Accelerating digital transformation: Overcoming the illusion of expertise

Business group working

A few years ago, a well-mannered but youthfully innocent management consulting professional walked into my office, and we had this exchange:

Management Consultant: Mr. Lewis (they used to call me Mr.), our company has implemented dozens of streamlined best practice workflows for the mortgage industry, and we have created millions of dollars in efficiency for those clients.

Me: And what makes them best practices?

Management Consultant: Lessons learned over years.

Me: And you personally have learned these lessons?

Management Consultant:  Well, no. I have only been here six months, but we have dozens of experts who implemented these for clients. I am a certified workflow and process engineer, and I could lead all aspects of this project for you.

Me: Hmmm. So you are staking your company’s reputation on this project, having no specific understanding of our current business model or workflows, having never personally originated, underwritten, closed, serviced or paid out a mortgage?

Management Consultant: Well, yes.

Me: Where do I sign? I have to witness how one could manage to sustain this illusion of expertise.

The “illusion of expertise” has been a recurring challenge handcuffing innovation, and it’s now extending to the larger and more complex business evolution of digital transformation. To overcome, we need to recognize the illusions (and delusions) in ourselves and others, remove those roadblocks and give ourselves a running start in real transformation.

Reminder: Digital transformation, as a business strategy evolution, is largely described in three categorical initiatives:

  1. Operations and Processes: Ground up re-evaluation of the services you deliver and how you deliver them to dramatically change the time to market delivery of your products (from months to hours)
  2. Customer Experience: Purposely identifying and understanding new customer behaviors and buying expectations with a consumer mind of replace-ability
  3. New Business Models: Shift from “sell product” to “sell service” to “sell usage” to “sell outcome” to “provide marketplace”

Overcoming the illusions of expertise can help companies refine their goals and focus attention on the technological innovations required to evolve.

Illusion #1: By identifying your business with the simplest definition you create a clear identity — when actually you may lose your identity. 

Recently I made the mistake of calling Spin Master a “toy company,” lumping it in with hundreds of manufacturers of bricks ’n’ bracks for small children. While the goal was to identify Spin Master in a specific industry, I missed the mark on its brand and identity. Spin Master’s identity is as a Children’s Entertainment and Media company. Its goal is to create educational and interactive experiences across physical products and digital/online experiences.

Similarly, the CIO of a state-wide lottery corporation once quipped, “We print little pieces of paper that could be worth $50 million.” While literally true, the description is far too simplistic. In fact, this lottery corporation significantly invests in community programs around the state, dramatically improving life for millions of citizens — even if only one person wins the big money.

So how do you overcome this illusion? By fully understanding your business model and expecting your partners (such as DXC and Hitachi) in the transformational journey to have the same level of understanding.

Work together to complete a business model canvas to document your partners, value proposition, customers and channels and to identify how you make and spend money. Highlight your unique differentiators in the marketplace.

Illusion #2: Thinking you know it all and have maximized all efficiencies — rather than keeping an open mind and having transparency into all processes.

There are a few competing assumptions here, and they affect both business and technological processes.

The first assumption is that your combined internal expertise has already maximized the potential efficiencies of your processes. I hate to be the bearer of bad news here – but just because you have worked at a company or in an industry for 25 years does not make you an expert, but it does make you an expert in how you apply the industry knowledge.

The next dangerous assumption is that external best practices are better than your own practices: Not all best practices are created equal. Some best practices are based on the most recent implementation of those practices at a competitor. Some function in the same kind of company in a different country with different legislative requirements, or have yet to be applied in the real word.

Perhaps worse than applying the wrong best practices is thinking you don’t need to change at all. The phrases “We have always done it that way” or “No one else could be as efficient as us” have an air of failure.

So how do you overcome? Break all the rules. By default, assume you don’t have all the answers and seek out a variety of expert opinions and examples, both inside and outside your own industry. Presume you will need to create the best practice for you, instead of applying someone else’s. While they might be tried and true, new processes will need to be tailored to your culture and financial factors.

Illusion #3:  Keeping the power of growth inside the organization — rather than focusing on customers. 

The biggest limiter of growth or change is the desire to keep it inside the organization. In fairness, I’m not talking about all of the small, highly entrepreneurial organizations. Big, hairy, audacious goals set by those founders are what drive a good portion of the technological innovations in the world. Keep doing that. Please.

However, for everyone else, we need to shift the power of how we change and grow to the customers we serve.

So how do you overcome?

  • Listen to existing clients: What they want to buy, how they want to buy it and how much control they want to maintain.
  • Look for new clients: Understand client segments you don’t currently serve and investigate other geographies, learning about the cultures and customer distinctions.
  • Diversify your operational model to match entirely how various client segments wish to buy from you. That might mean having diversified and parallel inputs and outputs to your business, even if you intend to maintain a consistent “process” internally.
  • Understand that your industry might be evolving into a “marketplace,” where suppliers become customers and co-opetition becomes the norm.

By overcoming the illusions of identity, transparency and power you can remove a few key roadblocks and raise the anchor to move ahead with digital transformation. Of course, just overcoming these illusions won’t actually create new business capabilities. That’s when the hard work begins.

But at least one albatross is gone.

Paul Lewis is Chief Technology Officer, Americas, at Hitachi. There Paul leads technology evangelism, client executive advocacy and development of industry solutions. Connect with Paul: @PaulLewisHDS and on LinkedIn

This guest post is provided by Hitachi Data Systems, a member of the DXC Partner Network.


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