“Why digital transformation is less about technology than you would imagine.”- An Interview With Robert Garcia

Robert Garcia has over 25 years experience in IT and telecoms, having held leadership roles for AT&T and Orange Business Services. Robert has spearheaded many global transformation projects, and recently led the worldwide delivery of Microsoft’s largest UC implementation programme.

We met with Robert to learn about his views on digital transformation, where many organisations go wrong, and how to ensure a successful DT project.

Question 1 – In your career, what has Digital Transformation allowed you to achieve that otherwise would not have been possible?

“So, when I was thinking about the question, I was thinking about my first experience with Digital Transformation. That was really, really early days, I moved into the UK in 1995 and when I got here, any kind of contact with the US was by telephone. If you’re separated from your family for that (period of time)- things happen over the years- and you’re really far away from them. The biggest change that happened was being able to video in with them. A video camera. Being able to see them really shrunk the world and adding that additional sense of sight was a big deal. So you’ve started, fast-forward to where we are today and the fact is that shrinking of the world has gone really, really fast now. To the point you can do anything, anywhere and, that to me, is the biggest change of Digital Transformation today. Anyone or any company can do anything from any place and it allows people to contribute and compete in ways they never thought they were going to be able to. There’s that Tom Friedman book, The World is Flat- it is a real flattener, this technology.”

Question 2 – What would you say are the biggest myths surrounding Digital Transformation, and in what circumstances can they be harmful?

I think the biggest myth, or misconception may be around is that it’s a technical change. Yeah sure, it is a technical change, but the thing is, the reason you want to do this type of Transformation is to transform your business and if you enter into this as a technical change, you do it at your own peril. The idea of harnessing the Digital Transformation has got to be all about understanding your business, understanding the business you are working with, understanding how they use technology today and how Digital Transformation can enable them- or more than enable- and make them be able to do things better, faster, whatever that is, than they are today. That doesn’t happen by seeing it as ‘will give them unified communications’ or ‘will give them cloud computing; that’s got to happen as a coherent effort to understand what the business does and then detail the solution to them, to enter, and to really emphasise the communications and the adoption pieces to make sure they are pushing it out so they can consume it.

Question 3 – Which aspect of Digital Transformation has the possibility to cause the biggest technological or economic disruption and why?

“I’m not an expert in this area, but it’s a piece that really intrigues me about it. I think it’s around robotics and about machine learning. When I was thinking about this, I was thinking about it in terms of how assembly lines and mechanisation changed life for the blue-collar worker in America over the years. A lot of those jobs went away and the productivity changed, but other businesses sprung up and things like that. When we think about robotics today, it’s not that sort of Arnold Schwarzenegger Terminator sort of view anymore. It’s actually virtual robots that are doing things online that suddenly take the place of call centres, or maybe accountants, or even more complex things. That impacts the white-collar worker in a lot of ways, in ways they maybe never thought robotics would impact the industry, or impact their lives. When I think about it, I think to myself, it can be a real enabler and in some ways a real disrupter, maybe in a negative way. I am never really sure whether I am a hundred percent comfortable with the fact those changes are going to come. Are we ready? Are my kids ready to live in that world where they need to retrain themselves in a very different way than I’ve had to retrain myself?

Question 4 – What advice would you offer to a business considering investing in Digital Transformation?

“I would go back to what I said previously- don’t think about it as a technical change. You must think about it as a business change and you must think about how your business uses technology today. You need to have a vision of how you want your business to use technology tomorrow. What do you want your business to be, what’s out there and how could you use it in order to make your business better? I think that’s the key piece there: Think of it as a business change.”

Question 5 – What in your opinion are the most challenging aspects of implementing a Digital Transformation process?

“The most challenging aspect of it is working with the customer to adopt the technology, and understand not the technology as it is today, but the technology as they are going to be able to consume it tomorrow. The biggest example we get in what we do is around eliminating people’s desk calls. When people think about their desk things, they think about two things. They think about: One- I don’t want to give it up. I’ve had it for years and I don’t want to give it up and Two: If you get them on the journey of maybe they do want to give it up, they still think about things in terms of how they use the phone. What do we do, we pick it up, we dial it and the attributes that go with that: Am I gonna have my speed dials, am I gonna have my short-code, short dials. In say, a Skype for Business solution, generally people are going to be on a computer, they are going to point and click at that person, it’s better than a short dial. But you need to teach people to be able to re-imagine that, they have to see the solution for what that is and that it’s not replacing that, but doing it differently. If you’re not able to take them on that journey and help them to re-imagine the ways they are going to use the technology, then you get into an adoption spiral. ‘Can you make it happen?’ What we found, is that it’s a journey- I’m not laying out something that I’ve cooked up in the lab- the fact is people have talked about adoption this way for years. What do you do? You get some people that are early adopters, true believers in this, you get them using it, you get them to be champions and you build demand in the business. You build a pole in the business, but getting a customer to agree to that type of approach and not to want to consume it all at once, not understanding that it may be a journey for them. That’s a real challenge.”

