How culture can impact digital transformation

It is often said that digital transformation requires a cultural shift as well as a technological one, but what does this mean in practice?

Guest author

May 23, 2017

6 Min Read
How culture can impact digital transformation periodically invites expert third parties to share their views on the industry’s most pressing issues. In this piece Bejoy Pankajakshan, SVP Technology and Strategy at Mavenir, reflects on the role culture has to play in the process of digital transformation.

It is often said that digital transformation requires a cultural shift as well as a technological one, but what does this mean in practice?

Culture manifests itself, not only in different ways, but also on different levels, influencing the way we live, learn and behave. Along the road to digital transformation – the consumer, the service provider and the vendor are intrinsically connected and influenced by one another, all through the power of technology and service provided, as well as the response and adoption it receives. Consumer attitudes and behavioural changes shape cultural shifts in the ecosystem, which can then shape technology and transformation; ultimately vendors and service providers are driven by consumers, not by technology.

The way in which we engage, communicate and interact supplies the demand for services, and can also trigger a shift, whether that be in behaviour or technology development, leading to transforming digital society. Developments in communication over the last two decades have demonstrated that new technologies create new etiquettes for communicating, influencing culture, and resulting in digital habits to change and therefore influencing the technology.

For example, we are now a 24-hour connected society, with communication quantities increasing to the point where we have become the information generation, forcing a new type of digital transformation and a breed of technologies, such as NFV (Network Functions Virtualisation), wireless 5G and the IoT (internet of things) which, in turn, will create new innovative services

For example, vendors and service providers alike are finding that the ability to scale a solution elastically is now required to support this new world of communications. With the transition to NFV environments or cloud, the nature of communication may remain the same, but the technology which underpins the ideas and information which needs to be exchanged are different, driving a further shift in responsive behaviour, and the evolution of the next digital transformation.

The question of evolution is also dependent on consumer or enterprise behaviour. Inertia is not always mutually exclusive at the vendor or service provider levels, consumers or enterprises may still resort to using legacy products or services due to accessibility, comfortability, affordability or reliability, such as sending or receiving SMS, which can influence how quickly technology changes, evolves and new services are launched.

Putting it all into practice

As in any technological or cultural shift, you will always get, “early adopters”, “late majority”, “laggards” and so on. Simply introducing a new technology or service may initially result in low uptake or usage, – without significant motivators, such as “push” factors (e.g. such as end of life services or pieces of hardware), or pull factors (the reduction in spend, CAPEX and OPEX, or ease of use or mass market adoption).

If the speed of adoption is insufficient then new services will lack adequate momentum to make it transformative, in terms of influence, return or investment. Typically, it doesn’t matter how services are transformed, it matters what the actual transformation is, and this can be influenced by adoption behaviour and culture.

However, without tangible business cases, the transformation of services may be overlooked. For example, reducing expenses for service delivery will only come once more services have been migrated, but this doesn’t mean it should be ignored. It is not always easy to demonstrate new revenue streams or show savings until the service or solution is in place, and has been active for some time. It may then still take time for the culture to shift, adoption rates to increase and digital transformation to come with the fastest cultural shifts being those driven by the consumer

Today we are still seeing service providers leverage systems that are most widely used and well understood, like SMS, to maximise investments, and it will be a cultural or mental shift towards alternative systems or services which provides the vital first step towards change, evolution or modernisation. The cultural link between vendor and service provider is then achieved through shared methodologies, particularly in a dynamic delivery process, such as that mandated by NFV.

Is your plan everyone’s plan?

Doing anything in silo is always risky and likely insufficient to create change. Without understanding the market, culture and without group motivation to do something, any new approach or service will not be adopted or become ingrained, unless there is a reason to believe it will create relevancy or a compelling event to shift the current course.

Digital transformation can have a disruptive impact on people too, particularly for a business, its employees and customers. To do anything successfully, requires the full cooperation of the team or workforce through their adjustment to new concepts, technologies and outlooks in design, deployment and management of the service, as well as an interest from consumers. While this is true, some of the biggest shifts / disruptors has managed to circumnavigate all these parties. An example of this is WhatsApp. It was a major disruptor that lead to major cultural technology shift, however, it did not require cooperation with any of the existing organisations.

Many service providers started out independently. They had their own idea of what their services and offerings were and how they were packaged. Some services were just not offered – no one else in the market was offering it so there was no uptake. Others were offered but failed so the service was withdrawn. Some were so successful; they became global and adopted as a standard.

However, as companies became more competitive, to offer the latest next best thing, or consolidated within group organisations, conflict in services arose – every service provider wanted that differentiating service.

Today, however, digital transformation is driven by services adopted by the majority so another cultural shift is expected where competitors become partners and collaborate to build service equity and value, and give every service provider a portion of the pie, while still having their unique differentiators – we saw this occur with SMS and now seeing with RCS (Rich Communications Suite) and advanced communications. Resistance to collaboration can be a barrier for transformation and change.

The purpose of any transformation is to provide focus on value add for the provider and their customers. It is reinforced by cultural and technological shift both internally and at the consumer level, and ultimately is a change in mindset and the way of doing something. It is important to have the foresight to understand what value-added services today can bring digital transformation and a shift in culture, may become a basic commoditised service tomorrow. Continuous innovation is a key to game-changing digital transformation; let us not forget that the social networking revolution was started by MySpace!


Bejoy-Pankajakshan-150x150.jpgAs SVP, Technology and Strategy of Mavenir, Bejoy is responsible for the development and communication of Mavenir technology and product strategy. Bejoy is also responsible for orchestrating across R&D, Sales and new business for strategic alignment on the entire Mavenir portfolio. Previously he led the Product Line Management and Solution Architecture teams at Mitel Mobile. Bejoy has extensive mobile and telecommunications experience with leadership positions in Technology Development, Network Strategy, Network Engineering and Design. Bejoy had led multiple industry first innovations including spearheading the world’s 1st launch of VoLTE service by MetroPCS in August 2012 and the 1st North American RCS launch in October 2012. Bejoy is backed by solid credentials including MS, MBA, CCIE and 22 granted patents. Prior to joining Mitel, he held positions at MetroPCS and Sprint.

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