, it’s to innovate and create differentiated value propositions in your market.
In this digitally enabled world, we want to trust brands with our data because often that data is now extremely personal. So beyond just General Data Protection Regulation
(GDPR) compliance, trust here means, “Am I being ethical? Am I being transparent about how I use that data?” We all saw the Cambridge Analytica-type of impact and what happens when you are not transparent and you are not ethical about how you use data.
Now, one thing we haven’t touched on and I will just throw it up as a bit of context, Dana. There is a consideration, a kind of global consideration behind all of this agenda and that’s the shift toward everything-as-a-service (EaaS).
A couple of key attributes of that consideration includes the most obvious one; it’s the financial flexibility one. For sure, as you reassemble your supply chain — as you continue to press on that cloud-enabled side of the map — what you are paying, what you consume, and doing that in a strategic way helps get the right mix in that supply chain, and paying only for that as you consume, is kind of obvious.
But I think the more important thing to understand is that our customers are being equally innovative at the edge. So they are using that everything-as-a-service momentum to change their industry, their market, and the relationship they have with their customers. It helps especially as they pivot into a digital customer experience. Can that experience be constructed around a different business model?
We found that that’s a really useful way of deconstructing and simplifying what is actually quite a complex landscape. And if you can abstract — if you can use a model to abstract away the chaos and create some simplicity — that’s a really powerful thing. We all know that good models that abstract away complexity and create simplicity are hugely valuable in helping organizations reconstruct themselves.
Gardner: Clearly, before the pandemic, some organizations dragged their feet on digital transformation as you’ve described it. They had a bit of inertia. But the pandemic has spurred a lot of organizations, both public and private, on.
Hopefully, in a matter of some months or even a few years, the pandemic will be in the rearview mirror. But we will be left with the legacy of it, which is an emerging business paradigm of being flexible, agile, and more productive.
Are we going to get a new mode of business agility where the payoff is it commensurate with all the work?
Agility augurs well post-pandemic
Partridge: That’s the $6 million question, Dana. I would love to crystal ball gaze with you on that one because agility is key to any organization. We all know that there are constraints in traditional customer experiences — making widgets, selling products, transactional relationships, relationships that don’t lend themselves to having digital value added to them. I wonder how long that model goes on for as we are experiencing this shift toward digital value. And that means not just selling the widget or the product, but augmenting that with digital capabilities, with digital insights, and with new ways of adding value to the customer’s experience beyond just the capital asset.
I think that was being fast-tracked before this global pandemic. And it’s the organizations now that are in the midst of doubling down on that — getting that digital experience right, ahead of product and prices — that’s the key differentiator when you go to market.
And, for me, that customer experience increasingly now is the digital customer experience. I think that move was well under way before we hit this big crisis. And I can see customers now doubling down, so that if they didn’t get it right pre-pandemic, they are getting it right as they accelerate out of the pandemic. They recognize that that platform is the only way forward.
You will hear a lot of commentators talk about the digital agenda as being driven by what they call the platform-driven economy. Can you create a platform in which your customers are willing to participate, maybe even your ecosystem of partners who are willing to participate and create that kind of shared experience and shared value? Again, that’s something that HPE is very much invested in. As we pivot our business model, to EaaS outcomes, we are having to double down on our customer experience and increasingly that means digitizing that experience through that digital platform agenda.
Gardner: I would like to explore some examples of how this is manifesting itself. How are organizations adjusting to the new normal and leveraging that to a higher level of business capability?
Also, why is a third-party organization like HPE Pointnext Services working within an ecosystem model with many years of experience behind it? How are you specifically gearing up to help organizations manage the process we have been describing?
HPE digital partnerships
Partridge: This whole revolution requires different engagement models. The relationship HPE shares with its customers is becoming a technologically enabled partnership. Whenever you partner with a customer to help advance their business outcomes, you need a different way to engage with them.
We can continue to have our product-led engagement with customers, because many of them enjoy that relationship. But as we continue to move up the value stack we are going to need to swing to more of an advisory-led engagement model, Dana, where we are as co-invested in the customers’ outcomes as they are.
We understand what they are trying to drive from a business perspective. We understand how technology is opening up and enabling those kinds of outcomes to be materialized, for the value to be realized.
A year ago, we set out to reshape the way we engage with customers around this conversation. To drive that kind of digital partnership, that means sitting down with a customer and to co-innovate, going through workshops of how we as technologists can bring our expertise to the customer as the expert in their industry. Those two minds can meld to create more than one plus one equals two. By using design thinking techniques and co-design techniques, we can analyze the customers’ business problem and shape solutions that manufacture really, really big outcomes for our customers.
For 15 years I have been a consultant inside of HP and HPE and we have always had that strong consulting engine. But now with HPE Pointnext Services we are gearing it around making sure that we are able to address the customers’ business outcomes, enabled through technology.
Never has there been a time when technology has been so welded into a customer’s underlying value proposition. … There has never been a more open-door policy from our partners and customers.
And the timing is right-on. Never has there been a time when technology has been so welded into a customer’s underlying value proposition. I have been 25 years in IT. In the past, we could have gotten away with being a good partner to IT inside of our customer accounts. We could have gotten away with constantly challenging that price and performance ratio and renovating that agenda so that it delivers better productivity to the organization.
