Notes for (Digital Transformation: Going Beyond Buzzwords)

Presenter(s):  Jaime Levy

Date-Time:  August 16, 2019 @ 10:20 AM

Key Takeaways

Levy defines what digital transformation is based on her research and tells us how to apply it to make both business and UX design more successful.


Jaime Levy is a UX strategist and bestselling author. She defines UX strategy as the intersection between UX design and strategy.

Levy received a call from a potential client some time ago, and the terms were amazing: a one year digital transformation project that was 20 hours a week for $250 an hour. She researched what digital transformation actually was and came up with a few media examples. One ad campaign from Dell featured actor Jeffrey Wright describing how digital transformation can help everything and everyone. Another commercial showed the use of AI technology on bridges and described how data can protect and build infrastructure. A new ad told us how banks want to match people’s new digital lifestyles and that for 40% of users UX was the most important factor in banking. Levy continued her research on what digital transformation was and found online learning courses from LinkedIn which described a sort of timeline for the concept. Starting with digitization, which is the act of converting analog media into digital media, this became digitalization which is digital content that then uses business practices to make more money for example by adding a paywall. After these, digital transformation began taking digitalized content and scaling this up to the entire enterprise. This doesn’t just monetize content but actually changes the entire company while protecting it from competition.

Levy also found lots of books on digital transformation, and to pare down the myriad of options, she chose the ones with blue covers. One entitled simply “Digital Transformation” provided an acronym to explain the concept: B.U.I.L.D. B stands for Bridge, where one must bridge the gaps between companies, people, and customers, both internally and externally. Internally one must find cross functionality between people in the company, and externally there must be a bridge between customers and the company that wants to serve them. U stands for Uncover which is uncovering the hidden assets to instituting digital transformation like good partnerships as well as hidden blocks like people not being open to new technology. I stands for Iterate: you must conduct constant experiments like scientists to learn which ideas have legs. L is for Leverage where one must leverage successes found during the iteration phase at internal all hands meetings that are held on a regular basis. This is in order to share those successes and make everyone part of the digital transformation process. Disseminate is the last letter and encourages you to share new innovations with the public and test them. Levy found that those first two are familiar within UX but the last three are new as an internal process for efficiency isn’t usually discussed. There is a dysfunctional process where UX needs reviews but people within the organization are not happy so progress grinds to a halt, and it is very important to find out why and where this is happening. Decision making must be streamlined in order to move forward and ways of working must change. The book advice of working together with different groups is very useful as this encourages an open mindset to experimentation.

The second book Levy studied is called the Digital Transformation Playbook and is marketed toward CEO’s, CXO’s, chief digital officers, and other new titles. It describes a strategic framework built for business school majors. It discusses incumbents, which are companies that already have a market share and challengers who attack the incumbents value proposition. For example, Netflix was the challenger to Blockbuster, the incumbent. The value prop of Netflix was a low monthly payment to watch as many movies as you want, with no late fees, a wider selection, personalized recommendations, and easy access to an online store which was an immediate threat to Blockbuster Video. The value network subscript of Netflix, the behind the scenes revenue model, was their ecommerce website, gathering data for recommendations, and their warehouse and mail distribution centers (versus Blockbusters retail shops). Blockbuster was destroyed by Netflix, who continues to digitally transform as their studios create lots of content more cheaply than major movie studios.

Levy’s experience with her client began with them acquiring numerous healthcare sector companies with different value propositions in order to build a new platform. The client wanted to take the products in those companies and re-skin them, so Levy started holding UX workshops to figure out how. She created validation for her ideas by attempting to reach out through LinkedIn to see if customers would want these products, seeking information from people with many different roles within the healthcare sector. She then had competitive research at the customer level but needed to research other platforms. Challengers in the industry were not limited to healthcare companies as companies such as Apple and Adobe were also getting into healthcare. Her concern was finding out if there was a barrier to imitation, one of the tests an incumbent can use to see if they have staying power. Levy mapped a value chain for taking healthcare products to market based off the competition and gave it a rating of 1 to 5. This gave her quantitative data to analyze. Using the tools outlined in her research, she saw the need to create a new platform to deliver these products without losing current customers. The biggest barrier to this was her inability to test prototypes on those customers, due to how her position was structured. As there was no transparency she ended up not being able to get the initiative off the ground, which was disappointing after those commercials had been so encouraging about the inherent glory of digital transformation.

The most exciting examples of digital transformation are ones where there was no digital structure before. Princess Cruises created an app that provided information on events, dining, and other relevant items that also connected with employees to let them to solve problems on the ship more efficiently. Disney theme parks created an RFID bracelet that employees can use to track where people are in the park, allowing them to see which restaurants are being overwhelmed and need support staff, where the lines are extremely long or short, which areas and rides are underused, and etc. The New York Times also digitally transformed by requiring their journalists to use their phones to shoot video and supporting their 3 million online subscriber strong user base that only accesses the Times online. Porsche has started to digitally track their vehicles in order to solve issues like roadside assistance more effectively, and has started installing apps like Waze directly into the vehicles in order to better serve their customer base.

Levy then describes how there is an exciting future for digital transformation jobs, and in Boston alone there are 3751 jobs that have digital transformation in the title. The industry is in its infancy but there are many exciting possibilities, especially when you look to companies that aren’t digital transformation savvy yet. “Today’s buzzwords can be your job title!”

The session ended with a short Q&A, some of those are included here.

What would you change about your failed project?

Levy thinks about this a lot: she would go back and ask when she was hired on if she would be able to communicate with the bosses. Not padding that internal bridge was a huge failure. She would have insisted on transparency and on talking to customers directly.

How does one get customer feedback to influence designing product? I listen to customers all day, how do I employ UX strategies here?

Be more intrapreneurial (vs entrepreneurial) and do things without permission. Don’t be afraid of taking it upon yourself to create prototypes and concepts even without a budget, do it at night if that’s the case! Say I made this thing off of customer feedback, and you need to provide evidence on how your prototype will increase revenue.

What’s your next job?

Levy would want to work for a non digital company, she feels jealous of Princess Cruises. The German military contacted her as well, which would be exciting and outside of her wheelhouse.