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Ellen Daley of Acorio: “Without a doubt, the biggest challenges are not technical”

Without a doubt, the biggest challenges are not technical. Digital Transformation problems have nothing to do with digital, they have everything to do with changing hearts and minds of people. Digital Transformations guarantees that employees are going to do their job differently, plain and simple, and the harsh reality is that the majority of humans are […]

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Without a doubt, the biggest challenges are not technical. Digital Transformation problems have nothing to do with digital, they have everything to do with changing hearts and minds of people.

Digital Transformations guarantees that employees are going to do their job differently, plain and simple, and the harsh reality is that the majority of humans are averse to change. That reluctance is Digital Transformation’s biggest challenge.


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 Ellen Daley.

Ellen Daley brings more than 25 years of broad technical and management experience across software, research, and services to Acorio. As an industry leader, Ellen’s past firms include Deloitte, ArcStream Solutions, and Forrester Research, where she sat on the Executive team and lead their Business Technology Practice, providing consulting and research for IT leaders globally in Asia, Europe, and North America.


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?

I started my career in a completely opposite direction of where I am now. I first worked for 14 years as a Physicist specializing in underwater acoustics (super esoteric), which is where I learned my way around computers. Then in 1997, when this thing called ‘The Internet’ was getting big, I knew I wanted some part of it. My brother told me that he thought management consulting firms hired people with unusual backgrounds like mine, so I interviewed with four of them and got a job with Deloitte. I loved the mix of business and technology.

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?

So many, but one thing that stays with me every day is the reminder of who I work for — my team. Early in my career I was embarrassingly intolerant of people whom I perceived as slower than me, or as intruding on my time for work. About 15 years ago, a mentor heard me bark at one of my team members, telling them that I ‘didn’t have time’ for them and to ‘figure it out’ themselves. Fortunately, this mentor respected me enough to follow up afterwards with some candid, much-needed advice. He sat me down and said, ‘Ellen, as a leader your only job is to have time for your folks so they can bring their best self to work and to our clients’. I remind myself of his words every day.

Beyond that, I have messed up a lot! I’ve even gotten on the wrong plane to the wrong city for a client presentation — twice!

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?

I don’t believe I would have said this 20 years ago, but since then, I have learned that passion and perseverance is what makes someone great. My mother, a single mom of six, was always tough, modeling tenacity for us with no time ever for self-pity. The idea she instilled in me that I can do anything stays with me still today, no matter how challenging my circumstances.

My mom has been the largest influence to my success. She wasn’t traditionally educated through college, but has always had a natural sense of curiosity and desire (even today at 90 years old) to try new things simply for the experience and her love of learning. I hope to be like that.

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 LOVE the book The Prophet by Kahil Gibran. I’m not traditionally religious, but I became fascinated with the concept that if you repeat something enough or continuously practice a habit then it will eventually become who you are — your whole self. In other words, routines empower individuals to change ourselves, not just superficially but deeply and throughout. This is a very powerful concept to me.

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 Acorio started, we had a singularity of purpose — to be the best partner of ServiceNow. From the beginning, we identified the four constituents we served: 1) Clients 2) Employees 3) Investors 4) Community. Our vision focused on maximizing and optimizing outcomes for each of these groups, along with the right level of commitment and people.

Are you working on any new, exciting projects now? How do you think that might help people?

Our acquisition by NTT Data Services last year has really opened the door for what’s possible for Acorio and our clients in 2021 and beyond. For us, it means we can grow faster, with expanded opportunities for our team. For our clients, it means high quality ServiceNow services on a global scale to further accelerate their business outcomes and fulfill their Digital Transformation roadmaps.

Covid-19 and the current business environment has greatly accelerated the transformation needs of our clients, and with that, their Digital Transformation needs are getting even bigger. In response to this expansion of needs for the platform, we’ve doubled down on team training, allocating additional time for individuals to explore their own ServiceNow learning paths — because we know that autonomy and support is what will best prepare them to tackle new business challenges arising for clients.

Our recent acquisition provides us with additional investment to fund even more innovation and training for our teams this year, culminating in the rollout of Acorio’s Continuing Education (ACE) initiative, which reserves six working days throughout the year for each of our team members to focus on individual career training and innovating on the platform.

Another opportunity that I find most exciting with NTT DATA Services is its focus on Dynamic Workplace Services. NTT DATA understands that employee experience, productivity and satisfaction are critical to employees of any modern enterprise to move with agility to grow new digital offerings and compete for new customers.

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?

