Bridging the digital gap between customer needs & what technology can deliver
Speakers: Dr. Anke Sax, European Digital Leader of the Year 2020 (Finance) and former CIO at dwpbank; Robb LaVelle, VP of UK and Europe at Cigniti
Here is the Transcript
You’re listening to QATalks, a podcast for IT executives leading digital transformation within their organizations. In this show, we hear from leaders leveraging the latest technologies like AI, IoT & machine learning, as they navigate the changing tech landscape to position their organizations for the future. Let’s get into the show.
Logan: I’m your host for today’s episode, Logan Lyles with Sweet Fish Media. I’m joined today by two distinguished guests. Dr. Anke Sax is our guest speaker today. She’s an award–winning veteran, CIO, and winner of the European Digital Leader of the year in 2020. And we also have with us Robb LaVelle, VP of UK and Europe at Cigniti. Anke, how are you doing today? Thank you so much for joining us!
Anke: I very much appreciate the opportunity to talk to you and to tell something about my views about digital transformation and I love to be here, thanks a lot for that.
Logan: Digital transformation and IT leadership and some recurring themes, you have some great things to share on those topics. So we are excited to have you as well. Robb, welcome to the show. Thank you so much for joining us, sir. How are you?
Robb: I’m good Logan, thanks for the opportunity. And particularly, it’s good to spend some time again with Anke. Every now and then we get to do a little bit of chatting in German. I brush it up on my hands, but it’s good to see you both this morning.
Logan: Well, no German on my end today. If you guys break off, then I will be at a loss as your moderator. So with that, we will hop in. Anke, as a CIO, I’d love to kick off the conversation with you. We learn a lot based on failures and potential pitfalls. So, I would love to hear from you where you find some of the biggest pitfalls and gaps between what the business is requiring and to best meet the needs of the customer and what the technology teams are ultimately delivering. Do you see some common pitfalls in bridging that gap in your experience?
Anke: I actually think we have two gaps, not only one gap. So the first gap in my point of view is the gap between the customer and business. Sometimes it’s easier to talk to the customer to understand the needs and the internal business. I think the business should really talk to the customers to understand their needs. May I give you this example: As Ford stated, if I had asked my customers, they would have told me, we want to have faster horses and so often we try to build faster horses. And that’s the first gap to really understand the need of the customer. And in my point of view, Apple and Amazon understand the needs behind, not just the obvious needs. And the next thing is when the business understands the needs of the customer, what does it understand? And this is a good collaboration that they talk to each other and understand the needs on the ground, on the bottom, not only just deliver what is asked for. That’s in my point of view, the two gaps. One’s between the customer and the business, and another between business and IT. Yes, we have them and we have to work on them.
Logan: Taking it from one gap to two could be a little bit frustrating for folks to think. And we’ve got a gap to bridge but now we’ve got two gaps to bridge. But I think you pointed out something that is seen by some of the big tech players. Obviously, you mentioned two of the big names everyone knows that do a good job of not only listening to customers but seeing what is it that they really want. And when Steve Jobs presented the iPhone back in the day, he didn’t say it’s a better BlackBerry. He explained what people were really looking for and set it apart. And that’s always a great example in my mind of understanding what people are looking for and then presenting it in a way that meets their needs, not based on what are the trends. He could have said, we’re trending in this way of PTA’s and Blackberries, but he framed it differently. And that leads me right into the second question I wanted to ask you. There’s often this dilemma where business strategy can focus too heavily on being in sync with those latest tech trends. Whatever that is, not necessarily in sync with the trends of the markets they serve. And you need to have your finger on the pulse of both. But how do IT leaders really balance that? Are there some tactical things or questions that you ask yourself to balance that tension?
Anke: That’s indeed very tricky. When I ask these questions sometimes on the business things and IT things, they know it better. What we’re trying to do is to understand that we have two gaps, but we have the same solutions for both gaps. The solution is to understand the needs and to tell them that it helps to think about the business model, to think about the needs, and that we build the assembly line. But we need to understand which products, and services should be served for this assembly line. So that’s for me, the thing that they learn, that they understand, what is it for and what do I need from them to deliver in the right way. I need to know their business today, and their businesses tomorrow. And I have to tell them what is easy for me to deliver or what is difficult for me to deliver. So it’s like building a house. Before I start, I can do it all on paper and decide what’s going on. But when I build the half of the house, then it’s difficult to change the things. So we have to discuss beforehand and then say, this area should be flexible, here we have a window, and these areas are stable. Because if you have all of these elements as a flexible–options, it’s very complicated and expensive. And I tried to talk to them with metaphors, with examples, so that they know from other things when they are customers. Many people don’t understand IT and I have to build a bridge that they understand what is easy to deliver where we have problems. For example, house building is a good example for them to understand.
