Q&A: Transformation

Paul Solomon, founder of Edenhouse, arguably the UK’s most respected SAP consultancy, explains how the public sector can master the tricky art of digital transformation


Where should the public sector start when developing a digital transformation strategy?

It starts with one question. What does your organisation want to achieve? This is a profound starting point, and makes you look afresh at your users and the way you think about the service you offer.  Then move on to a wider stocktake of your strategy to date and where you are headed as an organisation in the next five years. We conduct this through a process we call “discovery”. We go into an organisation and get under its skin. Our experts conduct interviews and hold workshops with key users and executives. We build up a report. Something we’ve learnt is not simply to publish this report, but to do a series of playbacks. We draft, then go back and test our ideas to make sure our understanding is accurate. Then we go back and amend. We call this the “show and tell” approach. By the time we’ve finished this initial report, we’ll have a thorough understanding of the needs of the organisation. Only then are we ready to begin making concrete recommendations.

Is the key to transformation a desire to change the corporate structure?

It’s about mindset, not structure.To change an organisation, you need to understand the culture and the people. You need to find the people who are comfortable with change. In any organisation there are people open to change and those who resist. We arrive as an external change agent and find the internal change agents. They might not come from the most obvious of roles. We look across ages too. Millennials tend to have a different view of technology to people in their late-30s and above, so we bring in younger people and listen to their perspective on technology. You also need someone who’ll take ownership of digital transformation. They’ll own the business case for why you are embarking on the project. The mindset approach is more effective than starting off with a blank piece of paper and focusing on structure. This is because transformation is a life cycle, not a one-off event. You need to be able to sustain change continuously over time.

Why do so many public bodies panic at the mention of digital transformation?

It’s natural. The first thing people think is that things are going to change and that’s traumatic. The benefits get overlooked. You need to win hearts and minds, and get over that fear of change. At Edenhouse we do this by building trust and credibility. We conduct a session and talk about our experience. We almost man mark the customer’s team, one to one, to build personal rapport. Then we have a social event outside of the workplace. This may seem over the top, but believe me, when you begin a transformation without trust and enthusiasm, things will go wrong. Start off on the wrong foot and resistance will emerge. Personalities will start to clash. Fear creeps in and the whole project loses momentum.

Many public bodies will say they have systems in place that work, so why change?

This is so common. We all like to stay in our comfort zone and organisations love to believe that what they have now is good enough. But it never is. In the fast-moving digital world, user expectations are soaring and the potential of what you could be delivering is only increasing. We had a classic case recently, working with Muntons, who supply malt to the brewing industry. Great company, but their SAP infrastructure was outdated. They couldn’t see it. To them it worked. But we could see the lack of productivity and the silos. Not only did we transform their company with the latest SAP technology, we used the project as an excuse to drive change. Suddenly people had to rethink the way they did their jobs. And I’ll be honest, the mentality of “we’ve always done it like this” is rife in the public sector. Much like London’s Black Cabs, then Uber arrived, or hotels then Airbnb came along. Old ways of working can rapidly be overtaken. You need to continually evolve or risk becoming obsolete.

 What are the guarantors of a successful digital transformation project?

Pick the right transformation partner. That means not always the cheapest or the ones you’ve always had. Go for an external partner with a track record of success and the right ethos. The public sector body needs to reflect on their own attitude too. Are they open to new ideas? Can they think differently? It’s essential they can. Strong processes are powerful guarantors. For example, Edenhouse deploys a bimodel IT model. This means being conservative in core areas and more radical in others. For instance, a government department can retain its core system, but reinvent the customer interface. Bimodal means you won’t get overwhelmed, trying to change everything at once as you integrate on-premise and line-of-business cloud solutions. Gate reviews are another winner. We break projects into phases. Before we move on to the next phase, we conduct a review to check we’ve hit objectives. If not, we go back and fix the problem. Only then do we move on. Gate reviews are a terrific guarantor of success.

You’re an SAP consultancy, so what makes you equipped to consult on strategy?

It’s true. We are an SAP specialist. That is what makes us so strong. A lot of consultancies dabble. We have 300 staff in Manchester, Birmingham and Farnborough devoted to SAP. Our expertise is unrivalled and the best reputation for customer service. It dates back to the model we built when we founded Edenhouse a decade ago. We wanted customers for life. Our support model was so effective it became the template for other SAP consultancies. We have a powerful record of delivering transformations. Crown Commercial Service, Sanctuary Group and councils including Rochdale, Bradford and Plymouth, to name but a few. I still lead from the front. If a client needs to call me directly, they have my number. We’ve proven again and again how effective we are at enabling digital transformation. Public sector bodies trust us with their most challenging projects. And we can’t wait to work on more.

For more information please visit edenhousesolutions.co.uk