Digital transformation: how traditional companies can keep pace with change

Every brand, organisation and company needs to transform to keep up with the pace of technological change, to keep costs low and customer service high and fight off rivals new and old – or risk being left behind.

Just ask Blockbuster, Kodak and countless other firms that failed to react quickly enough to the digital revolution, says Mark Basham, CEO of AXELOS, best practice solutions provider. “Business has transformed enormously on the back of technology, and service providers that haven’t acknowledged those changes, or haven’t changed fast enough, have paid the price,” he explains.

That said, businesses that sell to other businesses have a bit more breathing room than consumer-facing companies, which move at a much faster pace, says Marcus Wuerker, chief information officer for UK and Ireland at DHL Supply Chain. “You get impacted by trends potentially later.”

Even traditional brands that could get left behind on digital development have time to catch up, given the more sedate pace of change. They can then do it in an organised, carefully considered way. Rachel Murphy, who is now chief executive officer of digital transformation company Difrent Group, led NHS Digital through a digital transformation that covered everything patients interact with, from rolling out wifi to every hospital and surgery in the UK to creating an official health app library. “There was a huge appetite to move to digital ways of working,” she says.

But with so much work to do, where to start? “I think it’s important to think about why you’re trying to transform a business, and what it is you’re trying to achieve,” Basham says. “Are you trying to compete with digital disruptors – or are you trying to be that disruptor?” Those goals or outcomes could be improving customer experience, lowering costs, boosting revenue or expanding to new markets. “Having the foundations, the fundamentals in place at the beginning is critical if you want to successfully drive any kind of transformation programme.”

Standards are key to that, explains David Whetton, vice-president for quality and operational systems at GKN Driveline, which is revamping its manufacturing factories to introduce better traceability, become paperless, and make use of automation. “We spent probably 12 or 18 months getting ourselves ready by developing standards for equipment, connectivity, digital visual displays, and our factories,” he says. With those in place, it’s easier to roll out changes across factories dotted around the world.

Finding the right staff is vital – but often a challenge, says Murphy. Her work transforming the patient-facing aspects of NHS Digital saw external experts brought in to augment in-house skills. “I don’t think anybody really has the skills internally for every aspect of digital transformation,” she says.

But traditional companies shouldn’t forget that in-house staff have plenty to offer. DHL Supply Chain encouraged employees to specialise in digital and tech topics that interested them, whether those innovations directly applied to their roles or not, taking advantage of their passion to drive projects.

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