This is Softcat's first podcast series, Explain IT, presented by various IT professionals offering; insight, knowledge, experience and opinion on a variety of enterprise tech topics. The podcast will be released every two weeks - don't miss out and subscribe below to be updated as they're live.
In this episode, host Michael Bird finds out how becoming digitally enabled can make a difference to organisations of all sizes, and how to start the digital transformation journey. Sam Routledge, Softcat's CTO and Matt Hunt, Chief Client Officer at mobile app development company, Apadmi, join Michael to share why digital transformation matters now, and they look at a real life case study that reduced and streamlined the way the NHS gathered data. They also outline four simple steps to take in order to best prepare for digital transformation, and the process of shaping and creating a bespoke solution.
If you'd like advice around implementing digital transformation into your organisation or want to understand how we can help, get in touch using the button below or contact your account manager.Get in Touch
Michael Bird: Hello and welcome to Explain IT, brought to you by Softcat. Explain IT is a show for IT professionals that aims to simplify the complex and often overcomplicated bits of Enterprise IT, without compromising on detail. I'm host Michael Bird and over the next 20 or so minutes I'll be challenging our panel of experts to take a different area of the IT ecosystem and, of course, 'Explain IT'. In this episode we're going to be talking about digital transformation; what exactly it means, why it matters to organisations and some steps to get started. And with me to help discuss, demystify and explain, are Sam Routledge, Softcat's CTO and Matt Hunt who's Chief Client Officer at Apadmi, which is Softcat's mobile app development partner.
So first question to you Sam, what is digital transformation? Is it just a fancy way of saying, "I'm moving all of my IT to the cloud"?
Sam Routledge: Absolutely not, there is a bit of an overlap with cloud, but digital transformation is not just lifting and shifting a load of VMs and dumping them in the Infrastructure as a Service platform of your choice. The advantage to the cloud bit is that it frees the IT team up to get involved in more business facing tech and that's really the essence of digital transformation, this is about using technology to advance the cause of your organisation - commercial or public sector. So at the more tactical end, that means digitising some simple processes that are perhaps paper-based or maybe more manual, at the high end it means potentially changing your entire business model, moving more in the subscription or consumption model, becoming more data driven, providing a service rather than a product, providing a platform rather than a product and really changing up what you do in quite a significant way.
Michael Bird: And so why does it matter? Why should an organisation really care about it?
Sam Routledge: I think it really matters because, as technologists we have a great opportunity ahead of us, because this is the era where tech breaks out of tech. This is not about flashing lights in a datacentre anymore, although clearly that stuff is still exciting, we love a bit of geekery, but this is about technology changing the world; better commercial outcomes, better clinical outcomes in healthcare... We have a really big opportunity ahead of us and I think the really important thing is, why does it matter? From a commercial standpoint, if you don't do it, your nearest competitor is going to do it, and if you can create that glorious mobile self-serve experience and do a better job, that's the customer service differentiator these days, if you do that better than your competitors, you will win in the market, all other things being equal. Of course the reverse is also true, so most organisations will need to embrace these initiatives and kick your competitors backsides. There's also a risk there that if you don't do that, then perhaps you may get left behind in the digital race.
Michael Bird: So what's been the main driver for this happening? Is it because the big tech companies in Silicon Valley have been developing technology at such a high rate of knots that people are experiencing new apps and new ways of consuming things and so they go to work and say, "why is work not like this?".
Sam Routledge: I think you've got a few elements to it, so yes you're right, to an extent, in that the drive towards consumerisation, people wanting that app-based, glorious mobile experience that they're used to from iPhones and Android devices and what-have-you, that's really important. I think part of it is because the consumption of the underlying infrastructure stuff has become easier through the advent of cloud and hyperconverged platforms and simplifying the underlying building blocks to enable IT to spend more time on initiatives. I think the world of IoT, Internet of Things, and connecting physical devices and bringing them into the digital world is a really important part of it, and I think it's also about organisations realising that there is gold in them there hills of data that they've collected over the years.
Michael Bird: So are there any organisations where digital transformation just isn't important at all, is not going to benefit their organisation and actually, it's probably going to be a waste of time or a distraction?
Sam Routledge: I don't know about digital transformation, per se, but I think pretty much every business can benefit from becoming digitally enabled. I guess if you're a sole trader, making pottery in your shed or something like that, it's probably less relevant to you, but any organisation over a particular size and scale, any organisation that's concerned about customer reach, concerned about delivering a better experience to their customers, I think that's probably relevant, Matt, what would you say?
