Digital transformation with the human touch by Paul Bailo

Paul Bailo, PhD, MBA with a clinical degree in social work is a graduate professor at Columbia University and an executive working on combining digital transformation, digital strategy and data analytics into one powerful solution.

How would you describe your work?

I like to say 90% of my job is saying no in a very nice way (ha ha) so organisations really get to the point very quickly and understand new models in this digital world. Because what has worked in the past, will not necessarily work in the future. It is a completely different paradigm with organisations in the financial world. And in the insurance world and in the government, and in fintech and banking. They all need to actually start thinking differently. My world is really like a Venn diagram, where I have my academic Columbia University educational world, where I’m pushing really hard trying to build a future data scientist. And my executive world, where I’m trying to educate executives and help them with their corporations and companies to be more effective.

How would you describe a digital transformation?

I think we first have to define digital for a company. And I think digital really is that heart of why a company exists, and what really matters. And it’s really not about the company, but it’s how you perceive the client you’re working for. And how do you make that customer experience greater in a very transformational stage. Looking at that customer journey, and how you make the person’s life easier, simpler and better. Because I think when you start talking about digital and digital transformation, I think everyone has a different definition of it. Neither are they right, neither are they wrong. I think it really comes down to the customer, and how you use digital. And when I say digital, I mean digital data, innovation, transformation, pushing forward in order to help organisations make unbelievable customer experiences, which then makes a happy customer, which then allows the organisation to build a loyalty bond with that customer and then drive revenue. My fundamental belief is, feelings drive actions, actions drive productivity, productivity will drive revenue. And if you don’t have a happy customer then the whole system falls apart. How do you look at data digital transformation to make your customers’ lives a hundred times better?

The customer journey has become a massive buzzword in recent years and certainly influences many digital transformations…

Oh yeah. Andrew, you make a really good point. It’s all about the competition, but it’s all about the new people, your new customers. I mean you have millennials, and young people and they are transforming every industry on earth. They’re not putting up with things that maybe you and I would put up with. The minute they don’t like something, they’re gone. One extra click, one extra step. And also, if the companies aren’t loyal in making their lives easier for them, they’re gone. When you look at the data, millennials hate banks and insurance companies. It’s terrible. They would rather bank at Google, Yahoo or Facebook to have a greater allegiance to the tech companies than the traditional banking corporations. When you look at the data, these large monolithic companies aren’t really engaging in the digital arena with these digital natives. Their customer base is dying off rapidly. And the only way you’re really going to get them back is to really understand that customer and how you make their lives easier.

So legacy institutions need to start being less risk averse?

Yeah, definitely. You’re better off making a wrong move than no move. Right? You’re going to have to start thinking about it. I think you really have to start thinking about this idea of a digital leader. And the first idea is that a digital leader is a human being. And how do you make someone’s life easier and better? But now I think you have to make sure these organisations have a culture that’s really supporting this idea of digital transformation throughout the enterprise. Sometimes you may have the will and you want to have the skill. So if you have the will you could always buy the skill or get the skill, to understand the version of a digital leader and what is it going to take to mastermind this cultural transformation. Or you have the skill, and don’t have the will. And that’s what I see a lot of, where people just don’t want to do this. Because the world is tough and most people don’t want to change. And we’re talking about a fundamental paradigm shift in the thinking of how most organisations behave. If you take banks, imagine you grew up in a bank, you spent 20 years at a bank and now you’re saying why are you even building a branch? This morning, I went to the bank four times today, I never even left my office. I don’t think this idea of a bank and branches exists today. You don’t need branches to do what you need to do. And these are fundamental paradigm shifts that have to occur in the world. And millennials, mobile technology, 5G… I mean the world is shifting drastically. And the underlying business models don’t hold true anymore. The things my parents told me to do, or not do, are exactly the opposite of what people do today. My mom would say, “Hey Paul, don’t go into a stranger’s car.” And what do we do now, we use Uber and Lyft and we go into strangers’ cars. “Don’t stay at a strangers house.” What do we do now, you have Air B&B. The models have shifted drastically.

How important is the customer journey and trust?

Make it easy for the customer, and then behave in a proper manner, and then actually build the trust and be transparent. Look, you don’t have to be all things to all customers. And if you can’t do what you want them to do, the fair answer is we don’t do that. It’s just simple, just don’t do it. If you’re looking for an electrician and you’re a plumber, don’t try to be an electrician. You’re just going to get yourself electrocuted. It doesn’t pay.

Talk to me a little about your ideal digital leader…

When you start thinking about digital transformation, it’s about having the right digital leader, and having a digital leader who’s actually human. You have to understand human behaviour and embrace that, and then make a bridge between human behaviour and the digital world, that’s the first thing. The digital leader has to be this visionary. You can’t just have these ideas of where you want an organisation to be, you want them to be able to share. And grab people in the organisation to share this vision, and this belief and get people excited about it. To actually feel and taste this vision of digital. And then you have to walk the talk. You can’t just be saying, “Here’s the vision, let’s go do this.” You have to show people, and you have to define it for the organisations. And what does it really mean for people in the organisation to be a digital organisation. American Express had this model and behaviours of what they wanted for an executive and this was transcended down to every person. This is what it looks like, this is the behaviour. This is what the digital leader has to do in order to transform and get a company ready for digital transformation. And when we talk about transformation, it’s really rooted in this idea of change.

And change is really one of the hardest things in the world do…

But the funny this about digital transformation/change, is we change every minute, every day. Change is a constant in our lives, but we sort of deflect it, and we’re afraid of it, as opposed to embracing it. Obviously within leadership you have to be a change agent and understand that this is not going to be easy, and don’t sugarcoat it. You have to be with the people, understand the people and hear them out. Make sure you have their heart, minds, and souls, and then build that plan, build that vision. Share in that. Talk the talk, walk the talk. And then really inspire people and make sure that you’re holding hands and walking forward together in the dark. The simple task of harnessing this brain power, and then winding people up and letting them go is so important. Why are you hiring really good people if you’re not going to really trust them and let them do their thing.

Leadership is so important isn’t it?

Yeah, you have to be bold and get a person who sees the company differently and who has the experience as a digital leader and understands human behaviour, innovation, technology and the customer experience. And that could lead and change the organization. You have to be a change agent. If you’ve been in the company 20 years, you’re going to think a certain way. And that’s the same way you always have. You have to radically change the way you’re thinking, and deal with the fact that this will not be easy. And be clear in terms of what you want. The DNA of digital has to be part of everyone’s mindset in order to make this work. Digital’s in the corner right there. And then you have technology in the corner over there. And then you have marketing over there. They all have to be digital. They all have to be under one roof and playing the same game. And having the right objectives is integral and identifying what those objectives are. Is it the enhancement of the customer experience? Is it digital transformation business processes? Is it the simplification of a service management system? Is it the optimisation of infrastructure? Is it the insights and the analytics that will drive competitive advantage? You really have to focus in on what you’re trying to do. You can’t just paint with a broad brush; you have to have these identifiable objectives attached to your long-term vision in order to transform these organisations. The elephant in the room here, is of course, the technology… You really want to make sure you have the right technology in order to enable this transformation. And what I’ve see a lot of times, is that people are selecting the wrong technology stack. I think a lot of it has to do with the fear of change and the fear of failing. Failure is critical piece that you have to embrace. Because you will fail, you’re going to have problems, this stuff’s not easy. The quicker you can embrace this, the quicker you can get over it, and move the organisation forward.

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