The seven biggest hybrid-working challenges, and how to fix them

The phrase “new normal” is a misnomer, given the state of flux in the business world. Few organizations have been able to normalize operations; who can say they’ve nailed their hybrid working strategy with a straight face?

As Kate Thrumble, executive director of talent at marketing company R/GA London, said: “We are all on a – to use an overused word – ‘journey’ with the post-pandemic way of working. No one has cracked it yet. Even those with the best intentions will have to wait a year or two to understand the impact of today’s decisions.”

However, by matching the right technology solutions with the most pressing hybrid-working challenges, organizations will reach their end destination quicker: a happy, productive, engaged and empowered workforce.

So what exactly are the seven most significant business challenges and the best tech, tools and processes to solve them and speed up progress?

This article was first published on DigiDay’s future-of-work platform, WorkLife, in May 2022 – to continue reading please click HERE.

How has the pandemic transformed digital healthcare for patients and practitioners?

Public and private healthcare providers have been encouraged by the digital maturity of customers, and now are using data to shift to more proactive rather than reactive services

As the UK braces itself again due to the emergence of the omicron variant, and with a record 5.83 million people awaiting non-emergency hospital treatment – according to official figures from the end of September – the continued development of digital healthcare services is critical.

The pandemic necessitated the acceleration of digital transformation across the healthcare sector. For example, the National Health Service embraced digital solutions to track and trace, rollout vaccine programmes, and implement various smartphone apps, all of which have been well received.

From a customer experience perspective, there is obviously an appetite for digital healthcare. Granted, this has been fed by the pandemic-induced lockdowns. But it’s telling that the NHS is now seeking to build out its video consultation provision and move to a hybrid offering, using face-to-face consultations when appropriate. This approach reduces costs and is more convenient for patients.

To keep pace with customer expectations, private healthcare providers have also undergone seismic change in the last two years. “It’s been a crazy time,” says James Elliott, head of customer and commercial experience at Bupa Global. “We’ve seen a massive digital transformation, and there is a big opportunity in private healthcare as we move to proactive health management.”

However, legacy problems are halting progress in the digital era, he concedes. “For a long time, we thought that the best thing to do was plaster our telephone number on every piece of paper and membership card, but that has come back to bite us,” says Elliott. Furthermore, 40% of customers contact the organisation via email, an admittedly “horrible experience.”

He adds: “We are trying not to make the mistake of creating infinite loops for customers to fall into, and we want to educate them to make the right choice. We have created a digital-first portal to triage their contact, and that could involve an urgent phone call or an outbound scheduled call.”

We’ve seen a massive digital transformation, and there is a big opportunity in private healthcare as we move to proactive health management

Bupa Global’s LivePerson platform, established before the pandemic, has enhanced its connection with customers leading to a tenfold increase in satisfaction levels. But, as live interactions – even phone calls – are “hard to manage,” Elliott says digital chat “is the answer,” whether via WhatsApp or WeChat in China. “It has to be asynchronous,” he argues.

To better organise the urgency of customer needs, Bupa Global has “put a lot of time and money” into automated systems and conversational artificial intelligence. “We want to build a trusted relationship with our customers, and so improving natural language processing capabilities is key,” adds Elliot.

Alice Pan, chief medical officer and global head of health operations at Bima, a Swedish company that delivers health and insurance services in emerging markets, agrees that developing digital services is what patients and practitioners want. Bima is creating an asynchronous chat function, having been encouraged by the digital maturity of its customers.

The organisation, which operates in nine markets in Asia and Africa, offered a telemedicine service during the pandemic, and it quickly became customers’ preferred channel for first contact, with over half (58%) ranking it top.

While this was a surprise for Pan and her team, completely “shattering preconceptions,” it validated a shift to more digital solutions. And in time, with the customer data gathered from digital interactions, Bima is aiming to provide a more preventative, proactive and personalised service.

“We are getting to know our customers better, and we are collecting data to serve them better,” says Pan. “For the first six months of the pandemic, we learnt a lot, and it was tough; it was all reactive.

“It wasn’t until the latter half of 2020 that we started to think more strategically about what the pandemic meant for mobile health and Bima. Now, though, we have a clear plan of how we can grow in the next five years. “And,” she adds, “it’s exciting, especially for our customers.”

This article, sponsored by Vonage, was first published on Raconteur in December 2021

‘Just do it’: digital transformation lessons from Estonia

The Baltic state is a digital trailblazer, having made 99% of its public services available online. The government’s CIO, Siim Sikkut, offers his advice for businesses contemplating their own transformations

The smallest of the Baltic states by both area and population, Estonia has served as a political pawn in the hands of several neighbouring powers over the centuries. Since regaining its independence after the collapse of the Soviet Union 30 years ago, this republic has been punching massively above its weight in one respect: technological innovation.

