I was reading a Pitchfork retrospective article about the seminal electronic band Boards of Canada the other day and a phrase came up,

Avoiding the timely, they aim to achieve the timeless

…and I fell in love with what it means and how it can be applied to what we try to do with digital in retail and in healthcare today.

That race to the bottom of a commodity business is painful, any organisation knows the initial excitement of a new service or offering soon dissipates into a cost lowering exercise unless new value can be found and then found again and again. I believe a digital first attitude allows any organisation to build the ability to offer timelessness as a delivery culture and aspiration for every product. The article about Boards of Canada called out the band and how they went about making music that wasn’t of the moment to ensure that it remained timeless. Go listen to a few of their songs and I challenge you to place the era it comes from.

What I want us to do with a digital delivery culture is create a timeless offering for our customers and colleagues.

The role of digital leaders in any organisation in 2020 has to be the translator of what digital can do. How does it differentiate, how does it offer an efficiency, how does it make work easier. The new paradigm in digital has to be a timeless experience for the customer of the ‘thing’ on offer. In the quarter that Tesla posted astronomical profits and secured itself a new position in the stock market analysts were again pouring over the company culture and ethos. A Tesla is timeless, why, because it is delivered as a digital solution first and a car second. As a Tesla owner I can upgrade my car, I can personalise my car and I can keep doing this as time goes on, Musk has forever changed the automotive industry by taking the culture of a successful digital start-up and applying it to a global giant of automotive manufacturing and perhaps most importantly the delivery of the car to the front door step of anyone.

The Gartner analyst Mark Raskino earlier in a 2020 webinar described how we need to use the current crisis as the ‘Gravity Sling’ to speed up the delivery of digital. When you look at 2020 that has happened but sustaining it and ensuring that the timelessness of the delivery is just as important as the race to the ‘front door’ for the customer to admire and acquire. The gravity sling that has been created and has made a difference but we need to protect the delivery advances made from the sling shot. Lets not let it return the rocket ship of innovation and change back to a low earth orbit.

We can and should do this by considering the end result more and the route to get there less. The customer proposition created by the sling shot of change has offered a new experience in 2020, be that the volume and capacity changes of eCommerce or a seeing a clinician via a video link, the customer proposition must not be turned back and its our job as champions of digital to ensure the route is forward not a return trajectory.

One way we are doing this in my team is to keep grasping at the customer proposition, understanding what exists and collaborating with colleagues in marketing to ensure that new solutions start and end with what the customer wants. Customers in 2020 have learnt so much they do not want to go backwards.

We learnt the hard way earlier in 2020 and rushed to deliver first only to have to refine later. It was the right thing to do, to be quick to offer the customer the solution they wanted from us but based on the fact (not assumption) that we would go back and rework the quick solution. We knew we had to ensure it was ultimately centered not on the art of the technology possibilities but on the customer needs and what we proposed to the customer we could deliver. And now as we go back around the solution we can base change on ensuring that the customer proposition is at the heart of what is delivered. The difference as we revisit the solution though is striking, how you go about ‘hardening’ a solution that is already there and making the customer journey more explicitly at the center of the delivery ethos, this changes every conversation. In the case I allude to here we have had huge success in the service improvement programme, but that isn’t always the case, trying to improve something with technical debt or proposition debt built in can be costly and painful to achieve, but if you do embark on delivery with a Minimum Viable Product ethos then, no matter how hard, I believe you have to go back and move from minimal to proposition-full.

NB – I would love to get others views here though, as I know this is a little controversial.

Even building the case for change can be hard, it works, it delivers a service or it makes money could be the response you get when you, as a digital leader ask for investment in something that has been delivered to a time and target knowing full well it was not timeless in its customer proposition offering. I have been here so frequently in my healthcare career in particular, the Summary Care Record go live in Bolton and Bury decades back was done to hit a date not to deliver service, it was a knife and fork IT job to get those first sites live, they offered very little benefit to anyone other than teaching us all we couldn’t do it like that in the future. It took years to secure new funding though to do sites differently and to create more benefit. The same could be said of the Individual Health Identifier in Ireland too, a number was created for everybody which hit the political imperative of the system being live but it took a long time before the number became useful and a resource investment that was always needed eventually had to be made to make it work.

But letting great be the enemy of good is a phrase that is used a great deal in 2020. We have been able to apply this phrase and maintain the ethos of timeless delivery by simply trying hard to keep the customer proposition at the forefront. What does a customer or patient want from a digital experience?

Remove friction, ensure the experience is timely, knowledgeful, and secure.

We think these are the capture-all phrases for the digital customer experience, so much can be sub texts to these categories but ultimately these are the headings we want to hook our customer proposition to.

When we look at what we have learnt in year, 2020 has taught us to improvise, and yet we have had no let-up in the year to compose our thoughts and to truly learn from what we have learnt whilst on the move. We have to keep moving up through the gears of delivery whilst trying to remain focused on what the perception of what we bring is maintained to the highest level. A digital leader in 2020 is under new pressures that’s for sure and there is no let up insight, if we want to deliver for customers though then we must harness this, that has to be what drives us up the hill, even if the hill has no peak.

Digitalising the value proposition is at the top of the scale of excellence for us all, getting there is a journey that relies on a lot of help from teams and disciplines that are somewhat alien to the old school way of delivering technology change. Be honest though, we always wanted to do this, its not the crisis that has created the need to get here, we wanted, as leaders, to get there before, now we have the agenda lets find ways to make sure we deserve to keep hold of it. 2020 has taught us to improvise, so lets do this whilst only making the right compromises.

Keep the best and reset the rest.