Matt Hunt: Yeah I think it's a good point, and I think the kind of example I can give is that, Christmas last year, usual stuff, family in the car, going to buy a Christmas tree. We go to our local farmer who gets a job lot, puts them in his barn. Turned up this time, buy a Christmas tree, twenty, thirty pounds, something like that, and he...
Sam Routledge: You mean you had to use cash?!
Matt Hunt: Actually, no, no this is a new world, he pulled out his iPhone, and he pulled out his Bluetooth card reader, and we did it contactless.
Sam Routledge: That's quality!
Matt Hunt: It is! And, ok so he's radically changed his business, in terms of how he manages finances, but that's just one small example.
Sam Routledge: That's the user experience thing isn't it?
Matt Hunt: Yeah, exactly that! It's all that, and I know it sounds daft, but for us, it's like, well that's how I'm used to buying stuff now, that's my normal purchase process. There are other businesses and I think, for me, is there any business who shouldn't do this, or think about this, I think, never do technology for technology's sake, never do it because your competitors are doing it and you must be digital, you've got to do it for the right reasons, but I think digital offers companies a great way to improve, to differentiate, to solve problems, to realise opportunities and I think for me the exciting world is around some of the smaller organisations who can really rapidly step up. I think new businesses have a great opportunity, so where you've got quite a traditional business, sometimes driving tech changes through that can be a challenge because you've got to deal with people, policy, processes, history, stuff like that, but if you're a new, fledgling business, out of the box, some of the stuff you can do very very quickly and become very competitive, for me, is amazing.
Sam Routledge: That sort of thing must be worrying for some of the big corporate organisations with big traditional cost bases and warehouses and bricks and mortar stores and suboptimal websites, that's a challenging...
Matt Hunt: Exactly that, and I think, for me, they're a small example, but there are other companies out there who have got that light, agile culture to technology, who look at things in a different way. For me it's that modern tech thinking; they've not been through the old tech and think that's the way it's got to be, they approach it from an absolute different point of view. You go in and around Manchester and you see how some of these smaller businesses are working and the tech is fantastic. For me, if I was starting out as a small business for now, I'd be incredibly excited about the things I've got in front of me, the things that I can use, and also how quickly I can change. I'm not stuck to one piece of technology, I haven't got the heritage behind it, that I can suddenly shift and I use do something new, because that offers a better thing for me and my customers.
Michael Bird: So how does this look to an organisation? What do they need to do differently? Is it a culture thing? Is it 'spend a load of money on technology'? Anything else?
Matt Hunt: I think not necessarily spending a load of money on technology, what I think it doesn't look like is technology for the sake of doing it.
Sam Routledge: 100%
Matt Hunt: So it's not just, right let's look like we're doing stuff, let's buy stuff, let's install it, let's get it working and that will solve the problem. So I think the first thing, for me, is, it's got to align with the organisation, the strategy and where they're going and what they're looking to do, top line stuff...
Sam Routledge: Business first, not technology first.
Matt Hunt: Exactly. Second thing is you've got to consider the users. Slightly cliché, but absolutely, so you're not saying, "we're going to change the organisation and we're going to put this technology in and you are going to use it." It's got to be successful, it's got to be adopted and we all know the best way to do that is to inolve the people who are going to use it and I think the second thing for me is planning it out properly. So it's understanding what success looks like, what it will be and when it will be and then working back from that, because the classic thing that we see time and time again is that, from an app point of view, or an app solution point of view, they see that as a solution, and that makes sense, but their infrastructure isn't ready and they've got to do a lot in terms of changing processes and stuff like that. So you can't build a successful app unless the infrastructure's there to support it. So it's about planning it out, putting it in the right order and delivering it in a kind of phased approach. Those of the sorts of headline things where we see successful transformation work as opposed to unsuccessful.
Sam Routledge: That makes absolute sense and a lot of the work that we're doing at the minute, we call it 'the cornerstones of digital', so four areas that we think customers need to invest in to prepare the road for considering this route. So get your infrastructure right, make it agile and flexible and as cloud-like as possible, which may mean consuming cloud as well, not necessarily exclusively, but that's usually a part of the conversation; making sure you mobilise your users as much as possible, identity and access management, nice devices, usually Office 365 and other related elements, get them use to that mobile paradigm; getting data - most organisations that invest in digital transformation are becoming data driven, so collecting, storing, analysing and exposing that data to the business; and of course making sure security is embedded at every stage of that, because in a digital world, I think trusting your brand is really important, so security is just the most massive component of all of that, and getting that right and getting that ready.
