April | Taking risks with digital transformation: Andy Main, Deloitte Digital

Andy Main, Head of Deloitte Digital and ClickZ’s Featured Digital Leader for April, discusses digital transformation, risk-taking in his career, and the innovative new technology that Deloitte Digital is placing its bets on.

Andy Main has worked for Deloitte, the 172-year-old accounting and consulting firm and one of the world’s largest professional services networks, since 1999 and the dawn of the digital age. Now, 18 years later, he is the Head of Deloitte Digital, the firm’s creative digital consultancy, which specializes in delivering digital transformation.

ClickZ Deputy Editor Rebecca Sentance spoke to him about his journey, how Deloitte has evolved during his time with the company, and the importance of leading the way in digital transformation.

‘Digital transformation’ is currently one of the hottest topics in the marketing industry, if not in every industry, and the question of how to achieve it has inspired hundreds of articles; dozens of events, summits and conferences; hours of debate; and has launched entire careers.

Yet the term itself is more than a little nebulous: what do we really mean when we talk about ‘digital transformation’? Some argue that digital transformation is a continuous process, not a finite one; you can never ‘achieve’ it, because digital transformation is never complete. Others view it more simplistically as a radical overhaul of a business to bring its processes up to speed with the digital age.

For Andy Main, Head of Deloitte Digital, digital transformation is about imagining the future – whatever that might be – for an individual business. In his extensive experience of advising companies on digital transformation, the process usually follows a set pattern.

“We say that we “imagine, deliver and run” the future, and that then requires a digital transformation discussion to imagine the future of a business,” he explains. “To do that, you need to answer two questions: What’s going on, and what to do about it. That’s how you imagine someone’s future.”

At the same time, he says, you challenge the client on their ambition. “Deloitte Digital actually delivers ambitions. We are in the ambition delivery business.”

For Main, consulting on digital transformation is not the traditional, drawn-out “six month strategy study” as other types of consulting; instead, it’s rapid and agile. “You get on with it really quickly to give a business an advantage.”

Main sees Deloitte Digital not just as a leader in digital transformation, but as the leader: both in terms of the way it delivers ambition, and also its unique value proposition. Deloitte, he says, brings people with a lot of differing skillsets to the table, allowing it to advise clients on different aspects of digital transformation.

“We created a business model that appreciates the power of creativity, and the power of surprise. What that allows us to do is to take on assignments like a company’s branding – to do that, you need creative types. Then to deliver the ambitions into the market, you link your creative types with your digital technologists, with your cyber security people, with your change management people.

“Our hallmark of digital transformation is more complete than our competition,” he adds. “We’re starting to see a lot of evidence of that in the market right now.”

When it comes to digital transformation, what does Main think is the greatest challenge facing companies that want to undergo it?

By far the biggest problem is companies committing ‘random acts of digital’, says Main.

“Companies start doing what they think is digital, but it’s not tied back to the ambition, the strategy, the experience of the business. People will build a mobile app or something willy-nilly, just to get in the game.

“The biggest challenge is how to make sure your digital investments are tied to the future-proofing of your business. And don’t go crazy on digital just because you think it’s the right thing to do.”

The element of creative surprise

Andy Main admits that he never foresaw himself working in digital. Then again, the germination of ‘digital’ as an industry (or as Main refers to it, “the digital era – and I call it an era on purpose, because eras have beginnings and endings”) was hard to predict in the first place.

When Main first joined Deloitte 18 years ago, the company operated on a more traditional consulting model, but the company’s culture was anything but traditional. “Deloitte was never one of the ‘old fogey’, ‘stuffed shirt’ consulting outfits; the culture was fun, low-key and very personable.”

This, together with an “extremely entrepreneurial” culture which appealed to his own entrepreneurial tendencies, attracted Main to work at Deloitte. These traits have stayed constant over the almost two decades that he has worked with the firm; but one new development has taken place within the company culture, which seems closely intertwined with the rise and evolution of Deloitte Digital: the introduction of creativity.

“Today, what I think is really good, culture-wise, is that we’ve hired a lot of people who you think, ‘Oh my god, they work for a consulting company? Are you kidding me?’ It’s high-end, creative people, it’s designers, it’s front-end engineers; people who come up with crazy content and crazy ideas for the future of someone’s business.

“What’s different [nowadays] is the application of pure, raw creatives to different business situations that require that creativity. We might design a business model; we might design an experience; we might design a piece of furniture, or a space, or we might design fashion. These are the types of things we’re coming up with from the creative powers of the business.