In 2005, for instance, it was the first country to enable online voting. In 2012, it was the first to use blockchain technology for governance. By the time that Wired magazine named Estonia the “most advanced digital society in the world” in 2016, almost all public spaces in the country had been served by free Wi-Fi for a decade. Today, under the government’s so-called e-Estonia programme, 99% of government services are accessible online, while 70% of the country’s 1.3 million citizens regularly use digital ID cards. 

“We joke that our e-services are impossible only for marriages and divorces – you still have to leave the house for those,” says the man in charge of e-Estonia, Siim Sikkut, who has been the government’s CIO since 2017. 

He explains that the country desperately needed a technological “reboot” after gaining its freedom from the debilitating grip of Russian rule in 1991. With this in mind, the state committed itself to electronic governance – a decision that established a digital-first approach on which the country’s pioneering innovations have been based ever since. 

Sikkut, who also chairs the national task force on artificial intelligence, graduated from Princeton University with a degree in public and international affairs in the same year that online voting started. He initially joined the Ministry of Finance before becoming a digital policy adviser at the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications, when he co-founded Estonia’s ground-breaking e-residency scheme. Among other things, this offers entrepreneurs based anywhere in the world a digital ID granting them and their businesses remote access to markets in the EU.

Spearheading the world’s digital revolution

Sikkut, 38, is modest about the role he has played in creating what the e-Estonia website calls “an efficient, secure and transparent ecosystem”.

“I stand on many shoulders,” he says. “When I moved to my current role, it wasn’t a question of what to digitise next. All the low-hanging fruit had been picked. It has been about how to keep going to the next level of digitisation. We need to keep everything running while innovating and iterating.”

I hope that our experience in Estonia shows that it’s not rocket science. With commitment, anyone can achieve a digital transformation 

What might have been classed as a risky commitment to technology three decades ago has fostered a more progressive and open society, both online and offline, according to Sikkut. A Eurobarometer survey in 2018 found that 49% of Estonians trusted their government, compared with the EU-wide average of 34%, for instance. 

Indeed, it is said that in Estonia you are only two calls away from the prime minister – the implication being that people in this small country are community spirited and willing to help each other out.

Size matters: but trust trumps all

“It does help that there are few degrees of separation here,” Sikkut says. “With our small population, we get things done – both the connection and decision cycles are much shorter here than in other countries. But our talent pool is much smaller too, so our size is both a constraint and an opportunity.”

It’s no coincidence that the capital, Tallinn – where Sikkut lives with his wife and their three young children – is often referred to as Europe’s Silicon Valley. Estonia is estimated to have produced more start-ups per capita than any other European country in recent years. According to Startup Estonia’s online database, 1,104 enterprises have been established in the country since 2013 – including Uber rival Bolt and payment company Wise (TransferWise until it was renamed at the start of this year).

Any entrepreneur seeking to up the pace of their business’s digital transformation has much to learn from Estonia’s experience. Sikkut believes that strategic partnerships are key in this respect. He points to e-Estonia’s soon-to-be-launched digital testbed framework, a collaboration model that will offer free access to the government’s tech stack, on which any business worldwide can build new products or services and gain proofs of concept.

“I’d say to business leaders: ‘You have to be open for innovation and open to partnership,’ like we’re trying to be with our testbed framework. If someone comes to you with a good idea, take it on board, try it out and then perhaps you can move more quickly,” he says. “We’re looking to increase the speed of innovation in Estonia again by being open and encouraging experimentation with new ideas. The emergence of AI has been a game-changer, for instance, as we embark on this new stage of digitisation.”

Taking people with you

What other advice would Sikkut offer business leaders looking to introduce new digital tools and services? 

“If you build something that saves people time, money or effort and offers them value, they are likely to use it and refer it to others,” he says, adding that “you still might want to throw in incentives for people to start using them. For example, we offer much quicker tax reimbursements to those who complete their forms online rather than on paper.”

Sikkut stresses that it’s essential to spend an adequate amount on training people in how to use new digital tools. “We’ve invested in infrastructure and worked on skills to ensure that people can use our online services. You have to take care of your users so that you can bring them along with you,” he says.

His advice for any entrepreneur who may be approaching digital transformation with trepidation is to learn from his country’s success and stop dithering. 

“Just do it,” Sikkut says. “You’ll never have a perfect plan. Take an engineer’s attitude: try things out, fix them if they fail and try them again before scaling up your operations. I hope that our experience in Estonia shows that it’s not rocket science. With commitment, anyone can achieve a digital transformation. You don’t have to build everything from scratch. There are solutions that you can reuse and you can partner with people who’ve gone through it already – including us here in Estonia.” 

He continues: “The latest technology will probably not solve all your problems. What matters most is being open to possibilities and open to partnerships. If you give bright people a conducive environment, magic will happen.”