But as technology makes its way into the underlying business model — as it becomes the differentiating business model — it’s no longer just a productivity question. Now it’s about how partners work to unlock new digital revenue streams. Well, that needs a new engagement model.
And so that’s the work that we have been doing in my team, the Digital Advisory and Transformation Practice, to engage customers in that value-based discussion. Technology has made its way into that value proposition. There has never been a more open-door policy from our partners and customers who want to engage in that dialogue. They genuinely want to get the benefit of a large tech company applying itself to the customers’ underlying business challenges. That’s the partnership that they want, and there is no excuse for us not to walk through that door very confidently.
Gardner: Craig, specifically at HPE Pointnext Services, what’s the secret sauce that allows you to take on this large undertaking of digital transformation?
Mapping businesses’ DX ambition
Partridge: The development of this model has led to a series of unique pieces of intellectual property (IP) we use to help advance the customer ambition. I don’t think there has ever been a moment in time quite like this with the digital conversation.
Customers recognize that technology is the fundamental weapon to transform and differentiate themselves in the market. They are reaching out to technology partners to say, “Come and participate with me using technology to fundamentally change my value proposition.” So we are being invited in now as a tech company to help organizations move that value proposition forward in a way that we never were before.
In the past, HPE’s pedigree has been constantly challenging the optimization of assets and the price-performance, making sure that platform services are delivered in a very efficient and effective way. But now customers are looking to HPE to uniquely go underneath the covers of their business model — not just their operating model, but their business model.
Now, we are not writing the board-level strategy for digital ambition because there is a great sweet spot for us, rather it’s where customers have a digital North Star, some digital ambition, but are struggling to realize it. They are struggling to land those initiatives that are, by definition, technology-enabled. That’s where tech companies like HPE are at the forefront of driving digital ambition.
So we have this unique IP, this model we developed inside of HPE Pointnext Services, and the methodology of how to apply it. We can use it as a visualization tool, as a storytelling tool to be able to better communicate, and onward to further communicate your businesses’ digital ambitions.
We can use it to map out the initiatives and look at where those overlap and duplications occur inside organizations. We are truly looking at this from edge to cloud and as-a-service — that holistic side of the map helps us unpick the risks, dependencies, and prerequisites. We can use the map to inspire new ideas and advance a customer’s new thinking about how technology might be enabled.
We can also deploy the map with our building blocks behind each of the journeys, knowing what digital capabilities need to be brought on-stream and in what sequence. Then we can de-risk a customer’s path to value. That’s a great moment in time for us and it’s uniquely ours. Certainly, the model is uniquely ours and the way we apply it is uniquely ours.
But it’s also a timing thing, Dana. There has never been a better time in the industry where customers are seeking advice from a technology giant like HPE. So it’s a mixture of having the right IP, having the right opportunity, and the right moment as well.
Gardner: So how should such organizations approach this? We talked about the methodology but initiating something like this map and digital ambition narrative can be daunting. How do we start the process?
How to pose the right questions
Partridge: It begins by understanding a description of this complex landscape, as we have explored in this discussion. Begin to visualize your own digital ambition. See if you can take two or three top initiatives that you are driving and explore them across the map. So what’s the overriding KPI? Where does it start?
Then ask yourself the questions in the middle of the map. What are the key enablers? Am I addressing a shared intelligence backbone? How am I handling trust, security, and resiliency? What am I doing to look at the operating model and the people? How is the culture central to all of this? How am I going to provide it as-a-service? Am I going to consume component parts of the service? How to stress over into the supply chain? How is it addressing the experience?
HPE Pointnext Services’ map is a beautiful tool to help any customer today start to plot their own initiatives and say, “Well, am I thinking of this initiative in a fully 360° way.”
If you are stuck, come and ask HPE. A lot of my advisors around the world map their customers initiatives over to this framework. And we start to ask questions. We start to unveil some of the risks and dependencies and prerequisites. As you put in more and more initiatives and programs, you can begin to see duplication in the middle of the model play out. That enables customers to de-risk and be quicker to path of value because they can deduplicate what they can now see as a common shared digital backbone. Often customers are running those in isolation but seeing it through this lens helps them deduplicate that effort. That’s a quicker path to value.
We engage customers around one- to two-day ideation workshops. Those are very structured ways of having creative, outside-of-the-box type thinking and putting in enough of a value proposition behind the idea to excite people.
We do a lot around ideation and design thinking. If customers have yet to figure out a digital initiative, what’s their North Star, where should they start? We engage customers around one- to two-day ideation workshops. Those are very structured ways of having creative, outside-of-the-box-type thinking and putting in enough of a value proposition behind the idea to excite people.
We had a customer in Italy come to us and say, “Well, we think we need to do something with AI, but we are not quite sure where the value is.”
Then we have a way of engaging to help you accelerate, and that’s really about identifying what the critical digital capabilities are. Think of it at the functional level first. What digital functions do I need to be able to achieve some level of outcome? And then get that into some kind of backlog so you know how to sequence it. And again, we work with customers to help do that as well.
There are lots of ways to slice this, but, ultimately, dive in, get an initiative on the map, and begin to look at the risks and dependencies as you map it through the framework. Are you asking the right questions? Is there a connection to another part of the map that you haven’t examined yet that you should be examining? Is there a part of the initiative that you have missed? That is the immediate get-go start point.
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