Many A True Word.. A Digital Transformation Journey
Digital transformation is a huge undertaking, and can be an uncertain one fraught with complexities for any sized organisation. Former Travelex CEO, Anthony Wagerman, reflects on his own digitalisation experience, revealing what he learnt from the challenges faced along the way.
“Here’s what you do” he said. “First, give them money. A lot of money.”
“OK” I said.
“Then” he added, “You put them all in one big room. Shut the door. Swallow the key. Don’t let anyone out and more importantly, don’t let ANYONE in. Wait a few months, maybe a year. And hope they come up with something”
The above is, almost word for word, a conversation I had with a senior Commercial Director from a major utilities business. And what he was describing to me was his approach to Digital Transformation in his business. In summary, he was telling me in the bluntest terms what he believed was required in budgeting, recruitment, strategy and the execution of a digital plan for a traditional non-digital business.
Of course, looking back, his comments seem quite amusing. But like all good comedy, it resonates because there’s an element of truth in there too. Having run a business of size myself, I have been through some of the pain of digital transformation.
First of all, he was right about the money. Investing in digital is just that: an investment. And in businesses where we look for rapid returns, we occasionally forget what real investment means. Whatever the longer term gains may be, in the short to mid-term, the level of investment required for true digital transformation can be eye-popping. Furthermore, in a normal business where resources are limited, you can find yourself choosing to prioritise digital investment at the expense of other more traditional parts of your business where ROI is much more obviously attainable.
Investing in digital is just that: an investment. And in businesses where we look for rapid returns, we occasionally forget what real investment means.
Secondly, he was right about the “one big room” too. You do indeed have to find good people and bring them together in one space; to work with agility, to communicate quickly and most importantly, to get results.
As for shutting the door and keeping everyone else out? Well.. to some degree, yes. By its nature, digital can be very different from your current business; the processes, people and culture that have worked perfectly well up until now, may not be right for digital transformation. You will bring in new people who have a very different way of doing things, even different patterns of behaviour. And that, in turn, can build resentment, suspicion and alarm between the “old” world and the “new” world in your business.
Being cognisant of the challenges digital can bring, particularly to areas such as compliance and legacy IT, who have to find ways of adapting to new products, technology and processes, is important. Just as important, though, is not to allow these differences to drag down the pace of your development. It may not quite be shutting the door and swallowing the key – but it requires steely resolve to protect and nurture the team you’ve built, giving them the space they need to do their job.
Good businesses have a very clear vision and set of goals, but also a way of tempering that with the right combination of flexibility and adaptability as the world changes so rapidly.
Having done all this, do you “just hope they come up with something?” Not quite. Good businesses have a very clear vision and set of goals, but also a way of tempering that with the right combination of flexibility and adaptability as the world changes so rapidly. In digital transformation, that means you may go through a lot of changes in product design and spec along the way. You need to get more comfortable with failure too; in my time as CEO I’ve overseen the introduction of some great products and payment platforms; but I’ve also had to make some tough decisions to close down some projects which just weren’t going to make it.
Let me be clear, in my last CEO role, I’m pretty sure I didn’t get all of our digital journey right. In fact, tellingly, we re-organised where Digital was sited (both physically and organisationally) at least twice. I’d defend that by saying you need to be flexible in this journey, and you need to adjust all the time. But I learnt an awful lot along the way.
My Commercial Director friend may have been joking to a degree; but that doesn’t mean what he was saying was entirely wrong. As James Joyce famously wrote: “In risu veritas” – “in laughter, there is truth”.
CEO – Travelex 2015- 2018
Anthony Wagerman was CEO of Travelex from 2015- 2018, the world’s leading foreign exchange specialist. His leadership aimed to create a supportive and inclusive environment where others could learn, grow and excel. He joined in 2000 and held a variety of roles, most recently as Deputy CEO and MD of Europe and Americas, prior to becoming CEO.
Anthony is a Non-Executive Senior Adviser to Esselco, an investment company working with a variety of exciting companies including The Office Group, Doddle Parcel Services, QTec Analytics and The London Theatre Company.
His specialities include; Global leadership, finance, governance, compliance and risk, values-led leadership, organisational restructuring, contract negotiations, raising capital, building shareholder value, mentoring. He is also a Guest Speaker to Business Schools and conferences on a variety of leadership and management topics.
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