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Rachel Murphy
June 20, 2018


One of the greatest benefits of running a business in 2018 has to be the opportunity to utilise digital technology and using it to transform your companies operational processes. I’ve shared below some of the ways we at Difrent are using technology to work more efficiently and to gain a competitive edge, but I’ve also opened this out to share some cracking examples of innovators who are doing some proper exciting stuff in this space!

In a vain attempt to put some structure around this I have pulled thoughts together from half a dozen different areas; Digital collaboration tools, Empowering and enabling an Agile workforce, Talent acquisition in the digital age, using Digital to improve internal business processes, the impact of digital on operations and the supply chain, and a nod to Automation and artificial intelligence for enterprises.

Digital collaboration tools — We (collectively) are awash with the options available to us in this space right now, as a business Difrent uses a mash-up of; WhatsApp, Slack, Google Docs, Dropbox, JIRA, Trello, Appear. In, Google Hangouts and a whole heap of different devices to make these happen. Fair to say there is still not a day that goes by where a standup doesn’t flip between a few of these options as a regular occurrence!

Empowering and enabling an agile workforce — This for me is perhaps less about technology and more about a mindset, of course, people need the kit and the tools to make this work but this is about attitude and wanting to engage, collaborate, share, learn and be taught. I regularly say in interviews, in fact pretty much anywhere, I honestly couldn’t care less where people are working providing the job gets done. People need to be trusted to crack on and deliver set objectives, how they make these happen is up to them.

Talent acquisition in the digital age — Absolutely one of my fave subjects! It’s a toughie and was one of my biggest challenges in previous CIO roles; it is no different since I’ve come into Difrent. The bottom line is a lot of the time the skills and attitude we are looking for as a business aren’t out there, and they need to be grown. A great example of this is when we were recently recruiting Grads for Difrent, over 300 people applied. We whittled this down through various stages to a series of Assessment Centres and then our Founder, and I joined a final couple of these and took a shortlist of 20 down to three for an interview and then hired two. Then the real work started, for them and us. We both gave up a week of our time to onboard them directly with us, this was a massive investment (and possibly freaked them out a bit), but boy did we get to know each other and did they get first-hand experience of exactly what Difrent meant to us, how things ran and our vision for the future. Another challenge for us has been moving the company from 95% interims to a 70/30 split over the last eight months; it is hard graft finding the right talent and again a considerable investment when we do. Tools like Pluralsight help immensely, but a lot of the time for us we need to really immerse people into a delivery squad mentality from day one. That being said, I think this is a huge challenge for every organisation in the UK in every sector, possibly wider. We aren’t alone with this, companies like FDM have implemented a great operating model here to grow talent, something we will be looking at keenly later this year! Hangouts, Meetup’s, Universities, co-working spaces are all good hunting grounds for talent, but new ideas in this space are hard to come by. ‘Grow your own’ still feels like the safest way to me, although absolutely not the fastest!

Using digital to improve internal business processes — This is such an obvious one and yet proves so hard to kick into touch. Within Difrent we have built an automated finance/timesheet/invoicing solution but by no means is it entirely slick right now! We’ve started, eight months in, to have Board meetings where we bring useful data and reports along for discussion, be it training data from our Pluralsight platform, analytics from our digital presence, social media and sentiment analysis.

The impact of digital on operations and the supply chain — some real industry examples of progress in this space lie in the use of robotics in a supply chain environment, driverless vehicles and drones:

  • Robotics in a supply chain: I’ve often used the Ocado example as being cutting edge in this space. Ocado’s move to a Tech company back in 2000 signalled their intention, and it’s been hammered home since, this two-minute video is well worth a watch!

  • Driverless vehicles: There has been a lot of speculation about driverless cars, my first memory being a reminder of Back to the Future II (defo the best of the trilogy too!). Although, I think they were flying not driverless but regardless; Uber and Tesla have had a look in this space, with mixed results so far and To be fair, if someone had told me I would have seen the changes in Tech I have in my lifetime I wouldn’t have believed them. I still remember my first sales director reading out emails that came in on a 56k modem. I have no doubt that driverless motors are just around the corner and fair to say I will be first in the queue!

Automation and artificial intelligence for enterprises: Having spent the last few years working within the Health space I fear my examples may reside almost entirely within that sector, that being said, there is so much exciting progress here why wouldn’t I! Robot-assisted surgery is probably my favourite example in this category, this absolutely blows my mind and is on the increase UK wide for surgeries including prostate, bladder and kidney, a market that is estimated to be worth £6bn by 2020

Deepmind and Babylon have really rattled the cages of commissioners over the last couple of years with the advent of AI and Machine Learning, bringing this tech and ability to access services to life in a way this sector just hasn’t seen before.

In summary, there are lots of new ways of working and tools to help make this easier from a tech perspective, but for me, I still love personal interaction. We tried to run totally virtual, within eight months we ended up with two offices in the South that we’re consolidating and adding a second in Newcastle later this year. You can empower people through tech, but attitude is still the key differentiator! Talent pretty much needs to be grown, with the help of established and emerging tech but nothing beats interaction on a face-to-face level.

People like People.