For several years, digital innovator Maurice Freedman and his team had been developing a practice to help companies find an efficient way to transform their business, building a proven model for commercializing innovation. Here, Freedman breaks down the process and how it can help reshape and revitalize a company.
What is “digital transformation”?
“Most would say it’s ‘up-teching.’ That is, adding technology to an existing, broken way of doing business. But we have found that a shiny new app is not the answer. Technology alone is not trans-formative if processes are broken — it can actually be a distraction for the actual problem. Injecting technology often make matters worse, and comes at a great expense. Our digital transformation practice evaluates the whole process, from innovation through commercialization, to help companies build pathways to profit, using technology as an empowering tool. A tool is only as good as the teams using it.”
What separates you from competitors?
“First, real-world experience. Lots of bruises, some broken bones and a few glorious trophies. I’ve been lucky enough in my career to have been involved with many different industries: software, healthcare, consumer goods, military, media — some companies on the way up, and some that failed miserably. I learned the most from the failures. Failure teaches modesty, persistence and that the answer lies in the field, not in the lab. I’m on the ground, talking to customers, learning the market. When I’m not talking to customer and clients, I’m walking the startup aisles at trade shows, learning as much as I can.”
How do you choose the right technologies for a complex problem?
“We start by lateraling — searching first for a solution, at least in part, from a completely different industry. Often, the problem may have been solved already, and at great cost. The challenge is focusing first on the mechanism of the problem, and less so on the granular details, and surface analogs. Most companies think their problems are unique or are so complex that is impossible to understand. But it’s not usually true. The supply chain for human tissue, for example, involves a massive amount of complex science, but as it turns out, an open source e-commerce platform can manage it perfectly. That’s thousands of hours of engineering, knowledge and testing under market pressure — inherited for free! It’s the same software I use to order socks.”
What’s the most important thing you’ve learned in all this?
“With every new engagement, I have to put everything I think I know to the side and re-engage from scratch. Leave the assumed problems alone for a moment, and fully understand the customer experience. Everything else I do stems from that. Corporate tribal knowledge is often suspect, propagated myths about customers that they’ve never met. It’s like playing telephone with billions of dollars. You’ll never get the right answer purely from demographics, ethnographies, or a BI dashboard. Get with customers and show them products directly. Test, try and iterate in the marketplace. Put something as close to real as possible in their hands, as fast as you can. Watch where it fails, retool, and go again. And again. In the end, customer sentiment is not the most important thing. It’s the only thing.”