Today’s customer thinks and acts differently than their predecessors. The evolution of mobile devices and our ability to get what we want anywhere, at any time, has created a massive opportunity — and challenge — for businesses. It has put the onus on our digital channels to be the face of the brand, and that is significant for every functional group within an organization: human resources, sales, product, etc.

Digital Transformation, in my view, is aligning talent, technology, processes, and outcomes to enable cross-functional initiatives with the goal of creating a digital-first organization. It centers on connectivity, so while disparate digital functions — like ERP solutions, which solve complex financial issues, or CRM technologies that allow us to digitally capture our customer interactions — have advanced our firms mightily, they lack the necessary visibility to enable cross-functional initiatives. In turn, this increased connectivity ramps up efficiency, which improves customer and employee satisfaction, and drives up profitability.

Tactically, Digital Transformation is about combining process and technology to drive real change. Engaging in a Digital Transformation starts with creating a Transformation Roadmap with desired outcomes. Your Roadmap should identify business needs and outline a multi-year process plan to tackle the identified objectives. Be sure to track all elements of talent, systems, processes, and outcomes.

Which companies can most benefit from a Digital Transformation?

I always say that all companies can benefit from Digital Transformation, although there are some industries where it’s needed more so than others. Specifically, just this year, COVID-19 has exposed that healthcare providers of all types (e.g., visiting nurses) have been a little bit of the cobbler’s children in terms of technology that helps the nurses, the Support staff, and even the doctors do their jobs really well. There’s an opportunity to not only reinvent how technology and Digital Transformation can help providers, but to also really cut costs as well.

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.

FORTUNE 500 Health Insurance Provider. This multi-billion dollar health insurance provider embarked on a journey to revolutionize its HR processes with one goal in mind — improving the lives of its 40,000+ employees through meaningful digital transformation. With an existing HR environment that was not empowering its employees to do their best work, the organization knew change was needed. Already convinced of the value of ServiceNow, which was used by IT, they had a vision to break down siloes and consolidate into a single version of the platform that would support the entire enterprise. The Fortune 500 company enlisted the help of Acorio to implement ServiceNow’s HRSD and streamline the platform to create a single version of the truth.

This project has totally transformed the way this healthcare payer’s employees work — they now enjoy a new unified HR and IT Portal, and an optimized system to log in and self-serve. Both their IT and HR departments had distinctly different cultures which made the project all that much more of a smashing success — they successfully integrated both projects and transformed processes, reduced systems, and collaborated to provide a single location for employees to request HR or IT help and search for knowledge articles.

Agility is now standard in this Fortune500 health insurance company. When COVID-19 hit, their ServiceNow environment gave them the capability to deploy an emergency solution to provide relief for their employees as well as communicate changes brought on by COVID-19 using knowledge articles and campaigns.

International Medical Company. After being acquired by an international pharmaceutical company 10 years ago, this medical company was ready to separate from its parent company and realize an ambitious two-year plan to open and independently operate 150+ global sites.

To become a standalone organization and move forward with their newfound autonomy, they needed to develop an internal IT infrastructure that would support these goals, ultimately choosing ServiceNow’s IT Service Management (ITSM) solution. The platform enabled them to achieve their growth vision, all under a strict timeline and regulatory requirements.

With the help of Acorio, the Biopharma now has the basis of a comprehensive ITSM environment suitable for a major corporation. This environment meets GxP regulatory requirements and will be used for years to come as they roll out the use of this environment across their many locations nationwide. This agility will be crucial for them to navigate changes in the life sciences industry through 2021 and beyond. Up next on the shortlist: enabling Finance and Procurement Service Management in the company’s ServiceNow instance.

Navy Federal Credit Union. As one of the largest credit unions in the United States, this client prides itself on delivering a fantastic experience for its employees and members alike. Aiming to redefine their employee experience to unlock a better customer experience for their members, the firm sought out ServiceNow’s unique ability to connect and streamline siloed business processes and provide accurate reporting and clear audit trails.

Seeking the visibility, agility, and real-time reporting needed to enable long-term security, the credit union engaged Acorio in an Advisory project that first identified the client’s desired outcomes, then crafted a tailored Roadmap by working backward from those goals. Implementing a true Enterprise Service Management platform like ServiceNow that gives a holistic overview of all operations transformed not only their security and risk management but also their employee and customer experience.

With its new baseline in ServiceNow, the Credit Union now has a single system of truth that allows them to confidently pass audits with less time and effort. While successfully reducing risk and driving connectivity across ITSM processes, they have also granted employees and leadership more visibility and reduced entropy making their employees more effective and empowered than ever before.

