Assisto Consulting is a management consulting firm delivering analytical and operational solutions for banks and multiple other sectors with a strong focus on financial technology and delivering its tailor-made business solutions. Its partners are all experienced banking professionals with skills in risk management, finance, business development, and marketing, and of course, analytics. I caught up with Jiri Nosal, Assisto’s CEO, to learn more about the evolution in perception and implementation of digital transformation among their clients.
Jiri, our feeling is that the pandemic has redefined the speed and scope of digital transformation and that the conversation has fundamentally changed. What are you seeing among your clients?
I agree conversations around digital transformation have evolved with the pandemic. Until the end of 2019, everybody knew they should have focused on the digital world, but it was still relatively remote and often pushed further down the roadmap. That said, with the pandemic, they soon realized that they needed to start moving much faster with their digitalization plans.
This also led them to move away from large-scale solutions to looking at how to solve this clear and present challenge easily and quickly. Effectively, the perceived means to attaining digital transformation became much more straightforward, efficient, and even agile.
How would you describe your clients’ current general attitude towards digital transformation?
At the moment, many brands are still reducing ‘being digital’ to ‘adopting some digital channels’. I think that this is one of the critical barriers to complete digital transformation. Most clients are still focused on the channel instead of its content and actual objectives. Of course, a few have progressed their messaging beyond just price, promotion, and product to create more educational and informational content, but, overall, they are not always clear regarding how to build relevancy.
I believe that they have understood the concept of e-commerce, but e-marketing is still at a very early stage. For example, banks have built mobile applications, but they still consider physical branches and mobile applications as unrelated channels. As consultants, we emphasize the importance of omnichannel marketing and communication, but many clients have yet to grasp the concept of multichannel.
That said, some clients realize that they have too many distinct or overlapping solutions and that their lack of interconnectivity is providing a customer experience that is less than ideal. To that point, this year, for the first time, we have had several clients ask us about digital hubs and customer data platforms to bring all these elements together.
In terms of maturity, what differences do you see between organizations of different sizes?
I don’t think there is a difference by size. It’s like everything else: it’s all about the people. Sometimes, small organizations move faster because of their size. On the other hand, they often have less capital meaning that they can only focus on one area at a time. As a result, they may advance faster but probably only over a narrower scope.
In fact, there are probably more differences between big organizations themselves than between big and small companies. Some are much more advanced depending on whether they are led by someone willing and able to push digital transformation.
In the future, it will be interesting to see whether smaller companies can catch up in terms of breadth and scope, or if big companies manage to resolve the organizational issues to accelerate their transformation potential.
What is your perception regarding the democratization of AI among your clients?
This is a tricky subject. Many of our clients are good at producing models that describe their customers and products, but building a model is easy.
The actual democratization of AI is about more than just data and models. If AI is to drive change, it must be successfully operationalized, which is not always the case. The bigger challenge to this operationalization lies in the governance of AI-based, enterprise-wide decisions, which requires transformation within the company, which is still very much in its early days as any change management within a company takes time. This is why there are hardly any enterprise-wide decision engines in place today.
It’s also no good to digitize existing business models. You need to rethink operations completely and be clear about why you need to change, which is not really happening at the moment. People still see digitalization as only an extension of existing business models, but based on my experience, that’s actually a bitter, dead-end direction.
Regarding privacy, what attitudes and concerns are you seeing among your clients?
I see some fundamental generational differences in attitudes towards data privacy. Interestingly, older people are more comfortable using their personal information while the younger generations seem to become much more conservative. This is a very interesting observation as younger generations tend to share their lives on social networks while opposing web tracking at the same time. For me, this clash in behaviour and its evolution is one of the most important factors regarding the future state of digital communication.
Overall, I think we need to be more explicit about the benefits of AI regarding personal data. If we start by showing people the benefits, it could outweigh the perceived data protection risks. This may convince them to provide more of their personal data, allowing service providers to provide even better customer experiences in exchange. In this context, I would like to stress the “benefit for customer”, not only for businesses. Digital communication managers should add service communications alongside their regular marketing perimeter. Finally, they need to rethink how to transform digital communication into an anchoring channel, creating stronger, lasting relationships between the customer and their business.
Once again, though, operationalization is crucial for this to come to light.
The longer view
I want to thank Jiri for sharing his insights on a topic that is dominating discussions and decisions. This SAS global study is exploring accelerated transformation over the summer of 2021.
We’d love to hear about your experience - please leave a comment below, and let’s keep asking the right questions.
This interview is part of a recent interview study by SAS on how the pandemic has accelerated digitalization: Catch more conclusions from the study on post pandemic transformation