Matt Hunt: And a quick question from my point of view Sam, in your experiences, how important do you think it is that there is a joined up thinking in the organisation when they're doing this, and it's not just one area, one department trying to drive this stuff forward?
Sam Routledge: It's absolutely crucial. The opportunity that's ahead of us with the technology that is available today is, in my opinion, absolutely enormous. You can refer to it as tech breaking out of tech. This is not, however, a technology initiative, this is not something that the IT team can drive on their own for the business and equally it's not something that the business can drive without IT, because business people need tech people to explain to them the possibilities and make it happen and the tech people need to understand the goals of the business and how they might be able to change. So this is an initiative that, if you're going to do it strategically, permeates every part of the organisation. But equally there is, sort of, a more tactical way in, if you're simply digitising relatively basic business processes to drive a bit of efficiency into your business, so maybe not digital transformation per se, but it's moving in that direction, so you can start small, but it's got to, got to, got to be business driven, or at least business involved, but it needs the clever people in IT to make it happen, it's got to be a collaborative partnership.
Michael Bird: So what do we expect to see in the future, for this?
Sam Routledge: I think the possibilities conferred by digitising the physical world, what is it Cisco say? There'll be 50 billion connected devices, or devices with an IP address by 2020... The possibilities of the technology ahead of us are absolutely enormous so I do see this as an increasing area of possibility and competitive differentiation for customers. I see it driving a lot of investment in the underlying technology, because you've got to have tech to support an initiative like this. I think it's a bit of a truism, but it seems like businesses are moving to a consumption based, or a subscription based model which is enabled by technology. It's clear that data is becoming the large currency of the day and that a lot of digital initiatives will be around collecting data and using data to do things differently, or better, or even to become an organisation that sells data - we see that with the Facebooks and so on of this world. But I can only see this stuff accelerating, I think, even in the wake of GDPR, even in the wake of all of the fuss around Facebook and Cambridge Analytica, there are so many possibilities. In the commercial world, of course, but also in public sector, driving efficiencies into healthcare, connected healthcare across A&E and hospital and social care - so many different areas where tech can make a real difference, the possibilities are endless.
Michael Bird: What about organisations that decide not to?
Sam Routledge: I guess the hipster in me would suggest that there's still going to be a place for organisations that make things - nice, not widgets necessarily, pots or pans or guitars or something like that, there's always going to be a hold-out group from the world of digital and I think there's a place for that sort of artisan stuff, but I think any organisation with reasonable scale is going to need to get on this train at some point over the next few years.
Michael Bird: So how would an organisation get started? What kind of things do they need to consider?
Sam Routledge: So I think if you're going to get started with this digital stuff you need a sort of pincer movement so you can attack it on two fronts. Firstly you need to sort out your existing systems and underlying infrastructure and get yourself ready for digital. So make your infrastructure ready, make your mobile experience for your own users ready, make sure that you've got your data house in order and make sure that your security is right. The second bit then is to think about the art of possible; what could you do, where can your business go? And then you start to connect the two. So maybe Matt, you could give us some examples of connecting the two together.
Matt Hunt: Yeah it's always a case, for us, I kind of mentioned it before, you can't deliver a great mobile solution unless you've got the infrastructure in place and typically when we're working with customers on large digital transformation projects, the first thing to understand is what the vision is. To understand what this thing is going to be.
Sam Routledge: And that's the fun part, right? Because you get to theorise some really cool stuff that you might be able to do.
Matt Hunt: Yeah, the kind of divergent thinking where there's ideas and all that stuff coming out and that vision phase where you're understanding what this thing is, who it's going to benefit, how will you measure success, what will it look like, how will you know in the future, actually we've achieved what we were looking to achieve - all that sort of stuff. At some point, that's great, because you get people saying, "it would be great if it could do this, or what about this", you get this big shopping list, but at some point you've got to go down to the definition.
Sam Routledge: Yeah, you can end up with too much stuff to go at, can't you?
Matt Hunt: Exactly. So you then start to... so you've got a vision phase, then there's a definition phase, where you're actually defining what this thing is and, in effect, from delivering, let's say, a mobile solution, it's defining it into phases. So it could be that, actually, you have to start prototyping. Some things you have to start working really early and say, "can we technically do this, what will the fundamental features look like?"
Sam Routledge: It's not a bad idea to start relatively small, the whole minimum viable product thing, just to prove to yourself that it might work.
