Seven ways to accelerate B2B digital transformation

By Martin Brierley, Creative Partner at Candyspace.

Digital Transformation can mean many things for many different businesses. But there will be common threads for companies running across diverse sectors.

You might be surprised by some of the common pain points, solutions and opportunities which unite B2B business leaders challenged with bringing their companies headlong into the Post Covid world.

We spoke to three such leaders to gain understanding from their experiences. Jürgen Winterholler who leads the IT and Digital Solutions at Rolls Royce Power Systems, Leo Pickford charged with Transformation at Yusen Logistics and Alex Wodzicki, Group Digital Marketing Director at warehousing giant Segro.

The Business Leaders

Leo Pickford
HEAD OF BUSINESS CHANGE, YUSEN LOGISTICS.

Jürgen Winterholler
VICE PRESIDENT. CHIEF IT DIGITAL OFFICER. ROLLS ROYCE POWER SYSTEMS AG.

Alex Wodzicki
GROUP DIGITAL MARKETING MANAGER, SEGRO PLC

Here are some the key learnings and considerations to come out of those experiences:

    1.Change Mindsets

For those tasked with digital transformation in a business, their role can often be one of evangelism. Infrastructure problems are not unusual, and it's clear that much work is done to try and help define what transformation means across the wider business. With multiple stakeholders and different priorities, addressing the elephant in the room is often the first challenge. Alex Wodzicki at Segro says it like it is:

“There are different people (in the business) who have different ideas of what digital transformation actually means.”

In order to overcome some of these issues it seems that the first task is actually to change mindsets and to ensure that digital transformation is recognised as being integral to business change. So at RRPS Juergen Winterholler’s first act on his appointment to his role as head of IT and digital was to start a programme he called “Impact to be proud of” – developing solutions with people and principles together.

“I built up a structure where I have one team. They are called customer solutions and this is my front end to the customer. They are talking to the customer asking “What is your pain? What is your need? What is your daily problem? What would you like to solve?” They're listening to the customer and translating what we have to do. We have one voice to the customer and one face to the customer. They are experts in the business, and this is a total change of the setting of the thinking of the organisation.

And of course internal customers will be happy about this new setting. They feel more heard and understood.”

And at Yusen, Leo Pickford has a similar understanding about the need for a mindset shift – which doesn’t necessarily make his job easier but certainly ensures speed is a prerequisite:

“It's a different mindset. It is a mindset that says doing things digitally should be easy. Just get it done. It’s got to start with a strategic look at the way the market’s going, but ultimately you have to get on with it, try things out and pilot your ideas.”

But for Pickford as for others the mindset shift is not as readily joined by all parts of the business. For some digital solutions are understood to be a rapid enabler of business requirements. In some areas they can be seen as a threat, as testified to by Wodicki:

“Sometimes people when you explain what can be done, they say, well, that's probably a step too far. We don't need to go that far, but it would be nice to have a certain amount. And that's where it's quite interesting… there is more of an appetite to go down the digital route.”

To learn more about Candyspace, click here.

    2. Eradicate waste and you’ll be noticed

The best way to drive change is to initiate programmes that get results and get you noticed, sanctioned by the board or resolving some of their key requirements for the business. Pickford speaks to this:

“Identify where the winners are – where are the projects that have the strong business case – and then really support and drive those.”

For Winterholler the most valuable currency in the business is TRUST. And to develop trust you have to manifest value:

“Removing waste – this is the best improvement. Then you build up trust immediately. So that's a kind of trust builder. Take all the waste away and you are the most trusted person in the company.”

But trust is not immediate and has to be earned, as he goes on to explain:

“So I'm big on analysis. In the first few months I only analysed where we are on cost, on technology, on stability, on skills and so forth, also on partnerships. And now after one year I'm really implementing and changing. I developed a clear roadmap: a restructuring program on technology and applications. And now the board and my peers know what it’s about and they give me a lot of trust.”

To take a look at our case studies, click here.

    3. Challenge Legacy systems

A key challenge common to all three business leaders are the issues around building upon legacy technical systems. For Leo Pickford at Yusen the sheer number of systems overlaid on top of each other is a major challenge which in itself produces even more complexity:

“Over the years there have been more and more layers of solutions that we’ve bought from different places and tried to integrate together. And on top of that keeping data secure when it's going through different cloud environments and different jurisdictions alone has its issues. However if you have a clear vision and know where you want to get to then you can manage the legacy and tackle these challenges.”

While for Winterholler it was important to accept one clear fact that needs to be faced up to before you can even begin to address the legacy problems:

“So we are not Apple. We are not Google. Nor are we a start up. But if you face this reality and you find the spots and the slots where you have the right to be then you can succeed.

The complex integration of new systems across a business with legacy technologies and with different stakeholders vying for the same levels of attention in itself can cause tensions and create a struggle to manage priorities.”

To learn more about Candyspace, click here.

    4.Justify Innovations

Transformation will necessarily involve innovation – whether it's with systems or with technologies. Innovation is exciting but it's risky and therefore it's potentially costly – two things that make boards nervous and hesitant. So how do you deal with those risks and how do you mitigate them and the associated costs?