Logan: I was going to say that’s a phenomenal metaphor that I think anyone, whether they have, a construction background or understand IT, they can understand it. Changing the color of the paint on the walls at the 11th hour, is very easy. Changing this wall, which is load-bearing and is completely dependent and would take out the second story of the house, is much tougher to do in the later stages. Why is it Anke do you think that some IT leaders hesitate to have that communication early with and distinguish between? This is going to be an easy change versus this is going to be a difficult change? Is it may be that pressure to deliver and they want to say yes as much as possible, and therefore they get themselves in a situation where they’re having to say no later in the game?
Anke: I think they don’t want to have the conflicts, but I also think we have this Dunning Kruger effect, this unconscious incompetence and the unconscious competence. Often we have this big problem. IT thinks they understood what they have to deliver and the business thinks that they have also understood. So sometimes they don’t want to go on the conflict, but I think more often they don’t understand that they have gaps, or that they don’t understand the same as what to be delivered, and this mindset sees more of maybe as there’s unconscious competence. So if I have unconscious competence in the business, they can’t tell me what they need because for them it’s totally clear. For them it’s not necessary to explain because it’s unconscious. The same situation I have with IT guy, he has unconscious competence in his area. And if you’re unconscious, incompetent, you can’t ask questions. So we have to balance this in a way that we all work in this conscious competence and this conscious incompetence. And then you can talk to each other and it helps so much to tell them that so many misunderstandings happen around and it’s so often misunderstandings are happening, not that we are against each others. We don’t understand the misunderstandings and if you both put this in the conscious competence or incompetence, I say, for business, maybe that’s totally easy for you. But about IT guy, just please tell me. The same idea I talk about and will use is whiteboards, flip charts, PowerPoint is good if you’re through it. But if you work, I really think you have to put it on a paper to have them understood you correctly and that is active listening. To be like, ‘hey that’s what I understood about what you told me’. And so we work and work around it. If you do this for three to six, or nine months, normally it improves a lot.
Logan: That is such great advice, Anke. I can see that I’ve been a part of projects where those misunderstandings happened, it’s like, how did we get here? No one is maliciously trying to mislead or hold back information. But I’ve heard it said this way. Often times, whatever our area of expertise, whatever function in the business we’re in or in life, we have this curse of knowledge that we’ve known something so well and so intimately, we forget where we were at the start. Robb, I want to turn to you as we talk about the balance between technical capabilities and overall organizational goals and the needs of the business, as Anke has been so well sharing with us how to balance the communication between those. What are some of the things that you see in-house Cigniti has helped organizations align digital capabilities, the organizational goals and the business needs.
Robb: I read a white paper a couple of weeks ago from the Boston Consulting Group and their analysis is: 70 % of digital transformation failed to do it fully. And this is a great quote that says, “If 95% of employees don’t know where you’re going, there’s 100% chance that you’ll end up someplace else.” And that is absolutely true, I’ve been in this game now for about 20 years implementing and testing enterprise solutions. I’ve actually never had one fail because of technology. It always tends to be with full understanding of what the other business strategy is having full buy-in from everyone that’s part of the program, how you actually sequence the work, do we have a mechanism in place to be able to track and understand where we are. For me the biggest component is change management. I used to work with probably one of the biggest government projects in history which is 11-billion-dollar overhaul of the systems for the NHS National Health Service in the U.K. and that was in 2001. 11 billion dollars were spent on this project. And obviously the budget kept growing. It failed and it was a notorious failure to the extent that it’s used as a case study pretty much in every university course that teaches IT strategy. And it had very little to do with technology failures, it had to do with not listening to the end users who in this case were the doctors. They refused to have this kind of Top-Down process or forcing process. And ultimately the entire thing failed, the entire program was ultimately mothballed. The money was absolutely wasted. For companies like us, what we do is, I had a conversation with the CIO of a major stock exchange yesterday and we were talking about DevOps, it is a core component in enabling digital transformation. And what they were looking for ways to help us manage the cultural change. You know, everyone’s got tools, everyone’s got a process, and everyone’s got templates. But how can you help manage that change and these are the kind of things where companies like Cigniti can help. They don’t call it transformation for nothing, it’s usually a onetime thing. And it’s good to bring in partners that actually have done it before and in order to help facilitate that process and bring it to conclusion successfully.