Matt Hunt: Exactly. And bear in mind prototyping can be paper prototyping, you could do almost like, visual mock ups and testing it with users and people to understand, "this is what the plan is, is this going to work?" and start to refine your ideas, because the cost of change there is much smaller. If you start to change things when you're in development, costs are much higher. And there is agile development, the benefits of agile are great, but what you'll find is, most customers out there that we're working with, will say, "we want a level of flexibility, but we want to know, pretty much early on, how long this is going to take, what it's going to cost, when it's going to be delivered."
Michael Bird: So any cool examples?
Matt Hunt: One of the things that we've actually worked with in conjunction with Softcat is work for NHS Blood and Transplant. For those of you who know it, NHS Blood and Transplant are responsible for delivering blood and organ donation services to all the hospitals in the UK. And about four or five years ago they were looking at how they capture data for the organ donation process, so this isn't people who are registering for donor cards, this is when a patient comes in and they're a potential organ donor, and what happens with NHS Blood and Transplant is that specialist nurses get deployed to those patients and they have to start collecting data about them and that data is used to identify if that individual can be an organ or tissue donor. Four years ago, or even maybe three years ago, that was a paper-based process, so every single organ donor, a specialist nurse, they'd have an inch thick envelope full of paper and forms and they would take those paper and forms out and start to collect data for that patient. What they were realising is, actually those specialist nurses - highly trained - were spending a huge amount of time administering and not a huge amount of time with the patient. Obviously their job is there to work out who can be organ donors and basically give the higher chance that people who may not be or not thinking about being a donor, they can actually make them change their mind, or make them think slightly differently, so effectively, trying to drive organ donation.
Sam Routledge: And I guess the more data you have, the better chance of finding the right recipient for a given organ in that sort of situation and therefore the better clinical outcomes, right?
Matt Hunt: Yeah absolutely.
Sam Routledge: Speed is of the essence, with this stuff.
Matt Hunt: Yeah absolutely. So capturing data as quickly as possible and capturing accurate data as quickly as possible is crucial, so the work we did with them is to help them understand how they could move that to a digital solution. So in their case, on iPads, and how they can move from a world where it was paper driven and paper processes and systems that were expecting paper, to a world of digital. And there's a massive difference. A classic example is that you're mobilising a system that was never really designed to be mobilised, so you're collecting data in online and offline scenarios and all of a sudden, instead of one set of data for a patient being entered at once that data comes in over time, so there's some real differences about how that data comes in. And also what that means for the specialist nurse. Instead of them having to write down on paper and go and find a computer and enter the data then go away, collect more data and so on and so forth, it was more a case of that data being collected at the point that it becomes available.
Sam Routledge: I guess the app drives the data collection as well, so you're making sure that people don't miss stuff out.
Matt Hunt: That's correct, yeah, exactly that and it's also a case of, it's interesting in moving from paper to digital is that paper has some really good things - the battery doesn't run out, it's always there and always available as long as you don't lose it, so people are used to, with paper they can scribble in the margins, they can add stuff there, so it's also about providing flexibility, it's about not putting the system in place that takes away the benefits of paper and causes further problems. So what you've got to do is you've got to... the technology needs to support the nurse in their role and not define how the nurse works. So it's got to be flexible enough so that they can continue to work in the way that they work. Not all hospitals are the same, and not all patients are the same, and not all processes are the same, so it's got to have the flexibility to allow them to work and not get in their way.
Sam Routledge: It was an interesting project actually, because it bears out some of what I was talking about earlier, about the security side of things. I recall some of our element was making sure the security model was in place to support the devices because clearly you're collecting very sensitive information at a particularly sensitive time, so you need to make sure that data is not going to escape.
Matt Hunt: Absolutely, so when we turned up to the project, all of that problem was solved, that was resolved with Mobile Device Management in place and how that was all set up, so we weren't having to think or worry about that, we were more about, "right, the platform is there in place." The nurses were actually mobile with the devices before the app was launched, so they were already used to using those devices, as you touched on before, so it was then a case of all those problems are resolved, now how do we build the app solution on top?
Sam Routledge: Which is a great example of putting those building blocks in place at the same time as theorising and then delivering on the art of the possible.
Matt Hunt: Yes absolutely. So from our point of view, there was challenges in terms of taking a database that was never really designed to be mobilised, and solving those problems but that's going to happen anyway, as part of what you do.
Sam Routledge: That's kind of what you do, right?