“That is a complete culture change from the way that Deloitte was when I joined 18 years ago. We didn’t have that element of – let’s just call it “creative surprise”– in how we interact with our clients.”

As for how Main himself has changed during the course of his 18-year career with Deloitte, his entrepreneurial spirit and his competitiveness remain as strong as ever. But he believes that his tolerance for taking on risk has become much greater.

“To grow something at a fair clip, you have to have a thick skin for taking on risk. You’re trying something new that nobody’s ever tried before,” Main explains.

Being the very first to try an idea is something that Main has made almost a personal mission throughout his career. “One thing you’ll learn about me is that I do believe somebody has to go first and do things, otherwise things never happen; things never innovate,” he says. “And you or I might as well be that person.

“Any time you make a decision to try something new, you have to think of all the thousands of people that decision will affect – hopefully in a good way. Twenty years ago, the scale of decision-making wasn’t the same as the gigantic business that I run today. But as you develop more experience, you know how to handle the risk and turn it into success.”

Main’s personal career journey has been centred around helping companies deliver better service and satisfaction to their customers, and the beginning of the digital era has proven to be the best forum for continuing this kind of work.

“When the digital era got started, it was all about the customer side of the business. Deloitte was the first of the consulting firms to introduce a digital brand to the marketplace, just over five years ago now.

“Back then, [Deloitte Digital] were largely focused on the mobile web and customer experience side of things. The consumerism of mobile phones and smartphones met with business applications for that technology, which then triggered the market need for Deloitte Digital to come to be.

“Now that times have evolved, digital is everywhere in a business, and one of Deloitte Digital’s strengths is that it’s just as effective to consulting in supply chain, human resources, and finance, as it is in the customer side of things. It’s not every digital consulting business that can cover all that ground.

“It’s very hard to predict the future with certainty. Ten years ago, the digital economy didn’t exist in the form that it now does. It’s likely that this ‘digital’ word will go away, eventually, and just become ‘business’.

“I do see myself as helping clients secure their future by helping them to future-proof their businesses; that’s truly the thread that’s been woven through my career for the longest time. And it just so happens that the digital era is the best era to help a client future-proof themselves and gain an advantage in business.”

Innovations in Augmented and Virtual Reality

If Deloitte Digital is the leader in all things to do with digital transformation, it follows that whatever cutting-edge new technology the company has decided to place its bets on must be pretty big. So what is the most innovative thing that Deloitte currently has in the works?

“We’re doing crazy stuff with augmented and virtual reality at the moment, particularly around content created from the sports industry,” says Main. “There’s a whole gigantic disruption about to happen to that content industry, and to people like broadcasters.”

Through the use of cameras and sensors that are built into the person taking part in the sport, sports like golf, tennis, cycling and soccer can be made into an AR or VR experience that turns the viewer into a player on the field.

So why focus on sport specifically? “The content created from sport might just be the most accessed digital content on the globe,” says Main. “And when you apply an AR/VR experience to that content, you can do amazing things to engage people in different ways.”

The technology is currently in the ‘minimum viable prototype’ stage, and is being used by a “world-recognized cycling team” taking part in the Tour de France. But Main sees a much wider, game-changing future for AR and VR technology, and he intends Deloitte Digital to lead the way in creating that future.

“We predict that the popular smartphone companies are all going to have AR and VR capability. I’m not talking about goggles that you have to put on; there will be different ways to experience AR and VR, such as holograms, which will make it a lot more accessible to consume.

“The way that this gets applied to consumer life, and business life, I believe is going to be a major tidal wave. I can see everything from the medical profession to theme parks and cruise liners taking this on.”

Based on its research, says Main, Deloitte Digital predicts a huge market around AR and VR that is just beginning to come into being. He believes that augmented and virtual reality are the next frontier not just in entertainment, but in communication.

“Mobile phones and websites can only take us so far. This is the next era of communication in society that will be up-scaled pretty soon here. That’s why we’re putting a fairly large bet on this whole thing.”

At the present moment, the market around AR and VR is fairly fragmented, with lots of people innovating. But Main believes that Deloitte is in a position to lead the way into this new age of augmented and virtual reality. “In terms of applying this upscale to commercial and business situations, I would say we are the first, and have a leadership position there.”

“As I said before – someone’s got to be first, and it might as well be you.”

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