Analyze your hiring and working practices. As mentioned earlier, look at what your employees need to become more productive and where this productivity happens. I had a recent conversation with a multinational legal company. Traditionally the business hired from employees within a small radius from their global offices. Influenced by COVID-19 and supported by technology, their senior leadership team has now recognized that they can effectively operate from anywhere in the world. The only requirement the business has is to be local to their customers for meetings etc. That’s a completely different perspective and by distributing their workforce now means they have access to a much larger customer base.
As part of our series about “How To Use Digital Transformation To Take Your Company To The Next Level”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Oliver Forder.
With over 25 years’ experience in technology, Oliver Forder CEO of arkflux [360Freedom Ltd] has made a career helping organizations and customers take advantage from digital transformation technologies. From businesses adopting the internet, to proactive security and onto embracing machine learning and AI.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
That takes me back to the Atari ST and 1987. I was 12 at the time and the only way we could play games against each other was to connect your machine via a MIDI or serial cable. At the time the cables were expensive, especially for a 12-year-old. After reverse engineering my only cables, at the frustration of my parents, I figured out that the component parts were cheap. So, soldering iron in hand I started making cables at a fraction of the price on the high street and selling them to friends, family members and via mail order. My tech career started by making cables and building custom PCs. My journey throughout the 1990’s involved software development and support. By the 2000’s I was involved in the design and build of several SaaS products, effectively the birth of cloud computing. 2010–2019 I was focused on end user computing and Digital Transformation, culminating in launching arkflux a CRM, Customer Experience and Digital marketing solution, focused on automation, machine learning and AI.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
I have made and learnt from many mistakes throughout my career. Some funnier than others! I remember spending over 30 minutes trying to figure out why a PC was booting only to discover we were suffering from a power cut. Possibly one of the funniest but also one of the most insightful mistakes I’ve made. It was during the middle of the day. I returned to the office and completely failed to notice that the lights were out. When I got back to my desk my PC was off, so my first thought was to reach for the screwdrivers. This in itself wasn’t funny, except my colleagues embraced my frustration at not being able to diagnose why my machine wouldn’t boot and completely failed to point out the obvious power issue. When the power finally returned the workplace broke out in laughter at my expense! This lesson taught me to start with the basics before jumping into the complex and to be mindful of outside influences.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
My father was my biggest influence. In 1982 he purchased our first family computer and then spent hours, if not days awake in the early hours figuring out how to program. He was a carpenter by trade but had the foresight to see the emerging home computing market.
This was my introduction to computers and writing code. Back then magazines would contain raw code to write your own games at home as opposed to the next generation that contained neatly compiled discs. The unintended consequence in the lack portable storage meant we all had to become coders!
There are many lessons my father taught me over the years, but tenacity and willingness to learn something new, never be afraid to fail as long as you learn from the process has always been at the forefront of my mind.
Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
I’ve read many books over the years, but I think one that stands out is the Lean Start up by Eric Ries. This book is focused on creating streamlined feedback loops within businesses that are purposefully designed to provide insights into areas of improvement. This book was published almost a decade ago and is more relevant to businesses today than ever before. It touches on how businesses should be able to fundamentally retain the agility of a startup and how feedback loops apply to every team, department, product and service we deliver.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?
When we first started arkflux we recognized that we needed to create Digital Transformation products and services that are applicable to both enterprises and small-medium businesses. Enterprises have deep pockets and the privilege to be able to devote large sums and huge resources to implementing new technologies like automation, AI and machine learning, ultimately leading to further competitive advantages. Everything we do at arkflux has to be accessible from the sole trader through to large enterprises and priced accordingly. As a team, we have a very open culture with everyone being able to suggest or contribute to areas of improvement or change, aligned with individual responsibility. Combine this with a sense of responsibility to our community and now you have powerful purpose that can make a difference.
Are you working on any new, exciting projects now? How do you think that might help people?
Everyday there’s a new product, new feature or a new perspective. From our recent monthly release that contained over 90 new product features and enhancements through to planning the next month’s development cycle, there’s always something exciting happening. To experience our journey of creating a product that constantly improves, underpinned with our passion and desire to continually evolve and deliver a fantastic experience excites me. Right now, we’re working on the next generation of AI and ML to provide real time sales intent automation. That’s pretty exciting!
Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion about Digital Transformation. For the benefit of our readers, can you help explain what exactly Digital Transformation means? Which companies can most benefit from a Digital Transformation?
All businesses can benefit from Digital Transformation. It’s not a one size fits all model, but instead, having the ability to objectively look at how your business operates and translate the benefits of Digital Transformation to your business. For instance, real time pizza baking status updates delivered to a mobile app, and employee experience monitoring, are entirely different transformation projects. One is consumer led, the other on talent acquisition and retention. Some of the best transformational projects are a combination of employee insights, customer empathy and leadership’s willingness to change.
In 2020 the world was rocked by a pandemic. Many businesses had to enable home working for the first time. The technology has been available for many years, yet many businesses hadn’t embraced the concept. COVID-19 effectively accelerated the work-from-anywhere adoption by at least 5–10 years. Look at the growth of businesses like Zoom who are more than 9 years old. Now we’re seeing businesses divest from office space, new business models emerging like local pop-up working hubs all the way to subscription coffee. This is the perfect opportunity for leadership to be analyzing and planning how their business will operate for the next ten years.
We’d love to hear about your experiences helping others with Digital Transformation. In your experience, how has Digital Transformation helped improve operations, processes and customer experiences? We’d love to hear some stories if possible.
In my previous employment, I was involved in many transformational projects, especially in end user computing. We specialized in managing devices remotely from the mobile phone to the laptop or desktop computer. Often these projects involved tens of thousands of devices, all managed from the cloud as opposed to on premise IT. Every customer deployment was a transformational project. Likewise, as a business we had to evolve from a traditional transactional software company to a subscription (SaaS) business. That’s not an easy challenge, to redefine how you transact with thousands of customers.