Logan: Anke, I saw that you were nodding there as Robb was explaining that story. I imagined that or a similar one is the one that you have seen, you have seen play out in different scenarios. Am I right?
Anke: Technology is a tool and you can make, I would say everything, with it. That’s not a problem at all. We have experts, we have tools, and we have research so we can do a lot with the technology. The big question is, if you are able to form a team that you work together with or not. A team is not only business entity. For me, it’s customer, business, IT, the regulator and the provider. So all the people connected to this problem they play together, they understand each other and in conscious so that they understand each other, listen to each other, and are able to build a solution that is okay to work. And that’s not consensus that we have a solution that fits everyone’s problems. We understand what the basic needs for all of us are and how our created product would will look like. And forming this team, forming this culture for me, is key for all the projects and for all the companies around.
Logan: Anke in one of your previous writings, you once made the statement, “the sins of the past burdened the implementation of what the market needs.” Can you elaborate on this and speak to the shift away from outdate paradigms that it seems you’re alluding to here?
Anke: Once again using a metaphor. So if you have a house and if you don’t maintain it, no new heating, no new electricity, then it gets old. And so many people don’t understand that it’s the same in software, that software can become old. But Mainframe and COBOL is totally different to the things we have today. We are not able to deliver it in real time. For example, we are stable and its cost efficient but that doesn’t fulfil the needs of today. So that’s the first thing that I try to give them as an idea that software can become old. And then the other thing is what they want for the future. And then I can show them the gaps. Okay, that’s what you want to have in the future but now you have old software by which you aren’t able to do it. And if you want to deliver this in the future, we have to change all our legacy. That’s not easy to tell them like as if it’s just old house and you have to go there and you can deliver. But I think I have to give them something fierce, some understanding that if they don’t do this today, they will have a massive problem in two years ahead because they aren’t able to deliver the future needs of the customers. And that works step by step, but it helps a lot. And the second thing is I try to have some examples in this way, it can look like. So start those small things and say, here we are flexible, here we can change and in this situation we have to go again to the mainframe, then all this flexibility stops. So step by step, they will understand it. But I’m working in the banking industry; it’s a long way to go for me.
Logan: I love the way that you keep bringing it back to metaphors to help explain and bridge that communication gap. You know, as we were talking earlier Anke, we mentioned the role of humility in communication between business leaders and IT leaders in every functional role. What are some of the other key characteristics that you think leaders need to develop or continue to cultivate so that they can adopt innovation and embrace the change that’s coming? What do you see the successful leaders doing and cultivating? What are those characteristics versus others who aren’t as successful because they haven’t spent time cultivating those key characteristics?
Anke: For me, this is aligned as: open mind, curiosity, empathy and passion. When I say open mind, many people should just look at their business. So open mind is when you look around what’s going on in other markets, what can we see how customers react in other circumstances, that’s open mind. Just look around and create curiosity, it is then to dig in and say why it is this way. Why does this work than the other market. So that’s curiosity that you have to dig deeper. And the empathy is to try to understand that what I mentioned before, their needs and that what they really like to do and what they appreciate and what they serve for that hate. To really understand which function works well and why and what can be changed because of my open mind before my curiosity. So that you have a feeling what’s going on with your customer or provider, business partner, staff member, that you have a connection to them and then passion to light the fire. So then when we know where to go, we just have to have the energy to do it. And later, just do it.
Logan: So start with an open mind, dig in with curiosity, and lead into empathy as you go and then move forward with passion. I think that is a great list for any leader to keep in mind as they try to embrace the changes that their businesses need. Robb, I want to come back to you. We’ve talked a lot about communication and alignment between IT and business leaders, across different functions in the quality engineering world. What’s been your experience in creating alignment between the quality engineering business and the needs of the organization as a whole? I’d love to get your thoughts on that specific area of alignment and communication as it rolls up to our theme today.