Matt Hunt: Exactly yeah. And then a lot of the challenges around that actually, we spent a huge amount of time working with the specialist nurses, because you're taking... every patient, at that time, was about 1000 data points, so they were collecting a huge amount of data, how do you translate that into a user interface that is easy to use, easy to navigate, easy to understand? So there's a lot of time spent with the nurses to help understand how that could be, look at options and then ultimately arrive on a design that they were all happy with and that they could all use and it wasn't something that was a surprise and given to them at the end. So actually by the time that solution was deployed, they'd all seen it, understood it, been part of the design process, knew all about it, it was very familiar so it wasn't a big shock at the end of the delivery phase.
Sam Routledge: I guess you can't assume that your ultimate user is a technologist?
Matt Hunt: Absolutely and, in some experience, far from it. A lot of the people we were working with, they don't need to be technologists, their job is all about clinical care and stuff. So some were very tech savvy, others were the other end of the spectrum. You have to give something that meets all of the users' needs.
Sam Routledge: Make it as consumer friendly as possible, but still collect the information and drive the process.
Matt Hunt: And it's a good point you make there, because one of the common things we heard said with that project, and a lot of our customers, is when you get down to the design process and say, "what should this thing look like?" people will always give examples of their consumer life, apps they use outside of work, and that for me is one of the big things that's driven the digital transformation revolution for businesses. People on the way to work are having great experiences, they get to work and it's like going back 15 years. And people always site examples of, "we like this in this app, and this in this app," and stuff like that, "why can't we have that in the apps that we use in our organisation?"
Sam Routledge: A glorious and elegant user experience encourages adoption and makes sure the people use it whether that's digitising processes within your own business or producing an app for your customers to consume your services from.
Matt Hunt: Exactly that. And when sometimes we talk about this project and you it explain it to people they say, "that's just a form collection solution, it's like a web form isn't it? And you collect data, and you press 'submit'," and that sometimes a challenge in what we having to do because people have an expectation that data collection is very very simple, it's a webform isn't it? Name and address and submit and happy days? And then when you start to scratch the surface and explain to them some of the reasons why that's not the case it suddenly becomes apparent these things can be difficult, can be challenging if you don't think them through correctly.
Michael Bird: So to summarise?
Sam Routledge: So to summarise, I think you've got to start somewhere. This digital initiative stuff is really important and you need to start somewhere. I think there are two elements to it; the first element is getting your existing house in order, so make sure that your infrastructure is capable and agile enough and cloud-like, make sure that you have already mobilised your people because mobile is going to be a significant component of digital, make sure that you've got your data house in order, you're collecting it, storing it, surfacing it well because most digital initiatives will be data driven and make sure that you have your security house in order because the more data you collect, the more secure that you need to be and the more mobile devices and IoT devices and so on you have on your extended network, the larger your attack surface is, so building your security model is really important. Once you've got that stuff done or maybe even while that's going on the background, I think the next step is to start with the art of the possible. What could a digital initiative look like and you can start as crazy as you like really and that's the fun part I think. Then of course, you've got to start refining that stuff to the elements of it that can improve your business or improve the way that you do things and engaging the support of someone like Matt's team at Apadmi can be really useful in that scenario, right Matt?
Matt Hunt: Yeah, for us, if we're starting to work with a customer who has their infrastructure, data, team mobilised all that stuff is a really great start and as you say some customers have a really good idea about what they want and what they want to achieve, and a lot of the time it is about assessing the art of the possible and looking at different ways that you can achieve what you want to do. There's not always one answer, there's not always one way that it can be done, there's alternative ways.
Sam Routledge: And different organisations have different goals and customers and styles of business.
Matt Hunt: The one thing that is constant is that all of our customers are different. We always know that they've got different priorities, needs and you have to be adaptable to that and so typically you start looking at the vision, what they want to achieve, the blue sky thinking you talked about, art of the possible - that's where all these ideas come up and you're talking to all sorts of people in the businesses, in terms of what they want and what they want out of this.
Sam Routledge: If it was all the same there'd be no opportunity for differentiation, right? Which is the whole point of this stuff.
Matt Hunt: Exactly that!
Michel Bird: Excellent, so Sam and Matt, thank you so much for your time. If there's anything in this show that has piqued your interest or if you'd like to find out some more about digital transformation, do check out the show notes included with this podcast. We're going to put some of the stuff that we've talked about today as well as some links related to digital transformation and we'll also put a few ways that you can get in touch with someone at Softcat. So you've been listening to Explain IT from Softcat. Thank you so much for listening and goodbye.
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