At arkflux, we have implemented many projects that have resulted in an instant ROI. Recently we automated and aligned task generation to service delivery for one of our customers. It took 3 hours to design and implement the new automation rules, saving almost one day per week for the employee responsible for task management. That’s a huge return, almost 52 days per year of improved productivity for a 3-hour investment.
Has integrating Digital Transformation been a challenging process for some companies? What are the challenges? How do you help resolve them?
The biggest challenges for most Digital Transformation projects are adoption, management and a clear vision of what you are trying to achieve. Often the technology is readily available, it’s the implementation that causes the most disruption. Take the previous task management example, it was a very granular project resulting in a massive benefit to the business. Senior management initiated the openness for change, the employee responsible had the insight to automate and collectively the whole business bought into the idea. This is a perfect example of adoption, management and vision defined from the outset.
Ok. Thank you. Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are “Five Ways a Company Can Use Digital Transformation To Take It To The Next Level”? Please share a story or an example for each.
Every business is unique and has a different set of challenges. However, all businesses should have similar common goals for Digital Transformation including:
- Analyze your hiring and working practices. As mentioned earlier, look at what your employees need to become more productive and where this productivity happens. I had a recent conversation with a multinational legal company. Traditionally the business hired from employees within a small radius from their global offices. Influenced by COVID-19 and supported by technology, their senior leadership team has now recognized that they can effectively operate from anywhere in the world. The only requirement the business has is to be local to their customers for meetings etc. That’s a completely different perspective and by distributing their workforce now means they have access to a much larger customer base.
- Automate, automate and automate! Many manual processes can be automated through Digital Transformation. Most conversations around automation are focused on productivity gains. What is often overlooked are the competitive advantages or speed of execution. An example of executional speed would be the ability for your sales team to be alerted in real time at the prospect of a customer’s intent to purchase your products or services. Today’s sales operations must work at the speed of life, intent quickly disappears, and consumers make much faster decisions. At arkflux we have helped many businesses improve their speed of execution resulting in an instant improvement to their sales revenue. For a number of businesses, we have automated customer intent to specific sales teams to maximize the opportunity of sale and the return of their investment on their website. In one specific deployment, our customer experienced over 60% sales uplift within the first 3 months.
- Real time reporting. Sounds simple but actually, this is a complex subject. The world of finance and accounting is currently embracing a huge transformation. Tax reporting is transforming from annually to monthly, reported electronically directly from your accounting software. This in itself is straightforward, however the implications aren’t. As a leadership team, you should be concerned with how you can create a data lake or integrate your core business software to provide real-time reporting and analytics, especially relating to finance. This will provide rich insights into how you operate and often the results can lead to new discoveries on how to evolve your business. At arkflux, our dashboards contain many different views of your customer data. This has helped many businesses optimize how they meet seasonal demand based on the analytics provided by the dashboards.
- Understand your business from your customer’s perspective. I appreciate that a lot of businesses think they do this but in reality, few actually do. If I can go back to a previous point, the best transformational projects start with a clear vision of what they are trying to achieve. Improving your customer experience and ability to engage in a long-term relationship must be at the heart of every business. It takes a very vulnerable leadership team to be open and willing enough to accept that their business isn’t perfect from the viewpoint of their customer base. Once you overcome this challenge, you will start to provide more meaningful customer journeys and deliver new experiences. If you’re asking your customers what they think to your products or services in isolated feedback surveys, then you’ve already failed. We’ve implemented many projects that walk in the customer’s shoes for exactly this reason. To experience first-hand what it means to be your customer and continually evolve this process. To keep your team and the customer in sync throughout the customer lifetime.
- AI and ML. I get asked the same question time and time again. How do I develop and deploy AI and Machine Learning in my business? The answer typically is you don’t. You don’t have the expertise, access to data scientists or a huge team devoted to modelling and training. However, a lot of software companies do. How software companies are researching and developing products that implement AI and ML should be your primary objective. Not all sales-forecasting products are the same and they have different core objectives too. To embrace and benefit from AI and ML involves in-depth conversations with product vendors as opposed to your internal teams trying to create a new ML model. Discover the art of the possible. At arkflux, we’re building new AI and ML models all the time, looking at different ways of analyzing data to discover new insights. Our models are trained on huge real-world datasets over long periods before we even consider releasing them to our customers. As a business, you should take advantage of the investment your suppliers are making in AI and ML.
In your opinion, how can companies best create a “culture of innovation” in order to create new competitive advantages?
Staying vulnerable to change is the best mindset for the senior leadership team in any organization. If you’ve operated the same way for the last ten years, then now is the time for change. At arkflux we have an internal innovation culture, one example is to look back at our previous product versions. If we can’t make ourselves obsolete every 6–12 months, we’re doing something wrong. Time and time again we review what we released 3, 6 and even 12 months ago and compare it to our current product offering with one simple question in mind, “would we prefer to use our current or previous version?”. This isn’t just focused on our products but also our service delivery and often we’re talking about very small features or elements.
Stay close to your customers. Every single customer we have has access to my mobile number. I’m involved in typically anything from 3 to 10 customer calls a day and not necessarily in a sales capacity but just to ask what’s working, what’s not and where can we improve. It’s important to remain as connected to as many customers as you can and never be afraid to ask for their opinion.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
In the late 1990’s a colleague of mine had an email signature that simply stated, “There may be many ways to solve a problem, but an expert will tell you there’s only one”. The challenge we all have is to become the expert and that’s a journey that takes a lifetime of learning and researching.
How can our readers further follow your work?
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!