Question 6 – What advice can you offer for choosing the right partner for a Digital Transformation project?

“I would say you sit down with your partner, interview a number of partners and you would make sure your partner wanted to know about your business. Your partner should not be selling you a technical change, your partner should be telling you ‘No, they should have done this before’ and they should be speaking to you about your business. If they are not speaking to you about your business, walk out because this is a change that should be affecting the fabric of how you do things. It should be making you better as a business. If you’re just getting a technical solution, that’s not gonna suit you.”

Question 7 – What are the fundamental differences between projects that have succeeded and those that have not done so well?

“I think the most successful projects have a customer that really has bought into the journey. The customer needs to really want to go on a journey and be voracious on that change. In one of the most successful projects that we worked with, we worked with a company to help to transform their existing legacy telephony to a unified Skype for Business solution. They were out in front of that technology and from the very, very beginning, they pushed us and every other vender in that ecosystem to do more than what anybody else thought that anybody could do with that technology. They helped Microsoft and everybody else to insure that project. But that type of voraciousness for that change and that drive and confidence that you can do it is really important. I think there’s another attribute that goes with it- while they were voracious for that change, they also knew how to drive the communications and the adoption in that company. They were willing to take certain things faster and certain things slower and they said ‘we’re on a journey to get to an end state’ the end goal is what’s important and if this stage takes a little bit longer, but embeds us better with that user group and helps us to build on that foundation, that’s the right thing to do. I think the last thing is you cannot underestimate the importance of being bought in terms of communications and adoption. Really having people to help you tailor that communication to each of the stakeholder’s needs. The messages are different, the needs are different and so it all needs to be tailored to those people. This client really bought into that and that was the reason for it being such a big success.

Question 8 – Are Digital Transformation projects just for Global organisations or is it something companies of all sizes can implement?

“Well I hope they’re for small companies because we have a whole lot of our company working with small to medium enterprises! It’s as good, if not a better fit for small companies for a couple of big reasons. Small companies will always have the same sort of size and scale of an embedded infrastructure they have to transform. You have a better chance of changing tact with a smaller company rather than a big behemoth of 100,000 people. With a company that has four thousands, five thousand users, it’s hopefully gonna have a much leaner management structure, it is going to be able to drive a cultural and a behavioural change much faster in that environment. The chances of that being successful are much better. So I think it works better for a smaller company if anything, I think it goes back to my earlier point. It’s a real leveller. I think it carries you away from geography, it allows a small company to compete in any marketplace and it allows those companies to bring products to market. They can potentially be attractive to work with, whereas maybe it would have only been attractive with a larger company before.”

Question 9 – What would you say are the major challenges of implementing a worldwide Digital Transformation project?

“In our experience, the big challenges are they’re a bit cultural, there’s a bit of regulatory in there and then there’s the global nature of it in general. The global nature of it is these projects are happening all over the world and managing projects all over the world is hard. No matter what technology you put in place, it doesn’t change time. You can’t bend time to make it later in Asia and earlier on the East Coast of America or vice versa. In the end, you still have to work across those time zones and make things happen. But that’s only one end of it. The cultural side is different. That part of it is something that tailoring a program, tailoring a solution is really important. That comes down to key facts- in Germany privacy is very important, in Asia collaboration or consensus is very important as examples, and making sure your solution lends itself and takes those things into account. The last piece is around understanding the regulatory environment, but it’s maybe something else, maybe something a bit more than that. These Digital Transformations, they pull the solution to the centre. In other words, you can centralise the support and implementation of a lot of these things rather than doing it locally. Those local teams have been there for ages, they understand the ins and outs of how things work in that city, that country and so on. They understand the regulatory environment, they understand what’s going on in that place and they can tailor a solution to make sure it fits in with that. If we move to this Digital Transformation world, a lot of that moves centrally and you start to lose that local knowledge. As you lose that local knowledge, you’ve got to find a way to get it from a regulatory perspective. You’ve got to make sure that you understand what can be done in India, what can be done in China, what can be done in certain countries in Eastern Europe, or Africa. How that will work and in losing that, you’re finding ways to bring that into the centre. I think those are the three big challenges.”