LeaderEx: Digital Transformation: Moving beyond the hype.

Collin Govender

Digital Transformation: Moving beyond the hype. This is an interesting theme and one which resonates with me because anyone who has ever worked with me for any length of time will know that I am a pragmatist and I want to see business outcomes. I start with the desired outcome, and then get to how we will execute to achieve that. We can have intellectual and philosophical discussions about AI and ML in the fourth industrial revolution, but unless they result in a business outcome, I lose patience.

And so, today I will share five pillars that I know from experience will drive business outcomes and push you along a digital transformation journey without the hype. These five pillars are lessons I’ve taken from an important memory in my life.

When I look back over my career, the fact that I played the role of a CIO for three and a half years was vital in changing my leadership style in a consulting-led business. The value I derived came from being on the other side of the fence. I spent the bulk of my career trying to convince a customer to execute on a project without knowing what the key drivers were, and not having had the experience of sitting in the CIO’s seat. Having had the experience of wearing the CIO lens, I developed a completely different understanding and view of what is important and how things evolve to become important.

I’ve been able to draw out five key lessons or pillars for life and business, and I have put these into practice and can attest that if you commit to doing these things, your chances of success are far higher. And so, here are five key pillars to achieve digital transformation beyond the hype:

Prioritise partnerships

When I played the CIO role, partnerships were crucial. What does this mean? Partnerships are multifaceted. First off, you need to build partnerships within your business and you must understand what the core challenges are. You simply cannot be sitting in a corner office doing IT stuff – you have to focus on the key challenges and partner with all stakeholders at a deep, honest level.

Allow me to demonstrate how this translates to a real-world customer experience we had. The Aurum Institute is an African organisation that generates evidence for policy and translates policy into practice to positively impact the health of communities globally. As part of its ongoing digital transformation journey, we helped Aurum streamline the organisation to execute even more efficiently against its strategic mandate.

When we started our engagement, their digital transformation was lagging and they needed to renew the plumbing at an IT level. We put the original proposal down, and then halfway through the project we realised that we had made a mistake – the proposal we put on the table was the wrong one. Now, because we had built up an alignment with them from a values perspective, and developed an understanding of what their desired outcomes were as a business, we were able to have open and honest conversations with them, and, crucially, own our mistakes.

We adjusted, rearranged and redesigned the solution and frankly, ended up with a solution that was better for the customer while also solving our own challenges. This is the lesson from a partnership perspective: never shy away from it, make sure values are aligned and also make sure you understand what the key outcomes are. Once you are there, you are in a better position to drive outcomes with customers.

Embrace diversity of thought

Life is hard and so you must have the right work ethic, make sure you are learning all the time and always seek counsel. These three things are important in any life situation and particularly important when embarking on a digital transformation journey. Bringing in diversity of thought and seeking counsel as you are completing your projects quite literally steers you to a different, and better, outcome.

Allow me to talk about another project we worked on. This time it was with a large bank. We had assembled a team – many of whom would never work together in ordinary circumstances – that we didn’t think was going to work.

What actually happened is quite the opposite. We had a team with such a broad spread of experience, from such different industries, that we ended up with a superb outcome: The customer saved 14000 hours of “man time” in execution of manual work.

Pursue diversity and create the environment for your staff to learn more and diverse skills. People with a generalist experience set often outperform specialists when the going gets tough.

Build structure

Reflecting on my time as CIO, I always land on the importance of consciously building structure. Once you have structure, it is important that you decide how you will execute against it.

Working within a structure provides an environment for clarity of thought: what are the problems I need to solve? What are the outcomes we intend to achieve? And how is the structure I have designed going to enable this?

Quit complaining

Let’s be honest, our country is surely made up of the world champions of complaining. As a CIO with a very real problem to solve, complaining gets you nowhere. You must quit complaining and get on with doing.

When you have challenges – and we all go through difficult times – and when a project is not going according to plan, you often find a situation where people start pointing fingers at each other. Stop this – all you are doing is spinning your wheels and wasting time. Rather, within the structured environment you have built, ask: what are you going to change, what are we going to do differently, how are we going to change the environment so that we can kickstart the objectives moving forward again.

The same can be said of our country. Let’s ask ourselves the exact same questions, and then do it. Imagine what would be possible in our country if we all quit complaining and started fixing?

Once you quit complaining and define plans to change things, it is important that you cultivate hope to keep the momentum going. Let’s look back at the pillars we have discussed already – once you have strong partnerships, have embraced diversity of people and thought, built structure and stopped complaining, you’re in a position to celebrate important milestones. Show success. Celebrate success. In the same way that we share failures – it’s important to share success because this breeds a level of ownership and investment in the journey, and that’s exactly what a leader wants from his staff.

Focus on the darn outcomes!

As I mentioned, anyone who knows me knows that I am outcomes driven. In business you must make sure that you get a result and this is only achieved by making sure the four previous pillars are solidly in place, followed by a clear definition of the outcomes and objectives and how you will achieve them. What happens in the absence of this structured approach?

We had one particular customer where the partnership was weak with no alignment of values, there was no alignment of structure and we executed in a vacuum. This is the type of holding pattern you should always seek to avoid: we ended up being fired as a service provider because we did not stand up and bring our power in terms of competence and experience to the table.

Outcomes don’t manifest themselves or occur by chance.


And so, as one tries to steer away from the hype of digital transformation, start with the outcome. What are you going to drive? How are you going to do it?

It is going to evolve – that’s the nature of the world – and that is where you need to create opportunities for the generalists to come to the fore. These are the people with diversity of experience, and they bring immense power to the table.

Remember that while you are driving an outcome within budget, to scope and on time, you must allow the space to operate. Most times, you cannot do this by yourself, you need to do this with partnerships – whether it is a service provider who is going to work with you, or whether it is another division of your own business, or even people within the team. To get these partnerships to work, make sure there is an alignment of values.

Once you have the right people on board to be able to execute on the project, ensure that you are running the project with a defined structure in place to avoid any mindless holding patterns. Deliberately stamp out all complaining and instead focus on accountability while cultivating hope.

This is how you will navigate a digital transformation that culminates in the right outcomes. That’s the opposite of being lost in the hype.

Reach out to Collin if you have any thoughts or feel free to drop a comment below.

The “Through My Lens with Collin Govender” is a series about life and leadership, shared by Collin in his open communication style which seeks to bring the authenticity back to corporate communications.  Collin’s career spans over 20 years and prior to being the Managing Director of Altron Karabina he was an Executive at Altron Group where he was responsible for Shared Services and then the Group CIO.  His experience of being an internal customer at Altron Group has allowed him to relate first hand, and to empathise with the experiences of many of Altron Karabina’s customers’ – an experience that few MD’s in this role can claim, and this position provides for a differentiated view point which we will see unfold in this series as he seeks to uphold the Altron vision of being a highly differentiated technology solutions provider.

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