In our ‘A Coffee with…’ series, we’re chatting to our favourite partners about what’s keeping them up at night. This month, we spoke to Ben Beath, executive at Avanade, to discuss muscle memory, becoming a programmer at 12 and transforming ‘at velocity’.
Ben, how did you get into digital?
I taught myself to program when I was 11 and, from that point, was fascinated by computers and technology. I was one of those kids who spent lunchtime in the computer lab, writing programs and software. I wrote a piece of software when I was 12 that allowed you to track how quickly our family’s dog wagged its tail and you could track over time to see how happy it was. I've been fascinated by the ability of computers to use data to tell interesting stories ever since that age.
It was actually the travel industry that first drew my attention to disruption and wanting to launch my own digital business – Loud&Clear, which was later acquired by Avanade. Around 2005, we saw the shift towards customers going online and booking their own airfares and holidays; by 2010 it became the norm and I was fascinated by how quickly digital utterly disrupted an entire industry. I'm very empathetic towards organisations that are at the forefront of reinventing themselves and the relationship they have with their customers.
Wait a second – you designed a piece of software when you were 12?!
Yeah. My dad needed a computer at home for work and each day, after 5 o'clock, I was allowed to jump on and play games. My dad bought me a computer magazine which came with a free disc, ‘Program Your Own Game’, which just sounded outrageous! I did it and, in the process, learnt some of the fundamentals of programming. The game was not impressive, of course, but the experience of being able to create a piece of code that could do something was what got me started. It was all self-taught. When I first started building websites for businesses, it was all on Drupal - Drupal 5 at the time. The open-source nature of it meant that we could build pretty much whatever customers wanted.
Typically, at which point in the disruption cycle do organisations tend to approach you for help? Does it tend to be a more proactive or reactive approach?
We’re called in to support organisations that want to gain competitive advantage through technology and organisations that need to reinvent themselves – so both! What fascinates me is the speed with which disruption happens to organisations now and the ability for organisations to respond with velocity. The ability to respond quickly to change and to adapt technology to deliver the experience the customer wants is crucial.
Which organisations have you seen successfully responding to change, with velocity?
I think our work with Football Federation Australia (FFA) is a good example. FFA has huge milestone events that happen every year, at the start of every season, and around the World Cup which happens once every four years. When they first started working with us, FFA had fixed deadlines that we needed to work to and a lot of change to bring in. We were able to build 21 websites in five months, which shows the speed that you can work at – if you embrace the fact that you're on a burning platform.
Organisationally, adopting a mindset shift is key. Understanding that the website isn’t a moment in time or a fixed outcome; but something that will have a first version delivered in two weeks, followed by updates and more enhancements every two weeks after that for the foreseeable future. Organisations, where the CEO, CMO or CIO have a vision to transition the organisation into a ‘product-over-project’ mindset or an ‘agile-over-fixed-deliverable’ mindset, are generally the ones we see winning in this space.
What are the main challenges you see organisations encounter with digital transformation?
Our work with the Returned Services League (RSL) Queensland is a great example. The RSL was founded in 1916 and while it was on-point for its older members, it wasn’t attracting younger audiences. Avanade worked with RSL Queensland on its journey of digital transformation, redesigned how the organisation runs its member engagement services and helped them adopt a test-and-learn cycle. RSL has one of the strongest legacy brands in Australia; it's known as a brand that looks after returned services people which often means seniors, but they’ve been able to reinvent how they can also be relevant to a younger audience.
Do you tend to have to work quite hard to bring internal teams on the journey with you?
What most organisations lack when they embark on transformation is the muscle memory to be successful at it. At Avanade, we advise clients that there are two ways to embrace this journey: the first is where every fortnight we deliver a big unveiling of what we've worked on; the other is where we break that fortnight into daily 15 minute feedback cycles, which helps us to remain on the right track, be efficient with the desired outcomes and minimises ‘surprises’. The will and the want to transform must be matched with the ability to run cycles effectively.
FFA’s website is built on the Acquia platform - how did that decision come about?
When FFA was evaluating different platforms, the biggest factor for consideration is the limited amount of time to do a lot of work. That's where Acquia and Drupal, being open source and able to integrate with other systems, really came to the fore. We were able to create proof-of-concepts in the space of two weeks, rather than 12 months. In terms of how Acquia stacks up: for everything on top of the content-management system, it has the CI/CD tooling, deployment and infrastructure scaling built into the platform; it has accelerators in the code that help you deliver the first components in days rather than weeks; it's out-of-box deployments, which means developers can get up and running within an hour, as opposed to a couple of days. There are many advantages in Acquia that help underpin this idea of delivery of transformation and speed.
What’s your best advice for companies looking to deliver digital transformation ‘at velocity’?
First, focus on building the agile transformation muscle in your organisation and not assume that the habits of an organisation can be easily changed.
Second, know where you need to build long-term capability and engage digital partners, like Avanade, for everything else. Building capability within your team to deliver machine learning, data and AI can be difficult and time-consuming, especially in today’s competitive talent landscape. Organisations should consider engaging partners for these niche skillsets and capabilities if it is the most efficient route to market.
Third, be disciplined with adopting a product mindset. We should avoid regarding digital transformation as a discrete project with a project manager. Make it organisation-wide, engage every employee on this journey and understand that it's going to be a process of incremental improvement for the rest of your company's existence.