The tech challenges of agile transformation are about more than technology

Elitsa is joined by Kelley Conway, Accenture’s North America Lead for Financial Services Technology Advisory, to discuss how technological transformation is connected to enterprise agility in financial services. 

“[Technology] is still magic even if you know how it’s done.” – Terry Pratchett

It’s common knowledge that new technologies are critical to the future of financial services, but also across the board to other industries. We know that cloud, blockchain, artificial intelligence (AI), and machine learning are going to play a fundamentally critical role in how we do business in the future. And we know that automation will change the way our work will be done. But crafting the right tactical plan from that high-level strategic insight can be hard.

My guest on the latest episode of Talking Agility has more than 20 years of experience helping clients solve problems like these in order to achieve successful digital transformations by combining strategy, technology and operations to maximize value. Kelley Conway is Accenture’s North America Lead for Financial Services Technology Advisory. She frequently publishes on topics like digital labor, blockchain and new IT operating models. She says she most enjoys working side by side with clients to help them “cut through the hype” of new and emerging technologies to drive real and practical solutions for their business.

Kelley joined me from “the windy city,” Chicago, for a fascinating conversation about digital transformation and organizational agility in financial services. Here are some key insights from the interview.

A plan alone is not enough

Kelley brought up some very interesting recent research that Accenture did in cooperation with Oxford Economics. The research surveyed 90 financial services executives to uncover how they’re using technology to enhance their competitiveness.  

Not surprisingly, a strong majority of respondents—90 percentsay they have a long-term plan in place for technology innovation.  

“This gives us a good view of what’s to come,” Kelley told me. “Many leaders are confident in their plan. Forty-one percent of leaders are investing in AI today to improve operations. And cloud has become, frankly, the norm.” 

But, based on her decades of advising large firms about technology transformation, Kelley was quick to point out that any plan will not lead to successful transformation on its own. 

“The key is understanding that it’s not just about investing dollars in the tech, but ensuring that is has a real impact,” she said.  

“If you read the news, there’s a lot of hype out there. We have to make sure our clients are not chasing the shiny new toy.” While tech is everywhere, value isn’t. 

All tech change is also culture change

Kelley was also very interested in the survey’s findings about the top challenges reported by financial services executives. 

“Two of the top three challenges in the survey are not related to technology,” she said. “They have just as much to do with technology as with organizational culture and ways of working within that organization.” She reminded me that organizational and cultural boundaries may hinder speed and accountability. 

By way of proof, Kelley brought up some more recent research from Accenture: the Future Systems report from the Fall of 2019The report, which is built on Accenture’s largest enterprise systems survey ever, tracks performance indicators at 8,300 companies against their reported adoption of key technologies and organizational cultures. It points out that investing in the latest technology doesn’t necessarily mean the C-suite is unlocking trapped value for the business.  

“We see huge gaps between the leaders and the laggards here,” Kelley told me. “The leaders see over 2.5 times the revenue growth of the laggards. They’re also more bullish on the future.” 

The two groups show some striking differences in their attitude to technological change. For example, 96 percent of leaders report that collaboration between IT and business leadership should be a given, while just 67 percent of laggards feel the same. That’s a 30point difference.  

In addition, leaders also make sure they foster the right ways of working by encouraging their talent to not be afraid to experiment and present non-traditional ideasimportant components of learning and growing. 84 percent of leaders have fostered a fail-fast culture, versus only 44 percent of laggards.  

Kelley summed up the issue very neatly in our conversation when she said, “all tech change is culture change.” 

An agile approach can bring your tech agenda to life faster

Organizations that are able to embrace cultures driven by agile ways of working are more likely to achieve tech transformation success, in Kelley’s experience.  

“It’s not just an agile methodology; it’s a mindset,” she said. “Our clients who have picked it up more holistically, versus in pieces, is where we see success.” 

Kelley sometimes sees clients become fixated on particular agile methodologies at the expense of broader agile cultural and mindset change.  

“They often focus on how they are measuring agile projects: daily standups, sprints, scrums,” she said. “Meetings are easier to measure, but the focus should be on the true business impact. How do we release value quicker to the market? How do we integrate inputs better?”  

Kelley’s point brought to mind what I’ve come to think of as a classic report on agile transformation in financial services. The report takes an in-depth look at the challenges that often make agile transformation incomplete—and, just as Kelley suggested, the hurdles are both technological and cultural.  

To hear my whole conversation with Kelley and the rest of the insights she shared, tune in to the latest episode of Talking Agility here. 

And, as always, I’d love to hear your feedback and suggestions for the show. You can either reach me here or share your feedback through your preferred podcasting platform by commenting under each episode.

 

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