The Humanness of Digital Transformation
[Editor's note: this is the introductional entry in a Digital Transformation series from Deem VP of technology & engineering, Steven Lopez. You can read the next entry here.]
Digital transformation is not only about technology. Sure, it sounds like it is – “digital” is right there in the name. But as someone who leads IT transformation teams, I’m convinced it’s really about people and their ability to adapt and change.
Before I explain what digital transformation is and what I mean about people, you might be wondering why customers would care if a company continually updates its technology. It’s a behind-the-scenes thing for companies, right? It isn’t usually something people think about when researching a possible vendor or buying a product or service. However, digital transformations have tangible benefits to our travel management partners, travel managers and their travelers.
Business travel is currently underpowered by technology. It’s missing a lot of things other industries almost take for granted, such as predictive technologies. TMCs are transforming because of the impact of software on their businesses, which pushes us to not only keep pace but leapfrog ahead so we can partner and help them to adapt. Travel managers need our help to stay on the leading edge of technology changes – they don’t necessarily have visibility into what’s technologically available or what’s possible. Travelers are demanding new functionality that is best supported by newer innovations.
Digital transformation allows us to better support the needs of both our business and our customers. New technology frameworks, that is, using the right tools, platforms and architecture, enables us to become nimbler and more effective, helping us remain more accessible. It also helps us offer more high-quality, scalable solutions that deploy and perform faster. It empowers us to make more innovative changes that support current business conditions and possible future scenarios.
With the right digital transformation, we can flex and respond to circumstances we’re encountering now and to what we can imagine on the horizon. This means we can continuously update and respond to customer needs without interrupting the user experience with “maintenance” periods that disable sites over a specific time. These rapid iteration cycles are a big advantage to our users.
What is digital transformation?
In order to understand how people and digital transformation impact each other, let’s start with what digital transformation actually is. The short answer is that it is a new framework for the way an organization structures and uses its technology, processes and people. The space for transformation is made when all of these three areas are aligned and working in harmony.
At Deem, we’re re-platforming our existing products using scalable technology to prepare us for a future of even greater innovation. It’s a bit like taking small pieces out of our platform and reconstructing them to act as individual components. Each section is its own, fully functioning area – called a microservice – that isn’t dependent on other services to deliver results.
As a software company, we are always looking for the best ways to implement the latest technology. Digital transformation is a reimagining of the entire way we do software development. The traditional model includes using a release manager to plan and schedule full stack updates. With our new model, there is no single release manager. Each new microservice is responsible for its own implementations and releases.
Microservices can be updated independently without disrupting the rest of the platform, making new feature and performance updates easier and faster to execute. In addition to its other benefits, this model allows team members to be in control of their project from start to finish; they’re no longer writing code based on a proposal someone else created. Rather, they’re gathering requirements, walking through the stakeholders’ needs and imagining the complete user experience. This interactivity with the project allows them to both anticipate where breakdowns could occur and build solutions into the project. Customers are much less likely to encounter issues after release and much more likely to have a great user experience.
In the past, any changes we made required an update to our entire product stack, and then testing for two to three weeks to ensure the product fully worked. Using the latest best practices, we’re able to update just one fully functioning component and get it live to our customers in a day.T hat’s a huge increase in efficiency. But to be successful, we need to make sure we have the architecture and infrastructure to support this way of working. And that requires changes to our people, technology and processes.
Digital transformation: process, technology, people
I find the best way to explain the intersection of people, technology and processes is with a Venn diagram, like the one shown below.
Although the three circles overlap, there’s only one place, right in the center, where all three converge perfectly. The areas need to be in alignment to create that space where transformation can happen.
To get to transformation, you need to understand how to align the three areas. Let’s start with Process. There are two parts impacting in Process: the technology to make the change you’re making and the people to drive it.
The only real challenge with Process is not truly understanding your tools or your people well enough. Generally, out of the three, Process is going to be the most flexible area. There’s nothing that will really stop it; the tool that you’re using and the people who are using it will influence what your process looks like.
Let’s also look at Technology, that is, your tools and capabilities. It’s common knowledge that technology already has built-in functions. You’re going to choose tools that work for what you need in the most efficient manner. Sure, you could force Excel to do a lot of things, but if you have to re-program it to function for what you need, that will take time and effort away from actually getting the work done. So you might instead change your choice of Excel to a different technology product that has the functions you need already built in. That will likely work better than if you created it yourself.
Technology sometimes fails because you may have made an assumption about what it does or had a different priority when it was purchased. If a company already has significant investment in a specific technology, it may be extremely reluctant to move away from it, even if it isn’t the technology that’s needed. In this case, the transformation manager could change the people and the process as much as he or she wants, but he’s still got to use this pre-defined solution. It’s like forcing a square peg into a round hole. If he or she is hammering at it, the edges will start wearing down and eventually they will get it in there. But it’s a lot more work and it isn’t pretty. The technology just may not be the right fit. Don’t be afraid to switch tools if needed, especially if it becomes a hinderance instead of an enabler.
Managing people in digital transformation
The most unpredictable part of this triad is People. Technology will do this or that task, and Process will follow once you have tech and people in place. The big X-factor is people. I’d say that 90% of transformation projects fail because of people.
How can that be true? Because transformation means change. Digital transformation may be difficult for people because change can be difficult for people. A successful transformation requires a large shift in mindset. It takes time to learn a new system and become an expert. Learning something new can be frustrating and uncomfortable at first, but with repeated use of a new system, participants get better and efficiency increases. The “trick” for success is in managing the change for people until they get back to a proficiency level they’re comfortable with.
People need to be open to the idea of changing what they know and how they work. When they aren’t comfortable with uncertainty, or if they think they’re more open than they really are, having strong relationships among the team and leaders, a high level of transparency, and a lot of communication can help foster confidence. Trust between individual contributors, leaders and customers is key to success.
It can be of great value for leadership to work closely with their teams right from the start. Helping people understand what their goals are and showing them how having a new attitude will benefit them can help motivate them. Generally speaking, transformations involve working with cutting-edge software development capabilities, so learning it is both a personal and business benefit.
Additionally, it’s up to leadership to create a culture that’s ok with the idea of failing. The organizations that are most successful aren’t afraid of failure. They view “failure” as an opportunity to learn and they have the expectation that those lessons will be applied to future endeavors. To ensure that happens, some business capacities, including communication and collaboration, need to be made a priority, as a microservices structure can lend itself to small independent teams that silo information.
Transformation allows us to avoid becoming complacent. In order to become our industry’s change agents, we need to transform to meet the evolving needs of business. We’ll need higher quality and scalable solutions, and faster deployments; we’ll need to be more nimble and more cost effective. Transforming to the latest technology structure allows us to better support both our business and that of our partners and customers.
This blog is part of a digital transformation series by Deem VP engineering and technology, Steven Lopez. Read the other entries by using the links here: