The way we ‘make’ innovation land is changing for so many reasons. Last week I was part of two conversations that made me think again about how we, as digital leaders, are responsible for innovation and change across the width of our businesses. For at least a decade we have been talking and hearing about the move to creating a Digital to the Core culture (Mark Raskino and Graham Waller wrote the book on this after all). Never has this applied more than as we try to take new technologies (or new ways to apply old technologies) and deliver them into businesses that are changing at pace; industries that are no longer defined by what they deliver and more how they deliver to customers.

No greater challenge exists for digital in my business than the physical store moving from bricks and mortar and an unknown future, to new omni and digitally enabled knowns that need to be blended to win. That blending is when we become the catalyst for the changes and where the most challenge exists too. Every retail business, and in fact any business that faces into its customers, knows it has to find a way to ensure that the customer experience of our business is equal regardless of the ‘plane of existence’ that the customer chooses. In many ways we need to find ways to blur the ‘planes’ to such a degree that the customer either no longer notices the difference or certainly doesn’t care.

Yet so much of the simple parts of this are actually really challenging in a business that has been evolving rather than starting from a blank piece of paper right back at the beginning of the journey. Wabi-Sabi the idea that the more imperfect something is the more beautiful it is in the eye of the beholder doesn’t really work with customers who want to have a single interaction with the our business and feel delighted by each and every touch point.

So what are the parameters we need to try…

Revolution in control – a new level of system wide prediction this needs to be agreed and then put in place. We have talked about the pandemic recovery causing us to be unable to forecast customer need against supply and this is across all paradigms of customer interaction. Take the airport debacle of the jubilee weekend or the unprecedented demand on healthcare as just two examples of really poor control’s being considered or applied as all the moving parts of ‘satisfaction’ fail at each touchpoint. The revolution in control needs to be possible across as many touch points as our business can manage, we need to link the capacity of systems (and the definition of systems) to one output, offering excellent customer service. The delivery of a Net Promoter Score to be proud of needs to become as important as the sales and revenue number as we strive to hook up the whole experience as one.

Uncertainty acceptance – planning for the unexpected was always a chore pre-pandemic. After the last few years the never events are now happening on a relatively regular basis. A business now needs to not just plan to survive the never events but to use them as a way to become stronger. Accepting a level of uncertainty on the bets we place to deliver new experiences has become more and more important. As digital leaders we are often the people seeking permission for the bet to be placed we need to find new ways to create assurance around the business case or at least new ways to get closer to delivery so we can stay close to each stage and be ready to intervene at any point that it feels necessary. The acceptance of uncertainty is as difficult as the acceptance of failure. We heard in the last week from a colleague in TCS how they have an IT award that celebrates ‘the most spectacular failure’ through this celebration so much knowledge can be gained and the influence of this award has changed the culture to be more honest about the acceptance of uncertainty from the beginning of each project. In the 30 years I have been involved in technology and transformation we have been driving to get more for less at half the speed; and as technology advances we should be able to move more quickly but at the same time the complexities we introduce by moving in this way are hard acceptances to get to, some how we have to find a measured way to get this right. In a report that came from Retail Week Connect this week 36% of retailers now believe they have a very high risk tolerance when investing in IT, for me this shows a sea change in how we consider the future of IT.

Boundaryless delivery models – The ability for a transformation project to truly be ‘boundaryless’ from inception to lessons learnt has become more important as we recover from the pandemic and the plethora of never events we are in the midst of. But what does it mean; firstly its not advocating grey IT and chaos; what I mean is we need to find ways to be far less precious about where IT is delivered and by whom. As long as we can see how it comes together the boundary we place on IT needs to be blurred as we can no longer do this ourselves in isolation. Since the Robert Wachter recommendation of the CCIO (Chief Clinical Information Officer) in healthcare the move to a more boundaryless culture has been happening, the CCIO jointly owns the IT agenda and by virtue of their position the clinical transformation as well. This has worked so well for IT in healthcare that I want to replicate this somehow for my organisation; it does require a CCIO type person who is a collaborator first and foremost; in the form of a ‘key user’ we have achieved this for our stores but there are two issues here; firstly I hate the term ‘key user’ and secondly it is a very specific store view of the world rather than what we strive for, a business ownership culture. To combat this I see our partnership with the digital part of our organisation and specifically our Chief Digital Officer being key to our business success, as we treat the digital team as an extension of IT and they treat IT as an extension of digital we remove any previous boundary that existed.

Our reaction then to all of this, a new way of working is now being put in place across how we deliver, focusing on the business units that make up Boots services for our customers and patients. The Boots Operating System and the Boots Digital Core are the base of what is needed at a digital and operational transformation level we have retained a technology focused healthcare function too, this will enable that unique focus on this very important part of our business that is somewhat unique in its feel and give us chance to get ahead with healthcare in stores in particular.

This new way of working, this new way of accepting and trying to plan for a new future I think will allow us all as digital leaders to truly shine in so many new ways, I am excited for what next week, next month and next year will bring.