“Lessons learned and mistakes made in our digital journey” was the promised content of a panel at Gartner’s Symposium. The moderator of the panel was IT World Canada’s president and chief executive officer Fawn Annan. The panel featured real-world digital transformation experiences of chief information officers (CIOs) of national courier Purolator, Ontario’s Workplace Safety Insurance Board (WSIB) and one of the largest pension boards in Canada, OMERS. It also featured Gartner distinguished vice-president analyst Chris Howard.
The candor and openness of the panelists made for a very interesting session about the learnings from their digital transformation journey. As it turns out, each of them regarded the openness and ability to discuss mistakes and learning as a critical factor in the cultural change that is core to any digital transformation. When asked about why this was so important, each of the panelists held up examples of where in their career they had seen the effectiveness of openness and honest confrontation of failures.
Monique Allen, executive vice-president at OMERS noted, that this changed the entire culture of IT and was drastically different, especially if “you’ve lived somewhere where someone will not call a project red.” Howard shared a story about Microsoft when their AI experiment with machine learning went awry and the “bots” began to exhibit racist and other anti-social behaviours. Microsoft’s CEO Satya Nadella asked “What can we learn from this?”
Allen, EVP at OMERs noted that in a prior company she had worked at, the CIO was not only open about failures, but actually celebrated them.
In reality, this attitude is essential to digital transformation. After all, as Howard pointed out, “transformation should be rare and hard. You are doing something that you’ve never done before.” And when you do confront obstacles and failures, there are real benefits. Allen noted that OMERS had what they thought was a failure in their initial experiments with voice recognition, only to realize that when they looked at it openly, they found a number of other places to successfully employ what they had initially thought of as a failure.
Freed from the tyranny of always having to be right can yield some real benefits. When the WSIB was looking at how to take their vastly customized core system, CIO Samantha Liscio shared how they went for a tour of their vendor’s headquarters where their COO saw the personas that were being used as part of the development process. Persona based development has grown extensively and focuses on the user experience and what they are trying to achieve rather than large complex and often inaccurate specifications. When the COO saw that the personas used in development were so similar to the stakeholders that WSIB served, it caused him to question the amount of customization needed. The result led to a vast decrease in customization and vastly improved results.
Ricardo Costa, CIO at Purolator, takes this even further and tries to keep management out of design sessions. This creates a real freedom to “say it like it is.” He gave the example of the challenges that Purolator faced in delivering the new very large screen TVs in dense urban areas like downtown Toronto. After a number of solutions were considered and rejected, one of the drivers asked why they couldn’t just have a separate truck that only delivered large screen TVs. In that moment, Costa notes, “we solved a very significant problem with a very simple solution.”
This focus on the front line and the end customer turned out for many to be a way to build a real collaboration between IT and the business area. According to Costa, “being close to the business is a game changer.” He thinks of it as a success when you can watch a team in action and can’t tell who is from a line of business area and who is from IT. To Costa this extends into what he’s looking for in IT staff. “It’s more important to have a good IT person with a great knowledge of the business than a great IT person with a weak knowledge of the business.” Or as Allen noted, “if you are not solving real business problems, IT becomes a science project.”
The focus on customer experience as a true driving force of transformation can lead to partnerships outside the enterprise as well. WSIB is working with Communitech to try to use AI to read audiograms and speed up the processing of hearing loss claims. Since these represent over 10 per cent of WSIB claims and take months to resolve this will not only vastly improve the experience of claimants, it will also result in some tremendous and measurable efficiency gains.
In fact, this emphasis on measurable gains that have real impacts on employee and customer experience were the driving factor for all the panelists. As Howard pointed out, “new measures” are essential. “You’d be surprised at the number of companies that don’t develop new measures. If you don’t change the measures, you’ll miss the success. That’s a recipe for blindness.” Liscio recommended using Lean – a way of using measurement to drive change in business process.”
Despite their focus on measurable success, each of the panelists was clear that it wasn’t the size of the result that drove them. The most important thing was as Allen said, was “Start. Start anywhere. Start small.” Costa echoed this, stating that “everyone wants to boil the ocean.”
You can do that, according to Costa, but “do it one cup at a time.”