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Joining the dots and being a composer for digital transformation initiatives

Written by Mark Foulsham, Board Advisor and Digital Leadership Coach, on behalf of Xalient

Portrait of Mark Foulsham, Board Advisor, NED, COO/CIO, Fractional Support, Digital Leadership Coach
Mark Foulsham, Board Advisor, NED, COO/CIO, Fractional Support, Digital Leadership Coach

At the recent Xalient 2023 Summit: Shaping a Secure Connected Future held at the iconic Abbey Road Studios in November, there were several fascinating talks around the challenges facing senior leaders in IT as they prepare for the future.

According to Gartner, by 2026 only 10% of large enterprises will have a comprehensive, mature, and measurable zero-trust programme in place.  Gartner also stated that by 2025, lack of talent or human failure will be responsible for over half of significant cyber incidents. Add to this Gartner’s recent C-Suite survey, where it ranked strategic business priorities, and we can start to build a picture of what organisations are challenged with, and need to focus on, to remain competitive and secure in the future.

The Gartner C-Suite survey highlighted that technology remains a top strategic focus, with automation rising noticeably as a key initiative and digital transformation as part of that. Talent and skills shortages was highlighted as part of the workforce challenge.  As a result, productivity is predicted to be one of the top priorities moving forward and AI is noted as a potential enabler.

Shifting sands and a constantly changing business and economic environment

As a senior leader driving transformative change and digital innovation within various organisations, as well as working closely with Xalient during that time, I was invited to talk about how organisations can stay abreast of the market when there is so much uncertainty. I’m a firm believer that to achieve a successful outcome you must work collaboratively across teams, joining the dots and avoiding siloed thinking, being a composer working your orchestra (if you will excuse the metaphor) and engaging with key stakeholders.

At the event I captured those themes, while shining a spotlight on two use cases of transformative change. The first was while I was CIO at insurance specialist esure Group and subsidiary, GoCompare, where I helped to move the business to a digital-first approach, challenging the existing telesales competition. The second was during my time as COO at Kensington Mortgages, where I led a customer-led digital strategy.

Looking at the problem through different lenses

Fulfilling a wide variety of C-suite leadership roles throughout my career has really helped my decision making. I’ve learned a huge amount from those diverse experiences, enabling me to look at the challenge through the lens of those different roles.  In particular, I’ve learned how to successfully change business models and to never underestimate the importance of understanding customer needs.

My advice to technology teams now is not to over play technology and digital in their strategies, but to focus more on what business benefit this will enable.  Organisations must make sure solutions are as elegant and as simple as possible and no more complicated than they need to be. Today, in our customer-led and data-intensive business world, the market is changing so quickly that if you over-engineer technology, you’ll find that by the time you’ve deployed it, the solution isn’t fit for consumers in the way it was originally intended.

Automation needs to be targeted

Likewise, automation needs to be targeted, rather than being a cure-all that can be thrown at any problem. Organisations should look to reuse their previous investments as well as modernising solutions and technology, avoiding just bolting on new things in a way that creates technical debt and complexity.

I mentioned earlier the importance of understanding customer needs and we always put the customer at the heart of our digital transformation strategy when I was at Kensington Mortgages. In particular, understanding their unique circumstances and needs. I was responsible for overseeing the full spectrum of operational, digital, data and technology-related functions that make up about two-thirds of the organisation’s headcount and budget. It was a sizeable undertaking; a newly created role that didn’t exist before I joined. Together with the other senior executives we set about accelerating Kensington’s strategy and reinforcing its position as the UK’s leading specialist provider of mortgages, operating where big-bank lenders struggle to reach. Kensington prides itself on offering mortgages to those on variable incomes, like sole traders or the self-employed, who have specific lending needs. In other words, we were very good at understanding that there is no one-size-fits-all approach. We invested time, analysis, and engagement into understanding our customers and had a ‘head-and-heart lending’ mentality, where we used data to provide insight and information, but we still made sure that customers’ payment arrangements were at the right level of affordability, or that the right products were tailored for customers. It’s not just about whether the computer says yes or no; it’s about really understanding the background and the individual circumstances of those customers. Here we used data and technology to help us to manage and fundamentally mitigate risk. There is a lesson to be learned here as we rely more on artificial intelligence technologies. Using AI as a tool can give you speed and agility but it won’t necessarily provide you with tailored insight.

Incremental improvement rather than big bang

I’m also a big believer in incremental improvement. You don’t need to make sudden, big bang changes. If you’re really going to take advantage of innovation, then iterating improvements is much more important than just having a single novel idea.

Today organisations must continue to look at the changing picture when it comes to customer and market needs and ensure they continuously adapt to that evolving position.  But, above all in a backdrop of escalating threats, organisations need to create an environment where data security is paramount, user access control is efficient, and networks are optimised for performance.  Successful digital transformation necessitates a robust foundation – one that is rooted in zero trust principles. This where Xalient really stands out. By diving deep and recognising the mastery in the interconnected domains of identity and access management, cybersecurity and software defined networking, Xalient helps organisations to successfully navigate their way through that journey.

I said at the beginning how this is all about joining the dots. Today’s enterprises conduct business and use digital technologies in ways that are evolving constantly. When on a digital transformation journey, organisations often need external support to help see the big picture, to look long term rather than current state, and to work closely with them to successfully navigate through these complexities, ensuring that teams and stakeholders are all communication and collaborating to reach the desired end goal.

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Portrait of Mark Foulsham, Board Advisor, NED, COO/CIO, Fractional Support, Digital Leadership Coach

Mark Foulsham

Board Advisor, NED, COO/CIO, Fractional Support, Digital Leadership Coach

With a broad background as a COO/CIO/CDO, C-Suite Advisor, NED, Senior Transformation Leader and Coach, Mark tackles multiple fronts from the advantage of diverse experience in business operations, technology, procurement, delivery and risk. With a deep knowledge of business models from multiple sectors and extensive experience in fast-paced digital start-ups.

Mark’s work across extensive business types, functions and countries empowers him with experience to bear across silos. Mark has built a reputation for advocating cross-business collaboration, taking a pragmatic approach and championing transformative change.