Has integrating Digital Transformation been a challenging process for some companies? What are the challenges? How do you help resolve them?

Without a doubt, the biggest challenges are not technical. Digital Transformation problems have nothing to do with digital, they have everything to do with changing hearts and minds of people.

Digital Transformations guarantees that employees are going to do their job differently, plain and simple, and the harsh reality is that the majority of humans are averse to change. That reluctance is Digital Transformation’s biggest challenge.

The solution lies in getting customer leadership to really set a North Star for what these Digital Transformation efforts will bring, and then actually following up with a promised execution of that plan to bring the rest of the team along, which can be very programmatic from a cultural perspective.

When these efforts fail, we see that there’s usually just not enough time and respect put into consideration for the people who are closest to the work that we’re changing. A lot of time and effort has to go into persuading them to adapt because most people, particularly those in high talent areas, don’t respond well to just telling them their work has changed.

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 company (doesn’t matter if it’s a small company or big company) today is still doing an immense amount of manual effort. So when I think about Digital Transformation, I think about taking that busy work and figuring out the workflows and processes behind it to free up more time for the team to give people more eyes on other work but then also to make sure that there’s less failures or mistakes in it. With that, there’s several key examples that jump to mind:

The first example is absolutely HR support. There is no reason today that employees should have to deal with sub-par employee experience, having to search a random question into a portal or wait to find out about valuable information that affects your life like benefits or how to add a new baby on your insurance. Employee Experience should serve team members proactively so they have the information they need, before they need it.

The second one, I think that many people are under the impression that we have already solved it (Spoiler: we haven’t) is our customer workflows. Although we solved the problem of answering our customer service phone lines more quickly, most companies still report low ratings for their customer support services. This is because we’ve ignored the workflows that extend beyond the veneer of answering the phone. After that first step, the customer’s request still has to work through various silos before anyone can actually resolve their problem. Connecting these siloes is one of the largest opportunities for Digital Transformation.

Third, without a question is our technology. Technology is the DNA of how we do the business of IT service management. It’s how we give white glove support so people everywhere can do their jobs more productively, from giving them the correct equipment when they onboard, all the way to making sure they get prompt responses to HR or IT requests. Right now I see a tremendous opportunity for how we can further optimize technology to help clients.

The last two items that we should look at focus on the way we engage with all our employees against all their asks: legal, finance, etc. That really creates not just points four and five on this list, but points four, five, six, seven, eight, and so on. We should support our employees to the same degree which we support our customers. Are you asking how you can optimize your employees’ journey and experience so they can do the best work for your customers?

Those five areas are where we’re seeing our clients really jump in with both feet and expand past a simple implementation service. The answer is really about redefining your processes to align with best practice, and ServiceNow is absolutely the best platform to ensure optimization of processes in that manner.

In your opinion, how can companies best create a “culture of innovation” in order to create new competitive advantages?

I’m always surprised that innovation comes from the most unlikely of places. When I was at my last job, every time we tried to create a culture and program for innovation, innovation never came from there.

When I think of a true culture of innovation, I think a lot about Daniel Pink’s concepts: giving people the opportunity to master their domain, and second, giving them autonomy to make decisions around items that impact them. Then, and I don’t think Daniel Pink said this one, we should reward individuals to recognize and celebrate when they’re doing well.

These pillars create a space in which innovation happens organically because it rewards employees for their creativity. This recognition is what drives a genuine culture of innovation, along with extending autonomy to people so they can fix problems they see. At first, that autonomy can be really hard for people like me who are control freaks, but you have to learn to really let go if you want innovation to flourish.

Once you can do that, it’s amazing the type of stuff that people will do. For example, every time that I’ve had to step out of a meeting or workshop, it always seems like somebody thinks of much better ideas than I ever could. So, in short, my advice is to give people more autonomy to innovate and make sure they’re aware that your team encourages and celebrates innovation, and innovation will follow.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

There is no ‘them’, only ‘us’. It’s a simple phrase, but I really believe the idea that it takes a village, in both personal and professional life. I used to be much more individually-minded until I realized, especially as an ex-scientist, that we’re all standing on the shoulders of giants.

We end every Acorio all-hands call with the quote “There is no ‘them’, only ‘us’” because it captures a sense of optimism and inclusion, while also charging our team with the responsibility that we can all make things better. It’s about asking how we can come together as a team and get people excited to actually do it.

How can our readers further follow your work?

You can follow Acorio on our blog, Twitter, and LinkedIn. I’m also personally active on LinkedIn and share content there.

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