On Tuesday 16th March, J. & J. Denholm Group Head of IT, Jason Borstal, was guest speaker at the first digital “Transformation Talks” event of 2021, a series of exclusive seminars hosted by specialist technology and change recruitment company, Hamilton Forth.
Jason joined J. & J. Denholm in November 2020 to provide technology vision and leadership to the Group. During his 30 years of experience in the IT industry, which includes a number of senior IT leadership roles in large multinational companies, Jason has led various technology transformation programmes. During his “Transformation Talk”, Jason shared with other senior IT professionals his own experience of managing digital change, including the techniques he has refined and the pitfalls to look out for.
Transformation is a journey
“I deliberately avoid the term ‘technology transformation’”, explains Jason. “It can often conjure false but detrimental images of disruptively moving an organisation from legacy systems to Uber-style technologies overnight. Instead, I prefer to think of transformation as a journey, a continuous stream of cohesive and small improvements and initiatives that form part of a bigger picture.”
“Communication is critical and I have found that targeted communication is fundamental in gaining buy-in from across the organisation. I recommend IT leaders engage widely across the organisation, from senior management to shopfloor workers. Explain all aspects of what you’re working on but in a way that is meaningful to those you are speaking to. Emphasise the positive impact on their roles, be honest about initial implementation challenges and allay any concerns. It goes without saying, avoid jargon! What is second nature to IT professionals is not always intuitive to the business.”
Get the basics right first
“Experience has taught me that, in any IT organisation, it is best to separate operational activities – such as the IT service desk and IT support – from proactive business partnering activities. To set up an IT organisation for true, trusted business partnering, I have found proactive engagement models to be really effective. An internal Business Systems Improvement Group can identify pain points within the organisation and evaluate how they could be overcome by leveraging technology. However, your credibility will suffer if the IT organisation does not get the basics right first. There is nothing more frustrating than presenting an innovative technology solution to a major business headache and your audience focusses on (justifiable) complaints of unresolved help desk tickets. I encourage my teams to be certified in their own areas, taking their learnings to deliver IT service with excellence.”
Drive insight from data
“That said, I am an advocate of strong metrics to remove any subjectivity over the performance of an IT organisation. Data can also indicate the level of business buy-in to a project. For example, an IT organisation may have successfully completed the User Acceptance Test (UAT) and concluded the intensive care period following implementation but user stats reveal a picture of low usage. If you don’t have business buy-in, you don’t have a successful project, and this is where metrics can be really insightful.”
Do not underestimate the emotional impact
Referencing the Kubler-Ross Change Curve, Jason explained the internal emotional journey that individuals typically experience when dealing with change and transition. “Listen and show empathy to your colleagues, but don’t be afraid to challenge the norms. Avoid subjective views and instead use data to measure success or failure.”
Emulate before you innovate
“I realised early on that no-one outside of the IT function really cares about the technology. What matters are business outcomes, such as reducing costs, increasing revenue and making processes easier. From that perspective, it is helpful to look at the challenges faced by other organisations and how they overcome them through technology and process improvement.”
Time for reflection
Jason summarised, “For me, transformation is something you do in bite-sized chunks, which means its progress often goes unnoticed. It’s only when you ask the business to reflect on how it used to work versus how it works now, and how it interacts with its customers and suppliers today that, together, you conclude that a technology transformation has taken place.”
“Transformation Talks” is an exclusive series of online events hosted by specialist technology and change recruitment company, Hamilton Forth. The seminars feature guest speakers in senior IT positions, who share their experience of digital transformations and what they learned from the process of digital change. Find out more here.