This is a true story about ALE. It’s a story about our digital transformation experience—where things got stalled, and what it took to succeed.
In 2019 ALE celebrates its 100-year anniversary, which I believe is a significant achievement in this competitive industry. As a world leader in delivering telecommunication solutions, one would think that ALE undertaking its own digital transformation would be pretty straight-forward, right? Well, let’s just say that it wasn’t without its lessons. However, before we get into that, let’s take a look at where it all started.
Back to the beginning
In 2016, ALE Senior Management concluded that, ‘we can’t help customers with their digital transformation if we don’t apply it to ourselves’. And so, our CIO gathered a team of experts to produce a digital transformation framework for ALE. My role was enterprise architect. Developing the framework was exciting because, as a team, we were convinced about the changes we needed to bring to the organization.
We completed the framework in less than two months. It was perfect (in our opinion). The direction and the goals were clear. The architecture was well designed. Initiatives were described, and a roadmap was set. We presented to Senior Management and received congratulations on creating exactly what they were looking for. The framework was shared with the company’s Executive Management Team and Business Transformation Managers and was, in general, well received. However, the framework didn’t get rolled-out: most ALE employees were never even aware of the initiative. So, what did we learn?
Lesson 1: Transformation must be lived by employees, not imposed by management
Three months later, the new position of Digital Transformation Officer (DTO) was created. The role was to manage the IS/IT and quality departments. By now the urgency to get this initiative underway had accelerated. To help move things along, a decision was made to get advice from an external consultancy firm that specialized in digital transformation. After an exhausting round of interviews (not unlike a speed dating session) only one firm piqued our interest. While most of the companies adopted standard consultancy practices, none of them had actually applied a digital transformation to their own business.
The company we selected suggested a different approach that resonated with us. It wasn’t just about having a great plan. We also needed to get the employees onboard. Digital transformation must evolve out of challenges lived by employees.
Lesson 2: Start small and lead by example
We recognized that the scope of our initial framework was perhaps a little too enthusiastic. We decided to narrow our focus and our efforts to concentrate on specific area of the business. We were convinced that a successful outcome would lead other areas of the business to get onboard and adopt digital transformation practices for their business domains. We basically initiated a ‘lead by example’ strategy which we hoped would permeate the organization. We were not yet calling it a ‘digital transformation’ but rather a ‘digital bifurcation’; a small change that provides value; that can be duplicated in other areas of the business; and triggers a wider cultural change.
Lesson 3: Prepare conditions for the transformation
Digital transformation practices sometimes require changes in the organizations’ management mindset. They may need convincing to take risks such as:
• Investing in development bandwidth, rather than feature delivery
• Providing time for experimentation, and accepting failure
• Leaving decisions to the experts, rather than being imposed by management
• Trusting the team
At this particular time we were developing the master plan for the upcoming year. The master plan identifies and prioritizes each department’s transformation requirements. When it comes to budgets, Return on Investment (RoI) is often a key consideration.
Initiatives where benefits could not be quantified or were too optimistic were quickly cut. The Operations team, however, wanted to invest a significant amount of money to fix some issues from a previous consolidation project. The decision from management was quick and clear. Operations were given half of the estimated budget and nothing could be spent that didn’t have a clear return on investment.
This was our opportunity. We established a goal to improve Operations efficiency. The past year had been a difficult one for our Operations team. Some customers blamed us for not providing accurate visibility on shipments. Luckily for us, a new COO had been appointed who was supportive of this new approach to transformation.
Lesson 4: Collaboration is key
We set up a small team of six ALE experts—three from Operations, and three from IT. The team met for an hour each day to strategize about the transformation process. In parallel, development resources were secured to ensure a short development cycle. This team would identify the problems, define the required improvement, undertake the development, and validate the solution—together.
Each day, the Operations team learned more about existing tool capabilities, and IS/IT began to understand the challenges users face, as well as what they valued. People were excited to come to the daily meetings. They felt empowered to create change. They were the experts, and they were making decisions. The team delivered more significant enhancements in three months than was projected or planned! Customers were impressed and the Operations team was invigorated.
Lesson 5: Methodology makes the difference
A well-defined methodology can keep a team on the path to success. As part of the Operations efficiency initiative we implemented the following seven fundamental steps. To help us address the smallest of details and stay on track we needed to:
1. Focus on the outcome
2. Understand the root cause of issues
3. Prioritize issues based on impact
4. Audit processes to understand where automation is an option
5. Seek regular customer feedback
6. Ensure governance with sponsor feedback
7. Design and build together
The Operations efficiency digital transformation project has been deemed a success and raised visibility throughout the company about the benefits of transformation. To accelerate new initiatives and expand transformation project across our company, the DTO decided to create the Digital Studio. As part of the DTO, the Digital Studio provides an environment where small teams can come together to tackle specific topics with a goal to expedite transformation activities within their organizations to create maximum value as quickly as possible.