This article was first published in Raconteur’s Business Transformation report, published in June 2021

Dell’s digital boss on being a change agent for transformation

Jen Felch is leveraging her deep knowledge and experience from 17 years at Dell to manage change, drive collaboration and supercharge innovation

What’s the secret to achieving as smooth a digital transformation journey as possible? Taking your people every small step of the way with clear communication and, more specifically, letting them help plot the route. This insight is shared by an expert perfectly placed to offer an opinion on the subject: Jen Felch, Dell Technologies’ chief digital and information officer.

In September 2019, she took on the dual roles for the first time in the computer technology company’s 37-year history. Back then, like everyone else, Felch had no inkling of the coronavirus-induced disruption that lay ahead. 

During the pandemic, from her home in Austin, Texas, she has been at the helm to navigate the organisation’s road to recovery, driving the strategy, direction and delivery for Dell Digital, Dell’s IT arm. 

As if that wasn’t enough, Felch combines her responsibilities as CDO and CIO alongside “the emerging role of change agent for digital transformation”. No wonder the 53-year-old has taken up hot yoga to help increase her physical and mental flexibility.

Aside from an eight-month stint with Boeing in 2010, she has been employed by Dell since April 2003. Her deep knowledge of the company is hugely beneficial to steering digital transformation, particularly in a period of epochal change. Felch has access to all areas, is a trusted ally and understands various stakeholders’ pain points.

“I started my career as a software developer and spent two years working in the Dell factories as part of a development rotation, and it was a fabulous experience,” says Felch. “That hands-on operational experience is invaluable and I still leverage it today. I don’t have to imagine what it is like in a factory because I have first-hand knowledge.”

Digital transformation: a never-ending continuum

Felch boasts a Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in mechanical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and is an alumnus of the Leaders for Global Operations Program at MIT, where she earned her MBA and a Master’s in computer science. She continues: “Thanks to my 17 years with Dell, I can make use of a network of people across the company. 

“I can pick up the phone to find out what is really happening in a certain area and what people are truly thinking. By understanding what they are trying to achieve and how we can make them more effective, employees are less resistant towards technology adoption and change.”

We might have great technology, but it is having highly skilled people who are available and have the environment in which to innovate that makes the difference

Indeed, when asked about the biggest challenge to successful digital transformation, Felch is quick to answer: change management. “You need the right mechanisms – people, tools and processes – for managing and leading change. You need people within your organisation who will champion change, interact with the business and with the technical teams, and drive understanding and solutions to opportunities.” 

She posits it is “human nature” to find change daunting, hence why there is resistance, at least initially. However, Felch acknowledges the irony of IT professionals needing to be more communicative, collaborative and, well, human in 2021. Man and machine must comprehend one another and stride ahead together to enable an optimal digital transformation journey.

“Today, IT all depends on developing the right engineering culture within an organisation,” Felch says. “At Dell, we are highly dependent on how we engage with others and we have to draw out those latent needs, so we understand where we are going and innovate accordingly. 

“We might have great technology, but it is having highly skilled people who are available and have the environment in which to innovate that makes the difference.”

Little surprise, then, that Felch views digital transformation, both for her company and its clients, as a “continuum that doesn’t end”. She explains: “For us, digital transformation is much more than upgrading a server rack; it is about a mindset to keep the whole business performing and moving forward. As we look ahead, we’re finding the balance between security, privacy and ease-of use, which I believe can be accomplished with good design.”

Further, she is a “firm believer” in Dell’s lean and agile methodology concerning development that drives transformation. “Our iterative approach is delivering great results,” Felch says, lauding a more open, collaborative mindset across the business and also with trusted partners. 

“It’s incredibly powerful when you pair strong technologists with strong business partners and modern IT, like a developer experience rooted in self-service, to drive transformation. That’s where you see multiple wins of creating better experiences, improving employee satisfaction and driving out cost.”

Lean and agile development: delivering results

The outcomes are impressive. She claims that by eliminating redundant work and reducing manual tasks or testing, Dell Technologies has shifted around 10 per cent of its workforce into the development team to “be able to engage with our business partners directly to develop new solutions”.

The company has also reduced its cycle time to deploy new capabilities by 30% and the number of incidents – when a user calls for help – by 31%. It has done this, Felch says, through a focus on user experience, fixing the root cause of existing problems and driving quality in new capabilities.

“The net of it all is that we’re getting faster and more responsive, quality is improving and we have better engagement with our business partners. That’s what digital transformation is all about,” she says.

Finally, Felch stresses how business-critical it is for organisations to “embrace digital transformation”. Those that do not, and are closed to change and constant evolution, will fail – and sooner, rather than later.

“Digital transformation can drive growth opportunities, enhance customer experiences, better connect employees and continue to accelerate positive change within a business,” she explains. 

