The five vowels of Digital transformation

In my view, there are three outcomes of a successful digital transformation effort – improvement in efficiency (driven from speed and agility), enhanced experience (both at the customer and employee ends), and differentiation from competitors (through data/ insights-driven customisation). Such interactions need to be delivered omni-channel and ubiquitously (anywhere, anytime, and any device).

Vowels of Dx1

Agility: Digitalisation of specific processes require them to be reimagined, and therefore eliminates redundancies, reduces wasteful activities, and reduces overhead costs. All these contribute to increased efficiency and faster turnaround times.

Experience: As I have been arguing, good digitalisation should make lives simpler for customers, employees, and all other partners as well. As different stakeholder groups (customers, employees, and partners) engage with the firm digitally, there is significant reduction in variation of service quality, leading to consistent experience.

Insights: As digitalisation allows firms to capture data seamlessly, it is imperative to not just store data, but be able to generate meaningful insights from the same. And use those insights to develop customised/ innovative offerings to their stakeholder groups (customers, employees, and partners).

Omni-channel: The digital experience should be provided to their stakeholders across all the channels that they interact with. It is not just sufficient to digitalise certain processes, while keeping others in legacy manual systems. Imagine an organisation that generates electronic bills for its customers but requires its employees to submit their own bills in hardcopy for reimbursements!

Ubiquitous: The digital experience should be available to everyone, anytime, anywhere, and on any device. The entire purpose of digitalisation would be lost if it were not ubiquitous. Imagine an online store that only opened between 0800-2000 hours Monday through Friday!

As it can be seen, omni-channel and ubiquitous are hygiene factors (they do not create additional value with their presence, but can destroy value with their absence), and therefore are at the denominator.

The 4 axes of online learning

As the world moves to more and more online work and learning, a colleague of mine triggered some thoughts in me – can everyone learn the same way online? Do our standard theories of learning work in the online world?

Of course, there are three kinds of teachers – those who dread online teaching (they believe that they will have no control over the students’ behaviours); those who are cautious (they believe that we can do somethings online, but not others); and those who are willing to experiment and adapt (they either believe that they can deliver as they are confident of their content that the medium does not matter). This discussion is for another day. Right now, let’s focus on the learners and their learning styles.

I believe that there are eight styles of learning in the online world. Of course, I do not claim to have scientific evidence that these are mutually exclusive and collectively exhaustive – possibly a research study is in order. These are anecdotal based on my own experiences of teaching face-to-face, purely online, as well as hybrid (some students face-to-face and some others online). There may be a range of other such classifications as well, from the classic Kolb’s learning styles inventory to more detailed studies.

The list, first

  1. Visual (spatial)
  2. Aural (auditory-musical)
  3. Verbal (linguistic)
  4. Physical (kinaesthetic)
  5. Solitary (intra-personal)
  6. Social (interpersonal)
  7. Logical (mathematical)
  8. Emotional (action-response)

These styles are not mutually exclusive, and learners prefer combinations of these. These are just pure types. The combinations define one’s learning style.

The elaboration

  • Visual/ spatial: learning through pictures, images, maps, and animations; sense of colour, direction, and sequences; flow-diagrams and colour-coded links preferred.
  • Aural/ auditory-musical: learning through hearing sounds and music; rhyme and patterns define memory and moods; learning through repeated hearing and vocal repetition is preferred.
  • Verbal/ linguistic: power of the (most often) written word; specific words and phrases hold attention and provoke meaning; negotiations, debates, and orations are preferred.
  • Physical/ kinaesthetic: sensing and feeling through touch and feel of objects; being in the right place can create thoughts and evoke memory; role plays and active experimentation are preferred.
  • Solitary/ intra-personal: being alone provides for reflection and reliving the patterns of the past; self-awareness through meditative techniques; independent self-study and reflective writing (diaries and journals) preferred.
  • Social/ interpersonal: learning happens in groups (rather than alone) through a process of sharing key assertions and seeking feedback on the same from others; need for conformity and assurance as bases for learning; group discussions and work groups preferred.
  • Logical/ mathematical: building on the power of logic, reasoning and cause-effect relationships; developing and testing propositions and hypotheses; build a pattern/ storyline through logical workflows of arguments/ relationships; focus on the individual parts of a system; lists and specific action plans are preferred.
  • Emotional/ action orientation: building on the power of emotions, arising out of loyalty, commitment, and a larger sense of purpose; being able to align a set of actions to a compelling vision of the future, following directions of a leader; focus on the gestalt and not on the specifics; energy and large-scale transformations are preferred.

The four axes

Axes of learning

Let us look for examples/ instances where each of these styles would work the best. Visual would work best when the inter-relationships are complex and can be represented through visual cues (or simulated cues), whereas physical world work best when the relationships could not be represented, but need to be experienced as a whole. How would like to take a virtual tour of the Pyramids of Giza?

Auditory style of learning works best when the brain remembers patterns, and rhyme precedes reason. Whereas, verbal style is most suited when reason is preferred over anything else. In other words, when specific words and phrases (like catchy acronyms and slogans) capture the imagination of the learner, verbal is best suited. Imagine trying to learn Vedic hymns purely through printed textbooks!

Solitary learning works best when one can reflect effectively by shutting out external cues; whereas social learning depends on feedback and reinforcement from others for learning to take shape. Imagine learning public speaking in social isolation, or seeking social confirmation and feedback in the process of poetry writing!

Logical learning style works best when the relationships could be detailed and represented as a series of cause-effect relationships. However when such relationships cannot be established, we learn through emotions. Imagine the calls for action in the play, Julius Caesar – “Friends, Romans, and Countrymen!” I would think the crowd responded more to emotional appeals than reason!

Architecting the online class

As learners and teachers in the online world, one needs to be cognisant of their own preferred styles across these four (continuums) axes. For instance, a class on machine learning would tend to be highly visual, verbal, solitary, and logical; whereas a music class is likely to be more physical, auditory, interpersonal and emotional. 

The learning context has to be chosen appropriately suiting the styles – of both the content and the learners. The technology has to suit the same. Imagine for instance, a group of 400 learners tuning into a class on brand management through an online medium like Zoom. The instructor has pretty much little choice other than delivering a lecture, with text chat from the class as real-time feedback, and thence the basis for interactivity. On the other hand, if the class size was smaller, say around 40, may be the instructor could use case analysis as well. As a case teacher, I have managed to interact (two-way) with as much as 30 students (from a group of 44 active participants) in a single 90 minute class. I taught a case-based session on digital transformation imperatives online to a class of 50-odd students. I used a combination of visual and interpersonal styles, without compromising on the logical arguments as well as pre-defined frameworks. I used two separate devices – an iPad with an Apple Pencil as a substitute for my whiteboard, and my desktop screen sharing as a projector substitute. I was able to cold-call as well! That way, my class was visual, logical, verbal, and interpersonal.

Axes of learning1

To the same cohort, I taught another session on implementing a digital transformation project, using another short case-let. This session in contrast, was more visual – the framework was largely on the whiteboard than on the slides; less verbal, a lot emotional and logical, and less interpersonal (more reflective observations about what would work in their own firms).

Axes of learning2

What works best is also driven what are the learning goals. Of course, these learning styles should be the same for synchronous (live classes), asynchronous sessions (MOOCs), as well as blended formats.

In summary, the architecture of an online session should include elements of the learning styles (driven by the learners and instructors strengths, as well as the content being delivered). Apart from the learning styles, the architecture should include three other components – the form of interaction, the immediacy of feedback loops, and the nature of interaction networks. The interactivity could be both audio-video or text; the feedback loops between the learners and the instructors could be immediate or phased; and the peer-to-peer interactions may or may not be required/ enabled.

I look forward to your comments, feedback, and experiences.


(c) 2020. Srinivasan, R.


Glass box organizations: Platforms

Way back in September 2017, David Mattin of Trend-Watching wrote about Glass box brands. He argued that organizations are moving away from being black boxes (where customers could only see what was painted outside) to glass boxes, where everything that happens inside and outside of the organization is visible to everyone.

The primary arguments of the glass box world are: (a) in an era of social media and high organizational attrition, even the mundane activities like routines and rituals are visible to the outside world; and (b) trends like automation, inequality, and globalization have led to “meaningful consumerism”, bordering on activism. Therefore, consumers are making choices about their brand affiliation and loyalty based on the company culture and values, apart from other considerations.

If the internal culture is the window of the brand to the outside world, it is important for every organization to meaningfully nurture it, articulate it, and live it. I am not going to dwell on how to develop your internal culture and values, but the implications of the glass box metaphor in the context of platforms and digital organizations.

Multi-sided platforms as glass boxes

By definition, multi-sided platforms (MSPs) have many “sides” that drive network effects. For instance, a guest chooses to use Airbnb while travelling because she values the number and quality of hosts. When Airbnb doesn’t treat one side well, it directly impacts the quality of interaction with the other side and affects the strength of network effects. Which in turn, affects the willingness to join (WTJ) and willingness to pay (WTP) of the users on the other side. The quality of the platform deteriorates and can even degenerate into a “market for lemons”. Such dynamics of network effects ensure that platforms do not unduly favor one side over the other, especially when there are cross-side network effects. However, these do not include how the firm treats its employees – remember Travis Kalanick and Uber?!

Digitalization and glass boxes

The omnipresent social media and the constant need by employees and customers to document share their experiences online (most often with the general public, including strangers) has been one of the drivers of glass walling of organizations. Isn’t it why the digital platform that allows for employees to review their workplaces called Sure, monetizes its corporate side of the network through its recruitment services, but its primary differentiator is the large volume of anonymous employee reviews of the work culture and salary structures. We know that when the side that is being reviewed is monetized, it is in the interest of the firm to have good quality reviews on the platform, failing which it finds it difficult to attract enough quality candidates. There is enough incentive to witch hunt people who write bad reviews, as well fill the site with paid/ fake reviews to overshadow the “real” bad reviews. It is still a glass door after all, not a glass box!

Digitalization of employee experience holds a significant potential in managing the quality of the brand, as perceived outside the firm. A lot of firms focus on improving customer experience in their digitalization journeys, but employee experience is equally critical (read more about it in one of my earlier posts). Good employee experience ensure that the positive experiences have spill-over effects on efficiency, performance, internal culture, as well as customer experience. A variety of organizations including VMWare, SAP and IBM have laid explicit focus on improving employee experience in their digital transformation journeys.

Stay home, stay safe, stay healthy!

(c) 2020. Srinivasan R.

Stages of Digital Transformation

A lot of people confound digital transformation with information technology and automation. Automation of processes would lead to increase in efficiency, quality, and additionally, transparency, and fairness in the case of services. Industries have been transformed in the last few decades in such a manner that what is visible to the outside world is the information technology. What is not so much visible is the painstaking work that goes on in the back-end to support this transformation. In this blog post, I will highlight the stages of digital transformation, building on my previous blog post on digital transformation (read it here).

Four stages of Digital Transformation


The transformation for digital transformation at any organization begins with the definition of a perspective plan. It is absolutely critical that the entire journey is considered an intrapreneurial action – a new business project/ plan. Within the confines of the existing business model, constrained by the extant resources and capabilities, it is highly unlikely that mature organizations can question their status quo. I would therefore suggest that organizations set up independent empowered venturing teams to take the digital transformation journey forward. With appropriate leadership commitment to change and a vision of the future, this venturing team should draw up the perspective plan.

A key component of this perspective plan is the definition of the value that you provide in your ‘transformed’ state. Value is an over-used word in this context, but I will risk using that again. What is that additional/ different value that the transformed organization intends to provide? Take the example of, that competes with traditional hotel chains. Without owning a single hotel room, transformed the entire travel/ hospitality industry through the provisioning of basic rooms. While traditional hotel chains behaved like legacy airline carriers, continuously improving “the experience”, began providing just bed-and-breakfast, but with a different “experience”. The customers might meet more like-minded travelers and hosts at than at traditional hotels. In just as much the same way low-cost carriers disrupted the legacy airlines industry, changed the way people looked at travel – it was no longer luxury that one looked for, but something new and exciting. And with their business model, had the ability to scale up capacity seamlessly in any city, town, village in any country (legal troubles notwithstanding).

