Bob Barr

Bob Barr

Vice-President, Business Engineering

By Bob Barr

In a recent blog on driving digital adoption, I wrote that the Golden Rule of Digital Transformation is, “While the technology is not necessarily easy, delivering the right experience is even harder, and managing the organizational impact is the hardest of all.” 

This reality is borne out in our 2021 CGI Voice of Our Clients interviews, where cultural change and change management rose significantly as a trend facing both corporate and government leaders as they continue to pursue, embrace and own digital.

Looking back over a career where I’ve served as a chief digital officer and as a consultant to firms needing to pivot to digital, I’ve seen both success and failure. As bookends—and by way of example—I supported a large publicly held industrial B2B organization that went all-in and pivoted to become a digital organization in three years. It was a large lift, but the market rewarded them as their revenue doubled and market capitalization tripled. I also witnessed (from afar) an organization deploy a website, declare victory and subsequently shed 40 points of market share to a new, digital-native competitor. The difference between the two? The first embraced digital, not just as a website or mobile app, but as a new way of doing business. 

Here are six steps an organization can take to facilitate a successful shift and make digital transformation stick.

1.    Make sure the customer is FAC

The voice of the customer must be front and center (FAC). (Every digital blog post should introduce a new acronym, right?) While this is not a new message, it’s amazing how many organizations do not invest in understanding who the customer really is and engineering their products and experiences accordingly. 
Understanding the customer is about both demographics (e.g., income, location, profession, etc.) and psychographics (e.g., opinions, attitudes, interests and values). To learn, you need to ask. Is your organization always talking to customers, developing and refining customer personas, journey-mapping customer experiences, and proactively seeking and acting on customer feedback—good and bad? And, have you established specific voice of the customer metrics? You get what you measure. 
When I led digital for a $20 billion business unit of a global manufacturer, everyone on my team had a named target for customer contact hours and flexibility to meet those targets. In the end, what you learn should drive your marketing, product development, customer service and digital experiences—including where and how you sell, how you price, and what payment and delivery options you enable.

2.    Build a diverse team

Your customers, citizens and business partners are diverse, so your organization should be as well. Research shows that diverse teams perform better. I’ll extrapolate that digital experiences imagined and delivered by diverse teams are better than those that are not. Diversity should have both demographic and psychographic objectives. Left brains and right brains working collaboratively yield better results. Your challenge as a leader is to bring people with disparate views to the table and create an opportunity for them to collaborate. 
I would be remiss if I didn’t specifically reinforce that it is a real benefit to have people with physical impairments on your team, even if you have to contract to find that talent, to ensure you render a good digital experience that’s accessible to everyone. Addressing the challenges of physically impaired people in a digital world will earn you respect and loyalty—and bolster your bottom line.

3.    Get agile

Getting agile is one of the more difficult steps for organizations to embrace—until they have done it. It requires a fundamental shift in how you approach programs, projects and everyday business processes. 
The first mistake is thinking agile only applies to software development. It does not. Historically, someone set out a vision and then detailed the who, what, where, when and how to achieve that vision. 
Getting agile means delivering solutions in smaller, functional, demonstrable pieces. It is about addressing real customer needs, prioritizing, using self-organizing cross-functional teams, and having short increments of work with frequent reassessment for continuous improvement. “minimum viable product” is a rest stop. The real objective is MLP—minimum loveable product. 

4.    Reimagine your workspaces

This step has changed quickly due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Many firms essentially went remote—and, by necessity, digital—overnight. It was a matter of survival. 

Very likely, as we return to face-to-face (even if on a hybrid basis) we need to rethink our physical workspaces. Workspaces in a digital organization are highly collaborative, foster teaming and participation, and employ a suite of tools and experiences that are enabled digitally. 
Tear down office walls. Make reserve-able conference, teaming and privacy rooms available. Add whiteboards, whiteboard paint or cork on walls, tables and desks. Pre-pandemic, things like integrated video experiences, relaxation nooks, exercise spaces, natural lighting, gardens and appropriate background music were called “studio experiences.” As we return to a new normal, these are the experiences our employees will want. Think safety, security, comfort, hybrid and collaborative.

5.    Embrace and include your customer-facing teams 

All too often, announcing a pivot to digital upsets customer-facing teams who worry the intent is to put them out of work. They might not immediately see the benefits of providing self-service capabilities for customers. This happens when leadership forgets (or ignores) the change-management challenges of embracing digital. Such leaders don’t “sell” digital internally and don’t invest appropriately in retraining internal teams for new roles. For example, a Web and mobile ordering experience doesn’t obviate the need for customer face time. Instead, it repositions the conversations from order taking to relationship building, problem solving and strategic consultation. 
Change management is a huge and complex topic. My intent is not to cover the subject here, but to surface one particular step: engage your customer-facing teams in driving digital adoption. If they believe and understand the benefits, they can become true evangelists. If not, they can easily derail your efforts.

6.    Build, borrow, buy 

I particularly like this one. If you have to build, do so. Otherwise, don’t spend cycles inventing where invention adds no real value. The example I often use is this: imagine you’re redesigning the auto insurance policy purchasing experience. Fifteen years ago, it was a very cumbersome process requiring a visit to an agent or getting someone on the phone. In a prior life, as my team and I reimagined this experience, we looked to other industries and experiences. 

If you could configure and buy a computer online, why couldn’t you configure and buy an auto policy? An auto policy is really just a set of features. Why not create a slider bar for each? Let users lever them up and down, show them the price change dynamically, and let them float down the page as they proceed through the application. If you can sign your tax return digitally, why not your insurance application? Finally, if you can track the making and delivery of a pizza, why not your auto policy application? 

I don’t suggest the above list is all inclusive, but it represents a good start. I’m interested in hearing the lessons you have learned from your own digital journeys. Please reach out

About this author

Bob Barr

Bob Barr

Vice-President, Business Engineering

Bob Barr, a former Internal Revenue Service assistant commissioner, provides CGI Federal’s Treasury account team dedicated to the IRS with strategy support and strategic client development planning.