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.