Given Felch’s wealth of knowledge and experience, it’s worth heeding her words of wisdom.

Felch’s top five tips for leading through digital transformation

  1. Start small
    Find the people who are willing to drive change and solve their first problem. Solve it, celebrate it and let that be the example that you build upon for broader transformation. Having people who can step back, see the larger opportunity or problem that could improve other areas or be replicated, and interact with designers, developers, and so on, can serve as powerful change agents within your organisation.
  2. Focus on the end user experience
    Take the time to listen and observe the problem or opportunity. This avoids the “telephone game” and helps surface latent needs that will delight the user.
  3. Invest in your own processes and team
    Create and embed common ways of working and interacting for the entire team so that it is easy for people to focus on the problem. Have common processes for tracking status and priorities so that people can bring their expertise, whether that’s in DevOps, design, or user experience, to solve the problem efficiently. 
  4. Stay connected to your teams
    Keep providing context and communicate priorities left and right, up and down, to help keep everyone pulling together in the same direction. Stay close so that you can jump in to help remove obstacles, celebrate successes and to remind people that change can be hard. Mistakes will happen but if we commit to learn quickly and to move forward together, driving real change is hugely rewarding.
  5. Be optimistic
    Stay flexible, agile and be ready to pivot. Be optimistic about the present and excited for what transformation will deliver in the future.

This article was first published by Raconteur in April 2021

Brexit and COVID-10 accelerate move to digital

The United Kingdom European Union membership referendum was inevitable when David Cameron won the 2015 general election, having promised such a vote during his campaign. Coincidentally, 2015 was when branchless challenger banks Monzo and Revolut were founded, with Starling launching a year earlier. 

While the direction of travel was established five years ago, the combination of Brexit and now COVID-19 has quickened the drive for older financial institutions to transform their business and operating models, because it’s clear: the future is digital.

Technology is enabling fintechs to enter the banking market, and thrive. Experts predict traditional banks will have to partner with tech organisations to keep pace with developments. 

A study of 200 UK and European banking executives by Marqeta – an open-API card issuing and processing platform that MasterCard has recently invested in – found that in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic over three-quarters (78 per cent) of banks have been forced to change their future banking strategy. 

Some 72 per cent of those surveyed are planning to grow the number of in-branch digital services, and two-thirds will invest more in digital banking and services. Further, nine in 10 respondents (89 per cent) says the COVID-19 situation has “drastically increased” the speed of change in banking from years to months.

Max Chuard, chief executive of Geneva-based banking software fintech Temenos, says: “Uncertainty is a catalyst for innovation. The 2020s were already set to be the decade for digital banking transformation. But now the coronavirus crisis has accelerated this process. It has made the need for advanced banking technologies – like artificial intelligence, cloud and SaaS – even greater.”

Defining moment for the banking industry

The Temenos CEO points to his organisation’s global survey that shows almost half of the respondents (45 per cent) say their strategic response to the rapidly changing banking landscape is to build a “true digital ecosystem”. He adds: “It’s a defining moment for the banking industry, and those who can harness the potential of digital technology will shape the future.”

Michael Plimsoll, industry head of financial services at computer software giant Adobe, thinks the same. “Banks have to ensure they keep pace with digital-first challenger banks, such as Monzo or Starling, to deliver new experiences that both enhance and complement their bricks-and-mortar branches,” he says. “This has included implementing new technologies within apps and websites that enable customers to perform tasks previously exclusive to the branch, like cashing cheques or remote meetings with advisors.”

This need to evolve banking operations provides an opportunity to streamline typically time-intensive tasks, such as setting up an account or applying for a loan, Plimsoll says. “As an example, TSB implemented digital signature technologies using Adobe Sign to allow customers to carry out important processes from their own home, moving over 15,000 account sign-ups that would normally require a trip to the branch,” he adds.

That convenience will be central to winning customers, believes Aaron Archer, chief executive and founder of London-headquartered challenger bank Finndon. “Digital banks will see a major increase in their market share compared to high street banks, due to their lack of flexibility to adapt to market conditions, and customers will be seeking greater opportunities to save.” 

He wouldn’t be surprised if big tech firms, including Apple and Google, begin to “offer banking products to their customer base to create a robust ecosystem”. Archer adds: “You will see an increase of mergers and acquisitions between tech firms and traditional banks looking to stay relevant.” 

Sophia La Vesconte, a fintech lawyer at Linklaters, agrees. “With increasing digitalisation, we are likely to see a growth in outsourcing arrangements between the financial sector and technology service providers.” However, she warns: “Regulators across the globe are quite concerned about the sector becoming overly dependent on a small number of – unregulated – technology companies.”

This article was first published in Raconteur’s Future of Banking report in November 2020