Digital Transformation Needs A Transformation!

5 Oct 2017

Anna Bennett, Head of Partners

Digital Transformation is the most revered of aspirations in banking and everyone has a project plan – but why? Who wants to lead a project that (according to Forbes and McKinsey) currently fails over two thirds of the time?

When you start to break it down – as AT Kearney has done recently – one of the main issues is that Digital Transformation is being treated as if it’s a project with an end date.  To gain budget and assign resources, a business case is created, programmes of activity set up and transformation teams are created.  The assignment of budget inevitably leads to an end date. An end date leads to it being regarded as a project. All other associated challenges then follow and alas, progress does not.


Digital Transformation is almost always the result of unplanned shift in business strategy – reactions to opportunities and threats. But strategy is a business fundamental and for that reason it must be core to how any business delivers outcomes.

By that definition, transformation must be permanent and ongoing.

Giving it a Human Perspective

Let’s liken a forty-something person (me, for example) to an established banking infrastructure.

By forty-something, I’ve probably got stuck in my ways, my experiences tend to inform how I see and trust the world around me.  I take fewer risks and have more responsibilities.  I also tend to hang out with the same people who I’ve known for a very long time and who share my way of thinking.

But if I’m not quite ready to give in to old age just yet and I want to keep up with the pace of modern life, changing technologies and demands on my time – I need to change those practises that have become so ingrained and comfortable to me.

Do I achieve that overnight? No. Do I schedule an end point in 18 months’ time, at which point I will magically be as mentally nimble as a teenager again? That would be a pretty ridiculous expectation, right? There are no quick fixes. Instead, I start to introduce things that help me change the way I operate. I come up with a plan, I broaden my horizons that had previously narrowed over time, I change my routine, mix with others who challenge my ingrained ways and keep making progress towards the vision. And little by little, things improve because I started and continue to do things differently.

Is Banking Transformation So Different?

Banking transformation isn’t so different. It’s not an overnight fix and it’s not something that can be achieved and then forgotten. It’s an ongoing commitment to keep up with digital life and it has to be a core value to succeed.

The talk of Digital Transformation in banking in and of itself needs a transformation.

Clear the decks of vast sweeping change programmes that tie-up almost all useful resources within the bank, fail to deliver to agreed outcomes and budget, leaving a static ‘No Man’s Land’ in their wake. The only way in which banks can transform is by starting to change the way they work and to design new processes for delivering change quickly.

How Should it Start?

Digital Transformation starts with how teams work together, in particular how they adapt to challenges and measure success. The process of changing how people in traditionally separate siloes work, facilitating better outcomes by bringing teams together to deliver end results. One of my favourite physical illustrations of how new ways of working changes mindsets is the reason why the straight production line was first changed to form a U-shape. Done first by the Japanese, the very architects of agile, so that everyone could see and share pride in the finished product. This change alone increased production rates in factories in the 1970’s by over 100% as workers communicated better and shared in the success. People like happy endings and supporting them to see something through to successful output is key to achieving success.

Taking on Momentum

Once you’ve got a process blueprint and you’ve together achieved an outcome, things consequently become much easier. You have proof that something works and you didn’t have to wait 18 months for the delivery of that proof. Curiosity is sparked. Other areas of the business start wondering if their problem could be solved in the same way. If they can do it, why can’t we? Taking on the world as a time-bound project is always going to fail. Ask any Army General how they win a war and it’s in picking the battles wisely. Choosing key strategic wins to influence the surrounding areas and transforming how people think about things on the ground.

As Ashok Vaswani, CEO of Barclays, describes the situation:

‘You start some place, God knows where it will move to, but you start. Learn. Learn and let’s see what happens. See how it moves…. We’ve been on this digital journey for five years now and every day it’s hammering home the same message “This is what we want to do. Look at what happened. That’s fantastic. That’s the way we want everybody to go”’.


Digital Transformation as a Pandemic, Not a Project

I’ve banged on about a new bank operating model for the last eighteen months, maybe more. It’s key that people be freed from their traditional siloes in order to move with the times and break the chains of the past that hold innovation back. So what should we be aiming for? To me, it’s simple. Digital Transformation as a pandemic, not a project. As with all pandemics, they start small with a huge eventual impact, taking on a timescale of their own. Not constrained by given timelines.

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