Winnie Palmer of Hewlett Packard Enterprise on digital transformation

The digital transformation leader explains why businesses need to apply technology with a human touch

October 6, 2017

Winnie Palmer on the true purpose of digital transformation

There are few more authoritative voices on the challenges and opportunities of digital transformation than Winnie Palmer of Hewlett Packard Enterprise. She’s helped to lead a transformation process within her own business – and translated that experience into a compelling customer proposition and a mission helping other organisations to build long-term, sustainable futures.

Winnie has done this, not by focusing on the power of the latest technology, but by taking an approach rooted in the human experience of digital transformation. She believes that the key to building successful, sustainable businesses is as much to do with incentivising people the right way as it is to do with investing in the right systems and platforms. And as a B2B marketer at heart, she knows that the greatest value of digital transformation projects comes through the customer experiences that they ultimately deliver.

We were fortunate enough to sit down with Winnie for an hour’s discussion of digital transformation, its importance to business models, and the active role that marketers need to play in making it happen. Here’s what she had to say – it’s a perspective on digital transformation that any business can benefit from:

What’s the most important benefit that a business should be seeking to gain from Digital Transformation?
Many businesses are becoming tech businesses, which is why digital transformation is so important to so many sectors: Government, Financial Services, IT, Education, Manufacturing, Transportation, and more. However, making your business more digital isn’t what digital transformation is really all about. It should be about putting the humanity back into your customer experience.

I think we’re reaching a point where the relationship between digital technology and customer experience is coming full circle. I would argue that the initial excitement about digital technology and automation, with programmatic buying of advertising for example, has taken some of the humanity out of marketing and led to a missing connection with audiences. We’ve lost some of the intimacy that existed with offline experiences.

With Big Data and digital transformation, we’ve got the ability to regain an intimate understanding of individuals – a segmentation of one. Using that sensitively and intelligently, putting respect for the customer at the heart of how we use technology: that’s going to be very important in the experience economy that’s emerging.

When you focus on building that more intimate, respectful relationship with customers, then the scope of digital transformation starts to grow. From a marketing point of view, customer-centricity doesn't just mean a more engaging or a more personalised campaign. It needs to inform the data infrastructure layer, the operating model layer and the processes within your business, the campaign architecture articulating your value proposition, the ecosystem and how you work with customers and partners.

  • Winnie Palmer

Winnie Palmer of Hewlett Packard Enterprise

What’s the most important requirement in a successful Digital Transformation
Every successful transformation needs to have a sense of purpose; it needs to have a meaning. That’s what animates the transformation, drives it forward and gives you focus. Companies need to decide what kind of business they want to be, what kind of conduct is acceptable, whom they want to do business with. They can then lead a purposeful transformation that’s focused on becoming that business.

Within Hewlett Packard Enterprise, I always try to look at digital transformation and sustainability together. The Living Progress Framework, which commits us to developing sustainable solutions to the world’s demand for data and computing power, is a big part of our business strategy. It’s a guiding principle around which our company orients Research and Development, HR, supply chain management, sales and marketing. Therefore it’s the animating force behind every aspect of our digital transformation journey.

Consider the fact that in 2016, the data centres powering the public cloud consumed more energy than Japan and Germany combined. The question of how much energy computers require is fundamental to the sustainability of technology – and the sustainability of the planet. With computing, 90% of the costs relate to energy consumption. We can’t sustain these kinds of operations as the demands of processing Big Data continue to grow. We can’t just keep throwing more computing power at the problem.

A key part of Hewlett Packard Enterprise’ digital transformation has been developing a memory-driven computing architecture, which turns the traditional model of computing systems built around processors on its head. Memory-driven computing puts memory at the centre and uses light rather than copper wire to transmit information. It virtualizes hardware and computing power and cuts energy consumption by up to 90%. It’s a transformative technology that’s focused on building a long-term viable business.

In your experience, what’s the biggest challenge that businesses need to overcome, in order to transform?
There are a lot of buzzwords around digital transformation; a lot of concepts that everybody gets excited about very quickly. However, before you can shift investment to new concepts and priorities, it’s vital to have a clearly mapped out strategy – that understanding of where you are going and why, and how you are going to get there. A lot of digital transformation projects fail because of conflicted priorities and misalignment internally – these are organisational issues rather than technology issues.

Start-ups can become disruptors more easily than established businesses, not because they devote more resource to digital transformation or because they are better at it, but because established businesses are always more conflicted. There has to be an understanding that in the short term, digital transformation will not deliver the same return as your core business. You can’t use your current performance measurement frameworks to judge the value of what you’re doing or you will derail transformation and demotivate everyone involved with it. If you talk in terms of quarterly performance then the team that’s driving transformation for you will be discredited; you’ll make it a very dangerous place to be – and that’s the last thing you want. Geoffrey Moore talks about transformation taking two to three years, so you need a specific treatment of these projects that balances out immediate revenue needs versus the needs of tomorrow.

What advice would you give to businesses embarking on the digital transformation journey?
The Tech layer is tricky in its own right, but it’s a project that can be managed. There are service providers and consultancies out there that can help you to map out a plan for swapping out the right pieces. Connecting and re-connecting databases isn’t the simplest thing to do – but it has been done. Getting the right skills and vision in place to support transformation is often a more serious challenge. You need education, strategy and competency at a leadership level. Only then can you properly support those involved with digital transformation and make sure that conflicting priorities don’t compromise what you’re trying to achieve.

How has your digital transformation experience at Hewlett Packard Enterprise shaped your brand’s proposition to customers?
Our experience of separating Hewlett Packard Enterprise from HP Inc. provided an intense experience of what’s involved in transformation projects. We did it in record time, there was huge complexity involved in building the right customer-facing experiences and the right back-office operations to support them. Despite that complexity, we were pretty successful.

When it came to running demand generation for our new business, we realised that the path we’d undertaken and our experience of the job we’d done, was potentially hugely useful for our customers. We had a real empathy for the challenges they were facing and the pain points involved; we could understand how to provide useful information that respected what they were going through. That’s why we’ve developed a consultancy business helping other organisations to take the same journey that we did. Our experience of digital transformation has informed our business strategy and our value proposition, and it’s driven our campaign architecture too. It’s embodied in our TV ads starring Brian the IT man, who’s reduced to a caricature of himself by being forced to say ‘No’ to everything. Then digital transformation enables him to become a fulfilled, valued professional who can say ‘Yes’. That campaign was driven by what we understood about the human experience of the transformation process.

Should marketers be more involved in the digital transformation process?
All marketers can bring a vital perspective to digital transformation as the voice of the customer. We are the custodians of the customer experience, and we need to bring that external voice to bear in a process where functions can quickly start to focus internally. Market situation, customer needs, emerging trends: these are all vital inputs for digital transformation.

Digital marketers, and particularly B2B digital marketers, are even more valuable. The best digital marketers working in B2B today live and breathe personalisation at scale and Account Based Marketing (ABM). They know that processes that were optimised for yesterday won’t work today. They need a fundamentally different way of doing business if they are to support their sales teams effectively, and deliver the right customer experiences, in an era of social selling at scale. They’ve made the transition from supporting sales, which isn’t scalable, to supporting the fundamentals of selling, which is. That’s exactly the kind of mindset that can support successful digital transformation.