Digital transformation also plays a role in hardware and software cycles. Organizations should drive riving software-defined services.
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 Fredrik Hagstroem.
Fredrik Hagstroem is the CTO of Emergn and is an expert in digital transformation. He specializes in moving large change and development programs within global organizations forward, helping to achieve key business objectives. He is certified in Agile as a practitioner and trainer, and as a Systems Architect and Software Developer, specializing in Lean and Agile practices. He’s been part of the Emergn team for 12 years.
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?
My backstory is different than most; I’m from a very small village in the middle of Sweden. I had a strong desire to travel at a young age and seeing new places has always been a favorite hobby of mine. After graduating from business school, I wanted to travel around the world. Around the 2000s, IT jobs started paying a lot better and I found one where I started travelling around Sweden with floppy drives to install anti-virus software at as many railway stations and installations as I could find.
I realized my passion for disruptive technologies and have been leading people, projects and technology solutions for more than 20 years now. I specialize in moving large change and development programs within global organizations forward, helping to achieve key business objectives.
I am certified in Agile as a practitioner and trainer, and as a Systems Architect and Software Developer, specializing in Lean and Agile practices. I work in the management consulting space, and I have been part of the Emergn team for nearly 12 years now.
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’ve made my fair share of mistakes, and the funny ones are rather few and far between — but I will say, keep pushing forward no matter the setbacks you face when you first start in any technology field — you will improve and get better with time and focus.
One mistake I made years ago, was to test and successfully hack our companies Wi-Fi-installation security. In hindsight, it would have been a lot better for everyone involved if I had told anyone beforehand rather than just showing up to a management meeting with the results.
Lesson learned: Setting expectations and how results are presented are for many as least as important as the facts.
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 first manager at a railway company I was working at quit after I had been there for only six months. He said, “The reason I am quitting is you — I hired you and when I checked your records, you were born on the exact same day I started working for this company. So, I realized I have to get out of here.”
He went on to say, “When I am gone, I’ll pass you this advice: Choose your new manager wisely. Titles, salaries, task, etc. can all be solved if the manager is really good.” So, following his advice, I’ve been both disciplined and fortunate to work for many good managers.
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?
A few years ago, I was working with a small but global telecom consultancy out of Singapore. As we were gathering the very diverse management team to open our office in Dubai, my CEO just handed me a copy of Dale Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends and Influence People” and encouraged me to read it.
I didn’t know how to interpret this gesture, and when I saw that it was written in the 1930s, I felt like the CEO was sending me a not-so-subtle message about my management skills. However, it turns out that everyone on the management team received the book from our CEO. Our task was to work through cultural differences using better communication.
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?
I have worked with many large enterprises on three continents and have experienced many ways in which a purpose driven business is more successful. Think of it as a compass for all decisions, especially in times of uncertainty and change. When there’s no clearly articulated strategy, vision and goals, leaders may be driving their teams in different directions, leading to strained relationships.
Our team at Emergn had a clear vision from the very start. If you know something can be done better, you have a responsibility to act on that knowledge. At Emergn, we build better software products.
We started out with agile software development and agile change programs, but we quickly noticed that while most of our change was initially successful, when the focus, excitement and consultants were gone, the improvements did not last. And that happened not just to us, but throughout the industry. So, we made it our mission to improve the way people and companies work — not just temporarily, but forever.
Are you working on any new, exciting projects now? How do you think that might help people?
We are! We always have exciting projects happening at Emergn. Machine Teaching is the one that I’m particularly excited about. We are tailoring interfaces and experiences for how knowledge workers can participate in machine learning, instead of having data scientists training models and algorithms. I think it will help with acceptance of machine learning and further moves the focus away from test data sets and manual decisions to algorithm-based decisions. We have a lot of interest from customers surrounding this, especially when it comes legal document processing.
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? On a practical level what does it look like to engage in a Digital Transformation?
As a service provider, digital transformation means providing the right people to drive change through work. A digital transformation requires showing and demonstrating new ways of working that deliver value.
Which companies can most benefit from a Digital Transformation?
I think digital transformation is most needed for established enterprises with strong brands and established channels.
Depending on the competitive strategy, the benefits and structure of the transformation will be different. If you’re competing with low prices and high volume, you have to keep the costs low. The digital transformation would be intended to hyper-automate and digitalize the operational processes to stay competitive.
For companies competing with premium products and services, transforming the customer experience is key. Organizations that can use data and digital channels to personalize and provide a richer, smoother experience will benefit the most.
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.
One of our defining and award-winning transformation projects was for students and student loan applications. When the student loan company analyzed their data and realized that every online student application generated, on average, four phone calls to the service center, they knew they needed to make a change.
Nine times out of ten, the first call a student made was to ask to have their password reset. It’s very understandable, students need to reapply each year, and a year is a long time for students to remember their passwords. The second call was usually to ask if the application data was being saved, and then lastly, they would always call to ensure that the application was successfully sent in.
Taking a paper-based application and turning it into a web form wasn’t enough. We worked to transform the service to be digital first, including making it accessible for visually impaired students. Apart from obvious improvements of a self-service password reset and application status lookup services, reminders for unfinished applications and receipts were created. Digital first meant a lot more guidance and ability to reminders and retrieve both unfinished and previous years applications. Yearly, it removed the operational costs of handling over 2 million calls to the call centers.
The next step of the transformation was to align the organization to better support the student applicants. Instead of managing functional processing centers for application processing, approvals, payments and fraud detection, etc., the Emergn team created structures and responsibilities that were service aligned (disabled students’ allowances, vocational students, part-time, etc.) so the services could be improved upon continually.
Has integrating Digital Transformation been a challenging process for some companies? What are the challenges? How do you help resolve them?
Companies that approach digital transformation by setting up a separate “digital” department will have the challenge of merging more modern processes, technologies and solutions with the established organization. That is as challenging as it sounds. It’s better to evolve and drive transformation within the existing organization to help establish new ways of working.
At Emergn, we typically help by addressing and resolving the systemic issues that create friction, whether that’s budgeting, procurement or people processes, so they support a digitally enabled organization.
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.
- By changing their perspectives to align with those of the customers who use their products and services. Organizations should have an omni-channel approach, not multi-channel.
- By using data to enrich and personalize experiences. For example, sentiment analysis can be used in a call center and then fed into a CRM for follow-up purposes.
- By creating a culture of innovation and experimentation. It is critical to remove any barriers to this that an organization has created — intentionally or unintentionally.
- Digital transformation also plays a role in hardware and software cycles. Organizations should drive riving software-defined services.
In your opinion, how can companies best create a “culture of innovation” in order to create new competitive advantages?
Companies can do this by redefining the idea of failure. Failure to learn and failure to improve are real failures. Everything else is learning.
It’s critical that leaders within an organization empower their people and teams to make decisions and take risks. It’s also important to remove constraints to speed. It’s a mindset of discovery, so every company should engineer effective and fast ways to allow and trust people to run tests and experiments. Fast feedback is the key to be able to test and take risks with new ideas.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
It’s from a Swedish classic poem by von Heidenstam. In English translation roughly:
Better listen to a broken string than never having bent a bow.
Conventional wisdom is not always to be trusted. And even if the results of action aren’t great, giving it a proper try moves the status quo. For me it usually tips the scale towards doing and learning something new.
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!