Personal finance and KiwiSaver columnist at the NZ Herald

Helen Twose: Changing the way we change

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Building in flexibility is more important than knowing precisely where a transformation journey is going to take you.
Justin Gray, New Zealand country manager for consultancy Accenture.
Justin Gray, New Zealand country manager for consultancy Accenture.

If you think the pace of technological change is going to slow any time soon, you're in a pretty exclusive group.

According to Accenture Technology Vision 2016, the consulting firm's latest stocktake of technology trends, only 1 per cent of executives questioned thought the pace of tech change in their industry would slow in the next three years.

Even adding that 1 per cent to the executives who think technology change might plateau or lift slightly only just nudges the figure into double digits.

It's safe to say the minority view isn't one held by the head of Accenture's New Zealand business, Justin Gray.

Though it's interesting to see the trends predicted by the Technology Vision unfold, says Gray, the most fascinating aspect is the tremendous pace at which the projections become reality.

He says the trend forecasts usually have a two-year horizon.

"Now, when we look at what we predicted last year as being two years out, that's already here and we're on to the next thing.

"Digital is a big part of that so if you're thinking about transforming into a digital model, you've got to think about jumping ahead into a totally digital business."

Preparing organisations for change is at the heart of Accenture's work.

The global firm is leading technology and business transformation at the IRD, which includes retiring the department's ageing mainframe-based software system.
The billion-dollar IRD project is at the upper end of complexity, but even a more modest transformation is akin to stepping into the unknown when the digital environment is updating at such lightning speed.

"I think what we've got to get used to is transformation is actually as much about flexibility in transformation as the transformation itself," says Gray.

"Trying to understand exactly where you want to be at the end when you start is actually not the right way to be.

"You've got to think about how you're actually going to adapt on the journey."

A digital heart powering up innovation is a given, he says, but to achieve this requires a multi-speed approach.

The old model favours a mapped-out strategy lasting five or six years, which includes changes from a people, process and technology perspective.

"That's yesterday's way of doing it and it doesn't deliver results fast enough," says Gray.

Taking a multi-speed approach means overlaying longer term plans for change with quick, on-the-fly iterations to ease pain or friction points for customers, he says.
It's where innovative use of digital solutions comes into its own.

Transformation is actually as much about flexibility in transformation as the transformation itself.
Justin Gray, Accenture

Gray says the innovation discussion in New Zealand is often dominated by the clever ideas coming out of start-ups.

"But we almost focus a bit too much on that and are not focusing on the fact that innovation is also coming out of some of the big businesses in New Zealand at just the same sort of rate, and the Government too."

The big end of town is offering digital experiences, sometimes developed through standalone, challenger brands, which are setting the standard for transformation.
"My expectation is driven by the best experience I've had in all the interactions I've had every day," says Gray.

"So if my best experience is with my airline, when I go to deal with a government department or go to deal with my property manager or deal with whoever else I deal with in my life, the bar is right up high."

Sticking to outmoded transformation models, he says, means opportunities to match a competitor, to offer something new or to quickly deal with a customer pain point are missed because those opportunities don't fit with a preordained timeline.

Using a multi-speed approach means step changes can be delivered in a matter of weeks or months rather than years.

"Getting that process industrialised as part of your transformation is one of the key things I think we need to do in New Zealand."

Gray says the transformation success stories are from those organisations that have been open about their journey and have been able to deliver that transformation incrementally.

Those that have less success are the defensive transformations — anything where an organisation is playing catch-up with a competitor or is moving to where the innovators are going.

"They're actually only successful a third of the time," Gray says.

Inevitably, when you talk transformation or digital disruption, the examples of Uber or Airbnb come up.

"I love those businesses and I'm a user of those businesses but I'm kind of getting tired of talking about them," says Gray.

Rather than continuing to discuss how these two companies succeed, he suggests, let's talk about some of the local opportunities for a positive message about transformation.

"The tyranny of distance that has been there for New Zealand historically just isn't there when you're in a digital business.

"The start-up culture here is great and the ability to take some of that innovation out of New Zealand is one of the great opportunities we have, but we've still got a bit of work to do to take advantage of it."


Tech visison

• 25 per cent of the world's economy will be digital by 2020, up from 15 per cent in 2005

• 86 per cent of executives interviewed anticipate that the pace of technology change will increase rapidly or at an unprecedented rate in their industry over the next three years

• 49 per cent are comprehensively investing in digital as part of an overall business strategy, a 40 per cent jump on last year

Source: Accenture Technology Vision 2016 Survey

- NZ Herald

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Personal finance and KiwiSaver columnist at the NZ Herald

Helen Twose is a freelance business journalist who writes regularly about KiwiSaver and entrepreneurial companies. She has written for the Business Herald since 2006, covering the telecommunications sector, but has more recently focused on personal finance and profiling successful businesses.

Read more by Helen Twose

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