Getting digital transformation right: Lessons learned – from decisions to data

James has more than a decade of experience as a tech journalist, writer and editor, and served as Editor in Chief of TechForge Media between 2017 and 2021. James was named as one of the top 20 UK technology influencers by Tyto, and has also been cited by Onalytica, Feedspot and Zsah as an influential cloud computing writer.


“Digital transformation becomes very ineffective if you don’t have any focus,” explains Kamala Manju Kesavan. “What are you trying to do? Are you clearing your tech stack? Are you trying to solve a customer problem? Clear strategy and goals are very important.”

Of course, there might be the ideal use case where you can both refresh the stack and solve the customer’s issue. But a good digital transformation strategy is all about efficiency; from the decision-making processes, to the utilisation of data, to an organisation’s sustainability.

Kesavan (left), director of software engineering at a leading fintech provider, notes first the importance of customer-centricity in digital transformation initiatives, alongside combining technology and business goals. “Organisations need to consider several factors from a technology, business and operational perspective,” she explains. “The technology organisation needs to assess your current infrastructures and gaps, and how to plan for a new technology. But from a business perspective, the organisation needs to understand [whether] this digital strategy will improve their business goal.

“Operationally these both need to merge with each other, otherwise digital transformation will not work.”

Being an experienced director of engineering – Kesavan’s previous employers have ranged across retail to tech, all in managerial or director roles – means having multiple strings to your bow. As the Berlin School of Business & Innovation puts it, having a combined knowledge of management and technical disciplines allows the manager to create actionable goals and strategies. “Engineering managers find it easier to make balanced decisions as they have a holistic understanding of every necessary aspect.”

This chimes with Kesavan’s experience. “As a technical professional, you need to be able to be detail-oriented, very hands-on work, but in a management role you need to understand to learn broader, and you also need to include the strategy,” she explains.

“I need to know what is happening,” Kesavan adds. “That means I need to know how to ask the right questions to the right person, saying I don’t know when I don’t know, and reaching out to the person who knows. Those are the things that really helped with my leadership.”

The technical background is most vital when it comes to making decisions based on what your colleagues say – be they engineering teams reporting to you or architects adjacent to you. Kesavan recounts two stories from her retail days, both involving cloud migrations. With one, she credits her experience as a SQL developer and with Oracle Database as key to decision-making. The second related to a change in project.

“They hired me to rebuild the entire system,” explains Kesavan. “But when I was speaking to other retailers, other architects within my group, I realised that to solve the problem, I didn’t have to rebuild the entire thing. For a particular application, if I rebuild it will be easier, and then if I connect it to a third-party also, I can go faster to market.

“It is very crucial for a manager or leader to remember that your role is not to be the most skilled person in the room technically, but to create an environment where your team can perform their best,” adds Kesavan. “You need to be able to connect the dots. As a leader you are talking to multiple people and then you know what other teams are doing right.”

The utilisation of data is another area where a technically-minded manager can overcome the disparity between business and IT. As Serge Lucio of Broadcom put it in a Harvard Business Review paper: “It’s often the internal obstacles that have been proving to be the most imposing.”

Kesavan notes that data must be your ‘starting point’, and that raw data need to be cleaned and structured before being analysed. The next hurdle is to either make a tactical, strategic, or operational decision with the data. “We have to get the data, review the data, and then make meaningful connections with the data – which is a very big task,” notes Kesavan.

At one role, there was a major project undertaken to improve customer satisfaction. Kesavan analysed the production defects and then make it as a pattern, before categorising it. “That really helped us to go deeper and then fix some of our core issues, and then introduce new features too,” she explains. “Sometimes the customer does not know what to ask, but they might be able to tell that [something] is the problem. So we need to understand the data, and be able to make meaning out of the data.”

The sustainability factor is perhaps the most compelling longer-term. Digital transformation and sustainability ‘have simply got to go hand in hand’, in the words of the ITU (International Telecommunication Union). This can range from the carbon impact of emerging technologies, to creating a circular economy from more efficient e-waste. Emissions will improve and, as studies have shown, so will your organisation’s standing with prospective Gen Z employees.

At Digital Transformation Week North America, on 5-6 June, Kesavan will be discussing digital transformation as a strategy for sustainability, ranging from emerging technologies, to wider company benefits. What are the key initial steps?

“The first step is having responsibility on what you are doing,” explains Kesavan. “And then identify why [the organisation is] using our energy; then how do we reduce our carbon footprint; and then how socially, I can actively impact the local community, my employees, stakeholders. That can help to identify the opportunities for improving, and then develop a plan for implementing sustainable practices.”

Photo by Pixabay

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