Digital Transformation Conversations: Roxanne Salton - Part 1

Head of Digital Strategy & Delivery at Mercury

Roxanne Salton is the Head of Digital Strategy & Delivery at Mercury, and one of the top digital leaders in New Zealand. Having previously held roles at Spark, ASB and Bauer Media, she’s been at the helm of many exciting and innovative projects.

In the second of our Digital Transformation Conversations, Deloitte Digital New Zealand Partner, Grant Frear, visited Roxanne at her offices to discuss digital innovation, the ‘maturity pillars’ of transformation and New Zealand’s social networks.

Here at Deloitte Digital, we’ve got a hypothesis – when we've been looking at New Zealand businesses compared to what we see offshore, there’s a lot of digital projects and activity here. However, as we scratch the surface, not many seem to be truly transformational. When those two words collide - digital and transformation - what comes to your mind?

That's a really interesting question. Through working in different companies, I’ve come to the conclusion that digital transformation is not one specific thing - it's actually a combination of what I call ‘maturity pillars’, and to transform anything, they need to be present and strong to support the organisation.

We focus too much on the technology side, when in actual fact, implementing new technology is probably the least difficult pillar to achieve. A more important pillar for transformation is people and culture. If you have your workforce organised in a way which is suited to a digital environment and you're retaining and attracting the right talent with the best skills and capability, then you’ve got a crucial element for the future. Soon enough, jobs will be very different than they are today and you need to have a framework to support that.

Another pillar is leadership and governance, because if you haven't got a top-down approach with the whole leadership group on board, it will be very difficult to transform anything. A great saying I've heard in the past is ‘you can have a whole team of leaders, but you don't necessarily have a whole leadership team’. Digital transformation requires everything and everybody and if you don’t have that, it's going to be a long road to transforming anything. 

In your experience, which work best in digital transformation - an outside-in approach or an inside-out approach? So, transforming within the business before reaching out to the customers or starting with the customer first.

For me, transformation needs to come from the inside and it needs to come from all those pillars that we're talking about. Sometimes the competitive market will force you into the process but you still need everybody internally to be clear about what the outcome needs to be for the business before you can transform experiences for those outside.

We’ve seen examples of organisations, both in New Zealand and offshore, where it's been difficult to transform those pillars. Their solution has been to set up a new and separate group, say an innovation hub, as an attempt to do an outside-in transformation approach. Do you think that can work?

In solutions like a venture group or innovation hub, you’re working with a smaller sample of the business, so the way you work, the people and the leadership is often different. That means that it can give you the right ingredients to facilitate transformation in a smaller group on the side but when it comes time to go back into the main business, it won’t translate to that size. 

You can see why organisations want to start transformations in that way though, especially in New Zealand, where I think we're probably quite risk averse. We’re more likely to take baby steps to get there than large corporations in other countries would.

What do you think it is about New Zealand that sees organisations taking the conservative approach? 

I think it's a national thing. We don't have the luxury of having a big marketplace that you can throw cash at. 

One approach that we have nationally is that we always examine the successes of those doing well first. In New Zealand, our small country means that organisations get to talk to each other and I find that the best information can be found that way. Amongst industries, our networks are quite tight and we're learning a lot from each other now.

Are these organised networks?

No, they're very informal. But I think it's because we've all known each other over time.

There's plenty of studies into innovation and entrepreneurship that is often centred on Silicon Valley. There's a certain set of conditions in Silicon Valley - the capital, the universities that feed it, the sheer concentration of people and the cross-pollination between those companies. All of that creates a very formal ecosystem of innovation and therefore growth-minded businesses. It's interesting to hear that you can see the benefits of that model, in that there is an informal network starting to emerge here. Do you think we would benefit from that network being more formalised, or is it fine as is?

I don’t know about formalising it, but one thing the network has been talking about for the last year is that we aren’t promoting enough of the bright things that are happening in New Zealand. What we have in our own back yard is remarkable and I’m amazed on a daily basis by the way that smaller private businesses work with large corporates, creating new things that would absolutely outscale some of the big success stories that we see globally.

What could be different to allow New Zealand business to shift their ambition? Clearly we have the innovative culture but it seems like many organisations are setting their ambitions too low.

With large businesses, I think it's the risk appetite and I don't know that I've ever found a successful formula for shifting that because it’s different for every company. Certainly one thing I’ve been promoting is that we’re not in the marketplace anymore where we can get away with just annual strategy reviews. Companies are moving far more rapidly, which means we need a more agile approach to strategy and planning. That also comes back to those maturity pillars - unless we have investment and an agile way of working in people, culture and technologies, then no big ideas will come to fruition.

Read part two of Grant Frear’s discussion with Roxanne Salton here.