Robb: I hope it’s okay if I pick it back on Anke’s metaphor. So if you think the old school way of implementing enterprise technology is always a Big Bang, we pour the foundation and we build the frame and then you’re pretty much locked in and the way that model doesn’t really suit the digital world. Like I mentioned earlier, delivery methods and models like DevOps, agile, continuous development, continuous integration, continuous testing are really core facilitators of that process. Then metaphorically, we’re talking about, building a house with a 3-D printer, was basically one component at a time and the components are modular, so we can make changes. That’s where I see us being able to really add value. The whole concept here is to enable agility and to compress timelines. And in order to be really successful in a digital world, you have to be nimble and agile. Being working with our clients to help with the tools, the technology, the process, and like I said earlier about things like, when for one of our clients in the U.S., a large airline, we implemented DevOps Academy to actually help get people trained up to manage the human components of these kinds of transformations. Those are the kinds of areas where we deal, as with our consulting practice, we’ve been very successful in helping manage that journey tactically, things like behavior driven development or BDD. What we’re trying to get to here is, and what Anke pointed out a number of articles, is trying to eradicate that ambiguity to ensure that the end result is what the original owners, the users and the business want it. For BDD to act as a toolset and as a process, it helps to ensure that there is a direct connectivity between what the business wants and what ultimately is designed, developed, and deployed.
Logan: Connectivity, I really like the way you said that Robb. Anke, as we round out the conversation today, I would love to get your advice and opinions on something, something tactical here. We’ve talked a lot about theory and communication and overall best practices, the topic of outsourcing, enterprise IT and working successfully with external providers in your digital transformation journey. What’s your top advice for folks there when considering, should they go that route? And if so, what pitfalls should they look out for so that they can have, again, a successful transformation journey?
Anke: I wouldn’t outsource whole IT but I would outsource parts of it. Sometimes people think when we outsource, then the problem is gone but that doesn’t work. First of all, you have to understand your processes. You have to understand how important they are for the business, how flexible they should look like. What is necessary to understand the business, to understand IT, and then you decide who is the best to deliver this software, to deliver it for running the business maintenance and other things, and then you look for partners. For me, a provider is a partner. You have to talk to work with him in the same way as you work with your staff members. You have to understand their problems, they have to understand your problems, and you have to talk to them on a very open basis and say,” I want to have this delivery and I am able to pay this, what can you do for me?” And then treat them like a partner in the ecosystem. You need them; they need you, just work with them. But first of all, you have to think about your processes and in which area it is better to buy things if it’s software or it’s a service and then talk to them very openly. What is necessary for you, what is necessary for them, and try to have a cultural fit for the provider. That’s for me, very important.
Logan: Very solid advice, Anke. Well, this has been a phenomenal conversation full of great stories, examples, metaphors and I loved your list about the characteristics leaders need to keep in mind open mindedness, curiosity, empathy and passion. And we talked about humility, recognizing that unconscious competence and recognizing that unconscious incompetence, and finding that middle ground where you can be conscious of both because we do have both. Anke, if anybody listening to this, you’re now new on their radar or they would like to find more content from you, any of your writings, those sorts of things, what’s the best way for them to reach out, get in touch or just stay connected with you?
Anke: The best way is to reach out through LinkedIn, and as I told you at the beginning, I really like digital transformation and that I’m on a mission that they all understand that’s its digital transformation but the change management aspect is very important for me. So I would love to talk to so many people. With people who have the same idea, connect with them and try to make it make it happen.
Logan: Robb, how about you? If anyone would like to stay connected with you, you’ve got some great stories from the field talking to IT leaders and working with them on a regular basis. Really appreciated your insights today. If anybody wants to reach out, get in touch with you. What’s the best way there?
Robb: The best way to get me, I think, is LinkedIn as well. I spell my name as Robb LaVelle. It’s been a real fantastic pleasure and I look forward to seeing you again next time and Anke so it’s really beautiful where she lives in Germany, in the Black Forest, fantastic time. It was good meeting you, Logan, and thanks very much for the opportunity.
Logan: Well, thank you both for contributing today and adding a lot of value to listeners. I’m sure they’re going to get a ton to be able to walk away from this episode and implement in their own organizations. That wraps it up for today’s episode, as always, everybody, thank you so much for listening!
Quality assurance is vital to the success of an organization’s digital transformation. Lack of control can quickly derail a company’s technological presence, costing thousands. At Cigniti, our resolution is to build a better world with better quality software. Renowned for the global quality thought leadership in the industry, we draw expertise from over a decade of test engineering experience across verticals. To learn how we do it, visit cigniti.com.
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