Hi Kamales, tell us about yourself and your background. How did you get to the Digital transformation space?
I am the CEO and founder of Lardi & Partner Consulting GmbH, a boutique consultancy focused on digital business transformation located in Switzerland. In my +21 years of business advisory experience, I have helped global multinational companies to strategize, develop and implement their business transformation agenda. Often, technology is a key enabler in business transformation initiatives. Therefore, I actively keep abreast of rapidly evolving technological innovations and advancements and embrace an agile mindset toward innovation to effectively advise organizations on how to use technology as a business enabler.
My degree in computing piqued an interest in technology development and implementation. However, I quickly realize that the practical application of technology, both in business and in our daily lives, was critical for successful adoption. Digital transformation has always been a critical topic for businesses; however, back then, the focus was on the application of technology solutions for business modernization and process optimization. Following my MBA at Durham Business School (UK), I entered the European workforce and eventually joined Deloitte Switzerland Technology service line and took over as Head of Digital.
Later, I left Deloitte to launch Lardi & Partner Consulting in 2012. Since then, we have advised many multinational companies across various industries in Europe, Asia, and Africa, providing them with smart digital transformation strategies. Recently my company was awarded the Business Worldwide Magazine 2020 Global Corporate Excellence Award for ‘Digital Business Transformation Firm of the Year.’
In addition, I have also received several accolades in the field, including Top 10 Global Thought Leaders and Influencers in Digital Transformation (Thinkers360), made a member of the Forbes Business Council, and Chair of the Forbes Women Executives group. Outside of consulting, I am a Teaching Fellow and Chairperson of the MBA Advisory Board at Durham University Business School.
Online commerce was booming in 2020; how did it affect brands’ digital transformation plans? – What should be the main focus for brands this year?
Over the past year, there have been some critical shifts in the global business landscape. As lockdown and social distancing initiatives were implemented in almost every region, companies were forced to embrace a low-touch economy’s new reality. Consumers embraced digital platforms for interactions, engagement, and acquisitions, while consumption patterns shifted to prioritize essential purchases. Supply chain disruptions across many global industries forced companies to explore hyper-localized alternatives, while partnerships with local last-mile delivery enabled business continuity. The COVID-19 crisis created disruption at an unprecedented level and triggered innovative solutions and a critical shift in mindset that formed the foundation of resilience in business. Based on research conducted by McKinsey, these impacts on the business landscape are here to stay.
Companies initially focused on implementing digital and technology solutions that allowed remote access to their workforce and continuity of core business activities. As companies work to find the way back to normality over the coming year, I would advise business leaders to focus on digital transformation initiatives that align with their long-term strategic objectives and generate sustainable business returns. In addition, review the customer journey to identify and address breaks resulting from the past year’s disruption. This will be an opportunity to address any short-term fixes that were put in place to ensure business continuity and ensure that the internal operations will be able to continuously deliver for any new digital channels that have been launched. I would also encourage companies to re-assess their customer value propositions, which would have almost certainly shifted in the past year.
In your POV – What is the ultimate checklist for a good digital transformation strategy
Digital transformation is an organization-wide change that requires a structural redesign of the company and its value chain. This can be a massive undertaking for any organization, particularly if it is not approached in a structured and focused way. In my POV, the ultimate checklist for digital transformation strategy would contain several key activities.
Firstly, assess the existing business landscape to determine the company’s current digital maturity and readiness. This assessment should include an internal review of the company’s business operations, capabilities, and skills and an external scan of emerging trends and disruptors impacting the company, industry, and related business ecosystem. Here, the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic should also be analyzed.
Based on these assessments, define the vision and strategic direction for the company in the digital economy. Take the time to outline the desired outcomes, as this will define the strategy and initiatives to be developed. Define a roadmap of transformation initiatives and prioritize based on resources available and investment commitments. I usually advise companies to group initiatives based on several building blocks – customer experience, product and service digitization, operations, processes, and business model innovation – and prioritize based on the highest impact and returns. However, the transformation effort will need to address all these building blocks.
A critical pre-requisite for the successful execution of digital transformation is leadership team buy-in and commitment. Digital transformation initiatives involve a significant change in the organization, culture, and ways of working. To achieve this, all stakeholders involved need to understand the reasons behind it. Transparency and clear communication are critical elements for this. The management team must take the time to make sure that all stakeholders are committed – from board members to interns – or risk jeopardizing company culture and the project’s long-term success.
