top of page

Digital Transformation requires Digital Empathy.

Updated: Feb 22, 2023

If an enterprise wants to achieve growth right here and right now, it needs to create digital solutions that excite beyond the usual measures of business viability and technical feasibility. These new digital products need elevated consumer desirability. The consumer need not know how a solution was created; instead, they want an emotional need met. This fact implies an emotional journey for IT with logic sprinkled in; not a logical journey aggressively managed with technical Key Performance Indicators (KPIs.)

The reality today is that less than 2% of the KPIs we use in IT are based on the desirability factors of customer experience, empathy, and emotions. Is it no surprise that many digital solutions fail, if not wholly then at least partially?

We have a bridge to join these left-brain / right-brain viewpoints and resolve sad state KPIs in a collaborative manner that elevates, encapsulates and codifies.

eXperience Level Agreements (XLA): The shelf and the bookends of a successful digital transformation

We position an XLA as the foundation to (re)design enterprise IT to Human-centric IT. It focuses on business impact and user experience, leading to a new concrete way of thinking, doing, measuring and reporting. It is an exchange of ideas that accelerate the value creation of every transformation journey an enterprise might engage on. Over the years, I have seen how an XLA based approach improves outcomes; from sourcing, post-merger integration, onboarding, impact businesses, DevOps, and new digital propositions – to name a few.

Why is XLA important now and how does our approach need to change from what has gone before?

Join me on a journey…

In the ’80s and ’90s, like many other IT executives, I struggled to tame extreme levels of technology growth (100% annually.) Moving from a mainframe-centric world to a client/server-centric world, entailed a proliferation of technology, and we were all struggling to control it and use it to deliver service. I coined the term ‘frustration gap’ to indicate the perpetual breach between business aspirations and our ability to meet those expectations. For many organizations, part of the solution was to seek help from outsourcing companies. To deal with both challenges, growth, and outsourcing, we needed a codified process for IT service management. It was essential to weathering the storm. These experiences led to my contribution to the development of what is now known as ITIL.

Taking those learnings, the founding brothers and sisters introduced ITIL best practice to organizations throughout the world. To solidify best practice, we initiated a new training and certification scheme as well as a user body to govern these new best practices. ITIL was a fantastic success. By 2007, the world of IT seemed to be in a much better place. My colleague at ING, Danny O’Connor, was fond of saying, “while IT can sometimes be a painful experience, but remember that today most things work well, most of the time.”

While Danny is/was correct, the new ITSM structures came at a cost. The introduction of SLA’s (Service Level Agreements) had presented a set of rules, procedures, and structures that, instead of engaging the customers often created a distance between IT and the business or customers it served. Worse, the little helpers of SLA, the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), were causing grief as IT departments and their suppliers focused more on the how than the way of service. We felt the pain during every review period. Each technology stakeholder was convinced that their performance was in line with SLAs, while our business stakeholders felt very differently about the standard of service they were experiencing.

The meltdown of the financial services industry in 2008 created a tsunami of disdain that washed away 30 years of conventional thinking. Trust in our institutions eroded, faith in agreements and KPIs as indicators of excellent performance diluted. The entire industry now embraced the idea that financial continuity was dependent on an enduring positive relationship with customers. Next, to traditional ideas about profit and risk, new variables such as trust, value and net promoter scores became prevalent.

As a reaction to this development, at ING Bank, we formed a team to create the ING Customer Experience and Innovation Centre. Teaming with industry luminaries like Richard Newland, Bruce Temkin, and supported by visionary executives Saul van Beurden, Tony Kerrison, Ron van Kemenade, and Peter Jacobs. Our focus quickly morphed from a singular emphasis on control of service to additional focus on experience creation. With creation came a new repertoire of competencies: Personas, Journeys and Empathy Maps. Design Thinking gradually supplanted Configuration Management, Availability and Technical Architecture. The latest thinking required new approaches. Agile, Scrum, DevOps, CD/CI were all added to the equation. With their arrival came Scrum Masters, Squads, and Tribes. It all looked, and for a considerable time, felt, amazing.

And then the stall!

While some organizations have benefited immensely from these new approaches; for other organizations, the introduction of innovation, agile-working, and DevOps created the illusion of change. After the tremendous initial results in terms of collaboration, and feature time to market; as tribes and squads grow, their efficiency starts to wane, tracking good outcomes becomes more challenging. In short, the actual customer experience is often lagging the expectations the new world suggested it could deliver.

Consider that in 2019, 90% of CEOs feel they aren’t meeting their customer needs, 85% of CEOs don’t think Technology is performing critical functions, 90% of digital transformation projects delivered only minor improvements or failed.

This isn’t for want of trying. 75% of CFOs agree that digital transformation is critical, 23% in the short-term and 56% in the long-term. 69% of CFOs plan to increase technology investment in 2019 to speed business change.

What is holding us back?

An essential ingredient for business transformation, especially one based on digital technologies, is context-based collaboration. Unlike content, context is not the prerogative of a single domain. Creating context is a creative undertaking where people from different backgrounds, and experience, co-create a new brand promise. Working with multi-disciplinary teams has not been common practice for organizations. For technologists, this was never going to be a comfortable journey. So, what do we mean by journey here? The journey is the end-to-end experience a customer encounters with your digital product over time. Also, if we just measure and think about the direct interactions with customers only, we miss those meaningful indirect interactions and impressions that come from the overall journey end to end.