Superior customer value cannot be provided unless the organization focuses on re-engineering its back-end processes. What may be visible to the outside world are the rejigs on the front-end, but the back-end process reengineering is the core to successful digital transformation. It is how efficient the back-end processes are, and how the front- and back-end processes talk to each other that matter the most. Imagine the world before the airline ticketing portals. One would have to call in to a travel agent, who would access the reservation systems of different airlines and provide the consumers with limited choices (and in most cases those choices that made him the most margins), and very little flexibility. What these online portals did was to provide consumers with unlimited choice and flexibility, including crazy organizations like The customer experience changed significantly, primarily because these airline ticketing aggregators could create back-end processes that would extract the schedules and fares, including connections and code-share agreements. It is the based on the strength of the back-end that supports the transformation of this industry. Same is the case with Uber (or any of its competitors or partners) – the back-end that seamlessly connects drivers and riders based on the geo-spatial data captured from their devices. Traditional taxis focused on automation of billing and other front-end services, whereas Uber disrupted the market with back-end re-engineering.

The importance of customer centricity could not be missed in this process reengineering. The customer experience has to be the center of any such reengineering. Good reengineering imagines the customer journey throughout her experience with the organization and its product/ service as it happens chronologically. Like a relay race, the customer “baton” has to be passed on from one organization unit to another seamlessly that the customer should not experience the passing of the baton at all. Organization design that promotes concepts like the key account management (KAM) or single point of contact (SPOC) facilitates such experiences, and it is critically important to keep these customer journeys in mind while redesigning the processes. For instance, take the case of how loyalty programmes work. You rake up your points/ airmiles from one product/ service and struggle to spend those points, as the options for redemption are highly limited. Yes, these days my credit card company and my airline frequent flier miles are merged, as I use an airline-co branded credit card. Even then, my credit card spends get added to my airmiles that I cannot redeem for anything else other than the limited choice provided. Here is where disruptions like WorldSwipe can help (read more about WorldSwipe here), where the platform has partnered with a variety of organizations from where consumers can earn their points, and a much larger variety of outlets where they can redeem their points. For instance, an electrician buying cables and earning points from his favorite electric cables brand can redeem his points by buying cellphone minutes from his favorite telco. [Disclaimer: I advise them]. Imagine the processes reengineering required from the cable company, as well as the telco in order for this loyalty to work; and the extent of consumer insights that could be captured as this platform grows and matures.

In the process of defining and reengineering the processes, it is important to keep the employee experience as well in mind. When customer experience dominates process redesign without regard for the employee experience, the whole system collapses. Take the case of your ecommerce grocer’s last mile delivery persons. These employees, are possibly the lowest paid in the entire chain, and yet, they represent the face of the company to the consumers. The consumer interacts with the company only through her mobile phone or tablet, and then these delivery persons land up at her door. Fullstop. Consumer experienced your product/ service. How critical is it to understand and design the processes that traces the employee experience journey! I have heard horror stories of how these employees in cities like Bangalore are provided with unrealistic delivery targets, without proper consideration of traffic situations, parking issues, and consumer non-availability at home situations. Add cash-on-delivery complications where these employees have to not just deliver goods, but collect cash for the same as well. Complicate this a little further with card-on-delivery and associated network connectivity issues. Once you live through the employee experience journey, you would realise how important it is to balance the process reengineering effort between the customer experience and employee experience. A lot of time, basic training and skill-development may be sufficient, but training on customer service orientation, attitude, and service quality would go a long way in enhancing the employee experience and engagement. Just make sure that your organization does not go towards employing two monkeys (as below).


On Tuesday this week (06 September 2016), The Mint newspaper carried a special issue on the digital future. One of the articles in that edition was by Jaspreet Bindra from the Indian automotive major Mahindra & Mahindra, titled “The 10 Commandments of Digital Transformation (read it here). Coming from someone with a varied experience like him, it is worth reading through. His 10 commandments does touch upon what I have elaborated plus much more.

Enjoy your digital transformation journey!


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