How much has the CEO’s role changed in the social distancing era – what role digital transformation has in this crisis?
The role of the CEO, I believe, has changed significantly. Apart from ensuring continuity of core business operations, leaders have had to prioritize safety and hygiene and demonstrate empathy and agility in leading virtual and remote teams. I believe this is the first time in modern history where the global workforce was forced to collectively shift to a remote or virtual working model. Here, digital platforms played a key role in enabling access to the workforce and continued collaboration and management of teams. Additionally, most companies adopted video conferencing platforms like Zoom and Microsoft Teams to engage with their people.
Apart from the technology solutions, many CEOs have had to relinquish their position as the decision hub and enable smaller working groups with decentralized control and decision power. This approach has proven effective in enabling dynamic decision-making during uncertain times. An element that has taken center stage is the consideration for employee mental health, which many leadership teams are prioritizing to ensure continued productivity.
In your POV – What is the ultimate checklist for a good customer experience strategy?
The ultimate checklist would include a clear definition of the target market and customer segments and a deep understanding of the customer value proposition. This refers to a good understanding of what target customers need and how the brand offerings meet those needs. When done properly, this exercise highlights how to engage better with existing customers and identifies potential new segments and market offerings. Brands can then explore the best way to leverage technology solutions to deliver the customer experience envisioned. In the past year, several technology solutions have been rapidly implemented to support customer engagement, including virtual assistants, chatbots, and augmented and virtual reality solutions.
While developing the customer experience strategy, I would advise companies to ensure that the internal business operations and processes can deliver on these offerings. In my experience, I have observed companies rush into establishing digital and online channels and neglect to transform the operational environment to deliver the rapid increase in customer demands from those channels.
What was the biggest lesson you learned in 2020?
The biggest lesson from 2020 has been resilience, both in terms of business and personal life. I believe this is the first time in modern history that we have faced a threat that shifted the global business landscape. Although challenging, we have seen some amazing examples of resilience that have helped companies continue serving people and taking care of their employees in an authentic and human way. For example, companies that faced disruptions in their services due to social distancing and lockdowns have adapted business pivots based on existing capabilities. The dynamic market needs to generate new revenue streams.
2020 was the year of webinars and online events. What was your favorite one?
I have attended numerous online events and webinars and participated as a virtual keynote speaker, expert panelist, and lecturer. I find that the most interesting events are the ones that effectively combine best elements of physical events with the capabilities of digital platforms. There have been several events that have successfully done this, enabling creative presentation styles, networking, and other interactive capabilities to keep participants engaged.
I believe that hybrid events that cater to digital and physical attendance will be here to stay in the longer-term. Event organizers should explore new and creative ways to keep participants engaged, both on-site and online. With the range of digital event platforms available out there and other engagement solutions that incorporate augmented and virtual reality elements, event organizers could create a range of experiences from just viewing content to immersive engagement.
It looks like working from home is going to stay with us for the foreseeable future. How should CEOs gear up to the changing times?
Leadership teams and business owners should take this opportunity to explore new working models and employee engagement approaches. The past year has demonstrated that the limitations of traditional organization structures and working models can be overcome while still ensuring business continuity and productivity. Hybrid working models (a combination of physical and remote presence) will require organization and team structure redesign and performance indicators, and appraisal review. Traditional key performance indicators that measure success based on a physical presence (e.g., speaking up at meetings, stakeholder engagement, communication, etc.) could be a breeding ground for discrimination. For example, hybrid employees who are less physically present may lose out on bonuses and promotions within a traditional structure.
However, new working models have already proven to be successful. For example, Haier, a Chinese consumer electronics company, decided to break its traditional organizational structures 10 years ago in favor of small self-managing micro teams. The move had tripled the company’s market capital and proved successful in enabling them to return to full production by February 2020.
Last but not least, what is your favorite CX metric?
Most organizations start with customer satisfaction scores, a traditional metric that can involve either the explicit capture of survey questions asking about satisfaction or implicit metrics, such as product review ratings, timeliness of delivery statistics, or mystery shopping scores. However, I believe that capturing advocacy and brand reputation is also critical to understand your customers’ willingness to recommend or endorse your product or brand. It is also important to couple these external-facing metrics with internal capabilities such as operational excellence and quality, demonstrating the ability to deliver a good customer experience in the internal environment.