There are apparent direct interactions like calls to the help desk that we can measure with one or more touchpoint KPIs. However, customer experience also comes from indirect interactions like handoffs between siloed internal organizations, charging for customer support, unrealized complexity in how a customer deals with you, or even your customer friend’s negative opinions. Unhappy customers aren’t fed up with one single phone call, field visit, or a salesperson’s single touchpoint. It’s the cumulative customer experience across multiple touchpoints and in various ways over time: the journey.

The discomfort is not just for IT either; lawyers, procurement professionals, risk officers, compliance officers, financial administrators have all operated in silos for generations. The lack of true multidisciplinary

teaming is why most digital transformation projects never get beyond the phase of the shiny object. i.e. an attractive mobile app grafted onto an ugly and complex legacy system. Often these legacy systems shroud valuable data in a tundra-like state inhibiting the creation of value.

We have come to realize that we will need to change our approach from service level design and management to experience design and management, from data tundra, and data gravity to data liquidity. It is refreshing to see that ITIL4 is now synchronizing with the rest of the industry and embracing the concepts of co-creation, experience, outcomes, and service value chains.

However, how can an enterprise that wants to achieve growth, create digital propositions that attract team members internally and consumers externally with the goal that these stakeholders choose to bind themselves to that proposition?

A Different Approach

We have adopted a Grower’s Creed, this is a set of ‘how we do things around here’ statements designed to create and foster context-based collaboration.

In our world, XLA is a dialogue between diverse stakeholders. It is how we create a shared context by combining what others know well with what we know differently. When we create a shared context, we also amplify respect. Quoting Indian actor Ranbir Kapoor, “If there is a sense of respect and belief among the people you work with, that is when good work is done.”

XLA dialogue has respect at its core. Marco Gianotten the originator of XLA, and author of the book, Digital Empathy, explains that “an SLA is a contract, but an XLA is a commitment.” In the same way, KPI’s are essentially contractual items; whereas Xperience Indicators (XI’s) are milestones on the co-created journey with the employee or customer to making good on your brand promise.

So how do we make XLA the shelf and the bookends of an accelerated transformation?

We distinguish between the digital propositions that we wish to create to drive enterprise growth and the digital transformation that needs to occur to make these propositions possible. A digital proposal can be something like a solution that helps a specialist in a hospital treat people in their home; whereas a transformation means changing the way things are done to create that proposition.

In the CitrusCollab world, we get to a digital proposition in a new way. That digital proposition is ultimately a product of Patterns, Possibilities, and Pathways

Patterns: Shared wisdom identifies patterns that provide us with clues as to potential propositions. These patterns are usually derived from observation, engagement, and data. In this phase, we are combining left-brain facts, with right-brain context. Once we have settled on the patterns, we would like to work on; we move on to researching possibilities to capitalize on these patterns.

Possibilities: This is often the domain of the digital experts, who best understand what digital possibilities will help us to take advantage of the patterns.

Once we have established patterns and possibilities, it is an excellent time to introduce design thinking, where we Dream, Discover, and Design.

Dream: Here we take the patterns and possibilities and create a ‘dream’ that the team can commit to.

Discover: Then we research the opportunities and obstacles to achieving this. Usually, this is where we can leverage the experience of team members, although this is the phase where we also run into what Marco Gianotten calls the not-to-do list and conditional yesses. In other words, honestly and openly killing off the inherent inertia that will otherwise hold us back.

Once we have worked our way through the previous phases of Patterns and Possibilities, we are ready to design our transformation.

Design: At this point, it is smart to consider in parallel the Pathways to realization. Design and Pathways go together, and they usually require the active contribution of newly minted digital natives as well as the wisdom of established team members with knowledge and experience of the company to join forces for an optimal outcome. Experience is essential to creating Pathways for change in an enterprise.

If all has gone to plan, we have a designed experience that is both a commitment and a conviction for the team. However, none of this is useful if we do not execute. Execution requires the bookends for the solution.

In the Collab, we fully endorse the thinking of industry luminaries in the development world like Fin Goulding and Mik Kersten towards outcome-based flow frameworks. We see their ideas as entirely complementary to XLA design. XLA and FLOW is the bookend at the start of the journey. At the other bookend, the output end, we need to design the measurement of the XLA. We need to know whether we have an actionable warranty on the promised experience. As Mike Tyson famously said, “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”

So, we need a measurement that combines the material content (hard data) with the personal context (sentiment data). For this part of the journey, CitrusCollab has teamed with Pedro Bados and the Nexthink team to bring the Digital Employee Experience (DEE) into the Home of XLA. The DEE framework creates a series of XpIs, (Experience indicators) that inform us as to the success of the actual design when it meets reality.

So, in conclusion, what’s different about XLAs 2019?

XLAs in 2019 is about respectful dialogue. It’s about context. It’s about marrying the content-rich expertise of the technology teams with the aspirations, emotions, context, and interpretations of those residing outside of technology. It is about combining cyber with psych, seamless context-based collaboration, not static standalone transactions.

In our earlier example, we looked at helping the hospital specialist treat people in their homes. To achieve this, we will need sensors, monitoring, communications, processes. However, for this to be an experience all of those aspects need to be designed with digital empathy. The proposition is a success when it works technically AND when both the specialist and the patient value the experience, we have now co-created with them.

As we get better at this, we will adequately ignite the growth engine that digital innovation promises.

*Source Giarte Media, 2018 ^ source Digital Empathy: Marco Gianotten Tess van Genderen, Uitgever: Giarte Media Group B.V ISBN 9789082556407

24 views0 comments


bottom of page