Courtney Hemphill, Partner at West Monroe, on What It Means for a Company “to be Digital”

Courtney Hemphill, Partner at West Monroe, on What It Means for a Company “to be Digital”

Interview by Ricardo Esteves
Published: October 28, 2022

Regardless of the field or industry, any company that wants to be moderately successful today needs to embark on a transitioning a business into digital form journey. But where to begin? What software to use? What about cyber-security and compliance?

That’s where companies like West Monroe come in, consulting and assisting businesses in making the switch to going digital.

To learn more about the procedure for transitioning a business into digital form, we got in touch with Courtney Hemphill, Partner at West Monroe.

Courtney Hemphill has vast expertise in the field, ranging from writing software code to developing strategies, making her a great choice to get companies up to speed with the digital world.

Spotlight: What exactly does it mean for a business “to be digital” against merely “going digital”, as West Monroe puts it?

Courtney Hemphill: Being a digital business is a spectrum -- those starting on their journey, those somewhere along it and those at the leading age. It is a never-ending process.

True digital companies leverage a combination of people, process and technology to create a digital vision to ultimately develop winning products and integrated experiences that resonate and succeed in the market.

Who you hire is incredibly important in becoming a digital business. Companies need to hire people with the right skills and capabilities– and then they need to provide an inspiring and inclusive experience so that they keep them.

They need to not only understand the right technologies to invest in, but also how to limit the amount of technical debt they take on by not building everything, only the things that matter.

Anything that doesn’t meet customer needs or business outcomes is wasteful. Ruthless prioritization is the most effective way to create high performing organizations.

The digital vision cannot be stagnant and must continue to evolve and be responsive as the market changes. The process to becoming a digital business isn’t the same for every company and involves leadership, operations, teams and systems to work together.

Official West Monroe logo
[Source: West Monroe]

For businesses looking into digital transformation, what are the main steps they should take in order to successfully transition?

It takes a digital mindset to drive real change.

Transformation starts at the top, is fed from the bottom and wins in the middle. Executives must embrace change and be ready for it; it is an investment of time and resources and will require tough decision making and evolve their ways of thinking and working.

It’s also critical to engage their product teams to learn what is going well and what can improve; and then collaborate on winning solutions.

Finally, the vision for change must translate down through the middle layers of the organization so everyone truly “thinks digital.”

What have you found to be the most challenging roadblocks for a company looking to transition into a digital model?

The management layer of organizations is always the hardest area to change given it is the supporting matrix between the leadership and the talent that delivers on the business vision.

That matrix often is calcified by embedded incentives, historical norms and a network of relationships supporting old ways of collaborating. This middle layer needs buy-in from external leadership and day to day coaching to help reform a new structure.

Companies will only become digital businesses when there is a common vision and progressive ways of working.

Can you share one case study you had with a client, your insights and how you quantified its success?

At West Monroe, I worked with a hyper-growth fintech to develop an internal tool to manage transactions that were losing the company millions of dollars per month.

Developing that tool was a high priority but finding an internal team that could stand up that kind of platform quickly and develop the operational structure around it was almost impossible given all the other priorities in flight.

We helped the company pilot the platform, stand up a new product team, develop a faster software delivery process and train the operations team on the product. The team became a training ground for product and engineering talent within the organization.

The company not only saved over $7 million in the first six months, but we trained several new technical leads and the product manager who has now taken over ownership of the program.

The West Monroe website states that companies need to be “agile” when approaching a digital model. How can companies improve their agility?

Agility has unfortunately lost some of its original meaning and intent. Nowadays, companies use the word agile to describe processes that are still fundamentally very waterfall in nature.

There are many learnings from the “lean” movement (Lean Startup, Lean UX) and design where product teams release smaller sets of product features to customers more often to learn quicker and refine the product roadmap more frequently.

Companies that can analyze the market, monitor customer needs, consistently explore innovation opportunities and then move quickly will win.

This doesn’t just involve the IT or product team: it hits every nook and cranny in the company.

Man facing computers
[Source: West Monroe]

As companies transition into a digital world, they are also opening the doors to many potential and new threats. Ransomware, hackers, leaks... How can they protect themselves, and what are the potentially biggest threats?

I recommend companies going four levels deeper in their understanding of the tradeoffs between value and risk. Having one blanket policy for risk, compliance, security, or HIPAA slows down innovation and product delivery.

Teams should constantly have the conversation to get to the root of all requirements – and all impacted parties should participate in that conversation.

It is an amazing experience to watch a corporate lawyer and a technical leader in one room, crafting a better solution into a product to reduce risk while still getting valuable software out the door fast.

For companies going digital, so must their hardware and workforce. Can you tell us about methods companies can use to prepare their employees and how to provide the necessary skills for them?

I might be biased here but listen to your product teams.

In today’s world, the workforce is just as eager to gain skills as the company is to develop them. The role of the company is to make that as efficient as possible.

You will know exactly which hardware is causing friction in efficiency if you talk to your teams. You will up-skill your labor force by pairing them with those more experienced and by challenging them with novel new problems with the support of mentors.

West Monroe works with several brands and companies, all of them with their unique needs. From your experience, which industries made a surprising leap forward with the help of digital?

We have seen extraordinary developments in both energy & utilities, health care and financial services. These industries are incredibly complicated and regulated, unlike direct-to-consumer products.

The first wave of technology scales commodities, the second unlocks social and the third solves complex regulatory environments. The third wave requires a more sophisticated blend of technologies and industry expertise.

We feel lucky to be uniquely positioned to leverage the advanced state of software, design and product and have the depth of experience in these industries so we can help our clients achieve outsized results for their firms.

With Industry 4.0 in full swing it’s inevitable for the future to be focused on technology, automation and artificial intelligence. How do you see these elements evolving in the next few years, and how can companies prepare to be future-proof?

This all boils down to prioritization and knowing what to focus on and when, which I know is easier said than done. Sometimes there are legacy systems that are good enough and you can build custom AI and data platforms around those systems to innovate.

We are often in conversations to help guide our clients on the build, buy, or blend decisions with technology. The closer your software is to your core customer’s experience or your unique business proposition, the more you want to own that software and the data flowing through it.

We see a lot of success in companies that support innovation teams that can test out the bleeding edge, evaluate when it can help the company be leading edge and move away from systems that are anchors to agility.

Thank you for your time, Courtney Hemphill! Best of luck to you and West Monroe!

Keep up with West Monroe on Instagram @wearewestmonroe and read about other successful businesses here.

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