Oliver Bailey
Oliver Bailey 23 June 2016
Categories Technology

What Do One of the UK's Fastest Growing Start-ups and Uk's Third Biggest Grocery Retailer Have in Common?

What do one of the UK’s fastest growing start-ups and UK’s third biggest grocery retailer have in common? The same ‘must-haves’ when leading a business through digital transformation.

Despite huge differences in the size and scale of their organisations, business heads from Asda, Laundrapp and the MS Society, and advisers PwC, Intilery and Code Computerlove, are all in agreement regarding key ‘must haves’ when it comes to digital transformation.

During an event hosted by digital studio Code Computerlove and the IoD, 70+ director-level executives heard first hand how four very different organisations share five common experiences when making fundamental changes associated with the application of digital technology across a business in response to new customer behaviours and expectations.    

To iterate: be adaptive / agile / fast

Take risks – make mistakes and don’t be afraid to fail

Thinking culture not just tech 

Putting customer experience at the heart of everything

Digital Listening  

Award winning entrepreneur, former creator of Moshi Monsters and current CEO/co-founder of Laundrapp, Ed Relf was the first to stress the importance of being iterative and adaptive, creating plans not a three year static plan is vital in achieving digital transformation.

He said, “Take an MVP (minimal viable product) approach to everything. Test consumer reaction and make iterative changes. When we learn that’s when the real innovation happens. Digital enables learning more than any other channel and this can help to shape a business model. Recognise plans will change when real time insight is applied.” 

Nick Bamber of Asda believes that for successful digital transformation you have to be reactive. He explained how Asda is using sophisticated ad technology to drive more relevant customer advertising that is delivering impressive media efficiencies through a continued programme of analysis and refinement in line with customer insight. “The gold dust is closing the loop”, said Nick, “as a retailer we can react to customers buying habits and better serve marketing messages to enhance their customer experience.”  

Gareth James, formerly CIO of The Hut Group and Chief Architect at, also stressed that his approach is based on evolution, “adding new features every month will mean you will reach your goal much quicker. Reacting and adapting along the way is key to success”, he says.

Sarah Jordan of the MS Society concurred, and highlighted the challenges of trying to use Agile or lean methodologies in organisations that are digitally less mature. “It’s not always possible to follow the same MVP, Agile or other approaches that you might use in a startup environment, so it can sometimes be more about finding the sweet spot between waterfall and Agile techniques that works for your particular organisation. It might be better to instill some of the principles of Agile rather than trying to do Agile by the book at the start, and then you can gradually move the organisation in the right direction as people gain confidence over time.”

Matthew Rushton from PwC advised, “Start ups tend to be faster and more inclined to take a MVP  approach, so it’s important that larger businesses recognise the need to think like a start up too. Say to yourself, if we were starting from scratch what would we do; and use real time data to keep evolving in line with customer behaviour.”  

Closely linked to this was the second commonality when leading a business through digital transformation, to take risks and be prepared to fail. 

“Remember, you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take”, says Ed Relf, “and, even though digital means we can be analytical, there is still room for gut feel and some of the most innovative and successful ideas are when you give something a try.”

Creating a culture that embraces change was something all four business leaders agreed on as well, and as Ed Relf put it “it’s not about ping pong tables and an indoor play area, it’s about everyone living the company values and open to adaptation.”

Matthew Rushton (PwC) advises, “Digital is not just about technology, it’s a way of solving problems, creating unique experiences and accelerating business change. Digital cuts across the enterprise, so taking a structured approach is vital for successful delivery.” 

Sarah Jordan leads the MS Society’s Digital Transformation Programme and previously ran a similar programme at Oxfam GB.  She has experienced first-hand how important creating the right culture and mindset is, alongside the implementation of any new technologies and techniques. “Clarity and communication is vital during any programme of digital transformation. Make it real to everyone; explain how and why digital change is necessary, and what it will mean to your end users and audience as well as them as individuals. Involving all areas of an organization, changing mindsets and ways of working, and getting buy in from the CEO and board are all vital.”

Tony Foggett from Code Computerlove said, “Part of the first things we always try to instill in our clients, who often come to us asking to “buy something” - be that a new website or app, is that digital goes beyond the marketing department and reaches a business’ culture and infrastructure and a change in mindset to address this should be a starting point for all digital change programmes.”

Putting the customer at the heart of everything,” was a theme within all of the talks and finally, Gareth James, whose business Intilery specialises in the art of engagement, explained how digital listening can create a key point of difference in customer experience. “Personalisation in the online world isn’t just about just knowing the customer’s name, it’s about listening to what they want to do so brands can be helpful.”

Two further pieces of advice offered by entrepreneur Ed Relf were that as a CEO transforming a business it’s important to “get out on the front line” and experience yourself the iterations – use the tech as a consumer and ask yourself what would I want next if I could – and also “set one big hairy audacious goal!”

All of the presentations on digital transformation are available here 

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