The answers can be found in the evangelical mindset and the vigour with which you go about that proselytising mission. It can also be about careful prioritisation and the granularity of your operational approach. For Wodzicki clarity of purpose is everything:

“You need to go back to basics and you think, what is the problem we're trying to solve? What's the best solution, as opposed to thinking that's cool, let's try that…”

And at RRPS it’s as much about the way innovation is integrated into the business:

“Make baby steps and get little by little more commitment from your people. And most people like innovations but they may not be really good at implementing something – but they like to play. So at the moment we implement things in baby steps and get more commitment. We present the innovation, start a small project and show where it can have a real impact.”

And for Pickford innovation is also about nurturing and understanding the pace at which it should reasonably be implemented:

“Don't stifle innovation and ensure that you know where the potential is. Ensure that the awareness and the desire for change are nurtured. It's about control on one hand, to keep things heading in the right direction, while it's about innovation and stimulation on the other.”

And it’s this notion of control and risk management that lies at the heart of bringing innovation into the business in those “baby steps”, while not simply enabling a go-slow into caution.  A fine balancing act which Winterholler confirms at RRPS:

“You have to face reality… you can really hurt the company. In IT systems, for example, breaking something can really damage the business. So sometimes it's really good to slow down, and to really deliver quality and stability. But you have to be very careful that nobody has an excuse to work in a slow-down mode as an excuse for being in “safe mode”.”

And this rationale seems to be central to thinking across all our featured businesses:

“I think there has to be questioning and interrogation, and on a regular basis because technology moves so fast.”
Alex Wodzicki

To take a look at our case studies, click here.

    5.Pick the right Partners

The evolution of digital solutions across businesses almost inevitably leads to strain, creating resourcing and skills issues. As a conventional ‘analogue’ business why would you have dedicated digital resources capable of delivering complex digital solutions? Necessarily you will need to partner and with that can come opportunities and challenges.

“Our internal resources are stretched in many areas of the business. People are under a lot of pressure, but you can't just get recruiters to fill all the gaps. We have struggled to get resources in particular skill areas, which are critical to our digital transformation.”
Leo Pickford

The requirement for specific skill sets and expertise brings partnering but there needs to be a clear view on how to get the best out of those partners.

“I think a partner goes with you in all areas. If you have hard times a partner should be willing to go the extra mile. A partner should show you value over time. They invest and they bring ideas and they are interested where we are, and they are not only interested to give you not just the next “offer”.”
Jurgen Winterholler

“We need to be partnered with people who understand the shift in digital perception. It's no good sticking with the same thing. The way people use the technology has evolved and we need to adapt. And what we got to in the past is we would bolt things on. Now you need to go back to basics and ask what is the problem we're trying to solve? And that's where partners come in.”
Alex Wodzicki

To learn more about Candyspace, click here.

    6.Think Customer first

The most striking theme across all our conversations – and perhaps the raison d’etre for transformation - is the customer. We know from B2C that understanding customers through data learnings and a test-and-learn mindset can bring huge benefits, reducing drop off and increasing conversion. In B2B the need for deeper understandings is no less important, whether the customer is external or internal.

“Digital transformation is about getting closer to our customers, and it's about making ourselves more sticky in terms of the value and the services we provide. We're trying to capitalise on that and we're working to respond to their needs. We know that we need to up our game on the digital systems needed to achieve this.”
Leo Pickford

“If you understand what is the customer’s driver? What is their goal? Then we can offer them the right solutions. And this is why it's important that you understand the customer process and what the customer goal behind it is. And so we talk the language of the customer.”
Juergen Winterholler

“I think it's about constantly trying to understand how we can make things better for our customer or for our audiences. We need to make sure that we can meet, and actually surpass their expectations.”
Alex Wodzicki

To take a look at our case studies, click here.

    7. Be bold and Visionary

As a digital pioneer you will of course also need to be a visionary and to be a visionary you need not only a clear view of the future but also an understanding of how you can bring people along with you. It can be scary because the stakes are high but it's the opportunity for you to learn and grow along with your team and your business.

Juergen Winterholler took on his role at the very beginning of the pandemic and needed immediately to onboard 10,000 newly remote workers onto a legacy infrastructure which simply was not up to it. Others would perhaps have wept and shrunk from the task. But he had a vision – and mere practical issues would not distract him. He knew that the company could fall in behind an idea, a purpose, and an operational shift which brought real results.

“We combined teams and changed the whole structure and that was a really good move. And in one year we turned it around and we developed roughly 50% better results in the IT department in one year since COVID.”

At the heart it's about being bold within limits and understanding the needs of the business, a view expressed by Pickford:

“Failure is nothing to be scared of. It's an experience that we learn from. I think there has to be a level of just get on and do stuff. Don't worry about making sure it's going to be perfect. So there needs to be that sort of thing in the culture. If there is a gap, work to fill it. Have a go and then iterate and improve.”

So let's leave the final word with Alex Wodzicki who recognises the challenges but rises to them:

“It's about constantly evaluating what we're doing and why we're doing it, asking the difficult questions. Should we be doing this? Or actually, should we be doing something else? I think there has to be questioned and interrogated, and on a regular basis because technology moves so fast.”

Comments (0)

Add a Comment

This thread has been closed from taking new comments.

Editorial: +44 (0)1892 536363
Publisher: +44 (0)208 440 0372
Subscribe FREE to the weekly E-newsletter