By Geoffrey Lyons

16 Mar 2020

For 27 years ThoughtWorks has helped organisations solve complex business problems where technology is the differentiator. But as UK digital transformation lead Luke Vinogradov explains, the company has a more holistic approach to change that goes well beyond traditional conceptions of digital. Geoffrey Lyons reports

Luke Vinogradov knows a thing or two about mobile apps. He has to considering his background spearheading mobile strategies for corporate giants like Amazon, Tesco, and McDonalds. But while the first half of his 20-year career in digital was almost exclusively dominated by the technology, mobile is just, he says, “a part of the’s talked about less as something discrete now that the idea of ‘digital’ is more pervasive.”

Vinogradov says this is positive – that over the years organisations’ mobile strategies became less about mobile per se and more about improving the user experience. “Increasingly I would be directed towards a problem that we thought was about mobile and I would get there and think, actually, this isn’t a mobile thing. This is a how-you-relate-to-your-customers thing. This is a how-you-use-technology-for-competitive-advantage thing. Labelling isn’t always helpful.”

“I would be directed towards a problem that we thought was about mobile and I would get there and think, actually, this isn’t a mobile thing. This is a how-you-relate-to-your-customers thing”

At ThoughtWorks, where Vinogradov has been focusing on digital transformation for the last three years, this trend from tech-specific solutions to a more holistic approach has been identified and fully integrated into the global software consultancy’s approach to digital transformation. While tech will remain front-and-centre for the company, Vinogradov says it is increasingly helping clients in all aspects of change, whether that be simply redefining the way leadership is thought about or reshaping structures and ways of working. “Our approach is to help organisations understand what matters for them - and what doesn't,” he says. “Rather than a kind of normalised view of what everybody should be doing, we focus more on what you should be doing for your organisation based on your context, your strategy, the type of customers you have, and the way you look to generate value for them.”

To Vinogradov, this is no less true for corporate behemoths like McDonalds or Amazon as it is for the public sector. “The public sector has to balance an incredibly complex set of interests, and the pressures this brings” he says. “But at its core, the focus is very much the same: delivering value for the citizen, or the consumer. That’s what should drive the work that these organisations do.”

Vinogradov on…defining digital transformation

Digital transformation is about digitally-inspired change. I say ‘inspired’ because there's a fixed view among some that it’s all about tech, but it’s broader than just tech. Tech may help to create consumer expectations, and tech may be involved in meeting those expectations, but the change required is also a very human one. Our approach is to help organisations understand what matters for them - and what doesn't.

A trusted partner in the public sector, ThoughtWorks has delivered on a range of programmes from Digital by Design for Stockport Council to digitising data flows for NHS Digital. A major achievement was a seven-year partnership with the Government Digital Service, in which it helped carry out a dozen different projects as part of the digital service’s ambitious transformation programme. These included the launch of GOV.UK and GOV.UK Verify, and the creation of public-facing dashboards that demonstrate citizen uptake.

While Vinogradov admits it could be perceived as glib to say that delivering value should be at the heart of these programmes, he says it is still surprising how many organisations haven’t adopted a value-driven approach. He thinks a lot can be learned from the most successful digital companies, where customer value informs pretty much every decision. In “modern digital businesses”, for example, he says people rarely talk about change because it’s simply assumed the company will always be changing, always adapting to meet customers’ needs. “The price of change is just the price of doing business,” he says. “Other organisations tend to talk about change as if there’s an expectation that, in between episodes of change, everything will simply stay the same.” This sort of episodic change mindset is precisely what leads to overloaded multi-year change programmes, which Vinogradov says should be continuously assessed and adjusted. “You get halfway through and no one can remember why you started,” he says. “That’s why, when we work with clients, we look to validate models before scaling them.”

Vinogradov is wary of making generalisations about the public sector, preferring instead a case-by-case approach. “The public sector is just like any large population,” he says. “There are pockets where the right things are exemplified, and there are places where it’s harder to bring to life.” But in all cases, one of the constants is empowering teams. “That's one of the big realisations that I think some in industry figured out pretty quickly,” he says. “That to move faster, and deliver more value to the customer sooner, the decisions that are close to the customer should be made close to the customer.”

The public sector is switching on to this, Vinogradov says. Teams that ThoughtWorks is partnering with have begun to take on greater autonomy. But the task remains for others to follow their lead – that, Vinogradov says, is one of the defining challenges. “It’s about moving from a world where people need to seek permission to solve a problem for the citizen, to one in which they have more latitude to do that,” he says. “And that requires not only a reevaluation of how people work, but also bold, courageous leadership.”

Diversity champions

ThoughtWorks works closely with clients to cultivate a community of inclusivity and belonging. This year marks the second year in a row that it was included in the The Stonewall Top 100 List, which was created by lesbian, gay, bi and trans (LGBT) equality charity Stonewall. The Top 100 is compiled from submissions to the Workplace Equality Index, a powerful benchmarking tool used by employers to assess their achievements on LGBT equality in the workplace. In 2019 ThoughtWorks UK broke into the Top 100 list for the first time, at 91st place. In 2020, it achieved 53rd place, a collective effort from ThoughtWorkers, community organisations and other allies across the globe.

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