My first job (other than being a barman at college) was designing and developing an ERP system for a ship repair yard on the River Tyne. This was Circa 1995, a time when the ship building and repair industry in the UK was twitching its last death spasms. It was an industry in the final stages of cataclysmic disruption, and our efforts to automate in some efficiency were well-meaning, but too little and too late.
The other firms I worked for before I came to Forrester, were, with only one exception, traditional firms. They saw technology as an efficiency play at best, and at worst, a costly burden.
The exception was the now deceased Egg. Egg was one of the first (possibly the first?) digital disruptors in financial services. It started in the UK as PruBank, the telephone-based retail banking arm of insurance firm Prudential. As we launched, we rapidly realised that people on phones didn’t scale, but this growing thing called “the Internet” did. Before anyone talked about digital, we went digital.
Egg was different because it became a technology company first, and a bank second. Here’s how:
- We build digital-first products and services. We moved from doing old things better – like digitizing the mortgage application process – to doing entirely new things – like launching Egg Money Manager, an aggregation service that let customers view all their financial accounts in one place.
- We experimented with MVPs, and saw failure as a learning point on the road to growth. We placed bets on new technologies and business models, ringfencing risk in a formal “Test and Learn” innovation environment. Our “API” (we didn’t call them APIs then, we called it SOA) integration model meant we could spin up experiments, like being a launch partner for O2’s ill-fated i-mode, with a minimum of sunk cost. And when it failed… whatever, we learned how to integrate a new channel really quickly.
- We embraced customer-centric-design, agile development and devops. We had a Head of Customer Experience and a team of UX designers who regularly engaged with customers. We practiced agile development and organized cross-functional teams around key pillars of business growth. Before DevOps was a twinkle in a millennial sysadmin’s eye, we automated the Hell out of build, test and release processes to deliver robust daily changes to the website.
If you think this sounds like the behaviour of a modern digital business (and it does), bare in mind this was in the mid 2000’s.
Egg was different because it internalised technology and pivoted its operating model to embrace technology as a core growth engine. We were wildly successful, and as is the way of many high-growth firms, eventually we were bought, and dismantled.
But the lesson lives on. Technology is a key business driver. Today, business leaders tell us technological changes will have a greater impact on their decision making than economics, politics or competitive context. These days, we call the pivot Egg went through “Digital Transformation”, and yes, I’m as guilty as anyone else of propagating the term in the industry. In fact, if you believe social media analytics, I’m the 87th most guilty person on the planet. But we need to move beyond digital transformation as a thing and start talking about the business outcomes digital transformation brings, the opportunity it unlocks.
Anyone who’s been to our annual Digital Transformation Forums will know we’ve spent a lot of time over the last few of years telling you how best to approach digital transformation, how to build teams, which technologies matter, what to do about it. This year, we’re jumping forwards. We’re going to assume you know what digital transformation is, and to some extent we’re going to assume you’re smart enough to have already worked out how to do it. Instead, we’re going to concentrate on what it means to BE a digital business. How you unlock new opportunity. How you do new things in new ways. How you launch new business models. How you embrace a growth mindset.
If you’re interested in knowing what Digital Transformation really means to your business, then please join us at the Sheraton Grand in Chicago on May 8th and 9th to find out how to put digital transformation to work for your company.