Binning the bells and whistles: is 2023 the year of people-first digital transformation?

When it comes to digital transformation strategies, businesses often get wrapped up in big-budget initiatives. But getting it right can mean paring back and putting people first

There are some insights that cannot be discovered by studying sales spreadsheets and consumer data. Sitting on the sofa of an elderly carer, TPXimpact’s digital transformation team were getting familiar with how and when users logged on to the website of one of the UK’s leading health support charities.

The carer revealed that, because of a dependent partner with constant care needs, they could only access the site to seek help late at night, sitting in the dark, so they didn’t wake their loved ones. This point was reaffirmed by other users, who often found elements of the site difficult to navigate quickly in the finite free time they had to gain advice.

While designers on the project were capable of applying video, animation and interactive maps, this particular project required a minimalist, streamlined approach. The criteria were simple but critical: the site must be easy to read and navigate, it mustn’t incorporate large files that take time to load, and extensive questionnaires were off the table.

Organisations have realised that if they push as much online as possible, it speeds things up - but can those who are not so digitally literate stay with you?

In these scenarios, CMOs and CTOs must collaborate with each other and end users. Otherwise, they risk creating shiny digital expositions that deliver on style but leave substance wanting - something that is wasteful and anti-value during a cost-of-living crisis, says Rebecca Hull, managing director of digital experience at TPXimpact.

A similar people-first approach bore fruit during a digital transformation project for a global development charity, which was struggling to bring in donations during the economic crisis, Hull explains. “We needed to understand why users didn’t donate more often. They said: you don’t ask us.” The site did ask, but the ‘donate’ button was obscured by an image on the home page.

During a Christmas period where the choice between eating and heating became a stark reality for millions of Britons, charities felt the squeeze at what is usually a peak time for fundraising. TPXimpact helped the charity increase their regular givers and exceed their fundraising targets with a clear, cost-effective strategy. The solution was to make their digital assets work as hard as possible through incremental, rapid changes to combat the harsh economic downturn.

“Not all clients have big budgets, yet a lot of our success happens by moving organisations with little digital maturity onto the next stage through careful steps,” she says. “Very often, you cannot do that with a ‘big bang’ approach.”

Why reverse engineering works

For organisations that serve varied user groups and attract millions of online visitors each year, creating clear website design is especially important. 

Working together on a digital transformation project, TPXimpact helped a major British film and television organisation distil its huge offering into three distinct user journeys: cinema fans eager to catch a show at the IMAX, film geeks keen to study the back catalogue of their favourite film icons, and directors filling out funding applications in the hopes of creating the next Oscar winner.

They then worked to entirely re-configure their website, decluttering content to leave a simpler and clearer interaction.

But that’s not just good website design, says Jen Byrne, TPXimpact’s managing director of consulting: “In order to create and enable new digital user journeys, you don’t just reorganise a website; you start rewiring the whole organisation. You re-navigate that whole process to align those key customer journeys and how services are offered.”

Successful digital transformation isn’t about dictating to front-line staff or dragging users along with change. Winning strategies mean proper time spent talking to and testing with users and understanding their preferences. It’s also vital to allow digital staff to work alongside key workers. TPXimpact did just that when creating new digital visions for Essex County Council and the UK government’s Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities.

Critically, staff don’t want to know they are on a digital maturity journey, and likewise, businesses don’t want digital transformation teams to disappear for six weeks and come back with a shiny new product and website, says Byrne.

“We believe in blended teams. You’d walk into a government building and not know who was from TPXimpact and who were civil servants.” She continues: “Successful transformation is about culture shift such as reversing waterfall management, where everything comes from the top and trickles down. You have to observe, listen and swap skills.”

Embracing AI-enabled transformations

TPXimpact’s managing director of data and insights, Andy Ball, previously worked alongside Rotherham United football club. He saw how sharing data seamlessly when transferring targets could help them punch above their financial weight in a fiercely competitive Championship division.

“Often, people are very protective of the data and think if they share it, they might lose power. But actually, sharing data is the power. You’re creating a truly transparent bigger picture. You only find success when you share that same vision, one that all departments and users can buy into,” says Ball. Applied correctly, transparent, all-access data can transform a public entity, giving it a refreshed social purpose in a changing world.

When Durham County Council wanted to provide access to resources from across the organisation, including records from their library, historic photographs and registry data, Ball’s team placed algorithms over the top of the materials to help organise the large bank of content, capturing the richness of the Northeast past and present.

Historic documents could then be linked back to local records and notices, which could then be tied to future documents. Using an advanced cataloguing algorithm enabled the council to surface content that was previously hard to find and collect it in one place to create a more accessible and interactive journey of discovery.

In this instance, AI and technology became a core component of a service’s entire purpose. But there is no use applying AI if you don’t have the reporting systems to manage it, according to Ball. “Do you know where you are as a company at this place in time? How are staff performing, and who is able to use the new AI and who isn’t? Without understanding the wider systems in your company, technology will never work successfully. When you can trust the data and the system, then you can start accelerating,” he says.

During economic change, both public and private sectors say users are at the heart of their digital transformations. Still, any changes must be reverse-engineered so the public stays with you. Hull concludes: “The whole world is speeding up, and the internet has amplified this massively. Organisations have realised that if they push as much online as possible, it speeds things up - but can those who are not so digitally literate stay with you?”

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