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Driving digitalisation: The view from a Digital Opportunity Lead

Key Takeaways

  • Technology

    Technology is far from the only element businesses need to get right. They also need to make sure their ways of working digitally mature.

  • Data Platform

    A trusted data platform is a critical foundational aspect for digitalisation that can empower teams to gain valuable insights and improve the decision-making process.

  • Mindsets

    Shifting their mindsets to understand core business pain points allows digitalisation teams to build on existing concepts and deliver rapid solutions to user problems.

  • digital foundation

    With the right digital foundations in place, organisations can adopt a Low Code/No Code approach where colleagues are able to create their own solutions quickly and effectively – giving them the ability to unlock new opportunities.

Profile picture of Carl Abernethy

Carl Abernethy, Digital Opportunity Lead, Shell

A Data & Analytics specialist and technical lead in Shell’s Lubricant Supply Chain (LSC) business, Carl is an expert in developing and executing digital products for global teams of users. He has more than a decade’s experience of advancing digitalisation across Shell, from designing data platforms to translating business needs into proof of concepts that lead to valuable solutions.

Businesses been forced to adapt rapidly to new digital ways of working over the last two years but accelerating the transformation will become critical to their future survival and success.

According to a report by McKinsey, nine out of ten companies will need to change their business model to make it more economically viable by 2023. Within this, 64% will need to create new digital business(es) during that time.1

Leaders must now lay out a clear path for the digital future of their businesses. And this must shift their digital approach from reactive implementation to a proactive platform that empowers their teams to achieve more.

Getting there is easier said than done. But, according to Carl Abernethy, Digital Opportunity Lead for Shell, companies will quickly see the impact of effective digital tools spread throughout different business functions – providing they have the correct foundations in place.

Shaping new digital ways of working

Businesswoman with tablet in a modern factory

Often technology is seen as the end goal. It’s easy for organisations to think that the act of either selecting or developing digital tools by itself will lead to guaranteed success. But, if their ways of working don’t support these solutions, they’re likely to see reduced adoption and ROI.

That’s why, for Abernethy, making sure the business has the right mentality for, and approach to, digitalisation is a key foundational aspect.

“I think it naturally takes time to shift the way an organisation works. But the success of a product isn’t just in its creation,” he says. “We could create the perfect tool. Yet if the people don't embrace it then the tool wouldn’t be adopted or achieve success.”

To make sure the tools delivered value, the LSC Digitalisation product team adopted a customer centric approach.

“We really started to change the way we worked by always putting the customer first,” Abernethy explains. “So, in our team specifically, it was all about saying, ‘OK, where are your pain points and how can we support you?’ From there, we were able to create a prioritised backlog of value-adding items helping to deliver widely adopted solutions.”

Regardless of how useful and accurate digital tools can be, if users don’t embrace them, they simply won’t be successful.

Carl Abernethy, Digital Opportunity Lead for Shell

One of the major benefits that this mindset shift unlocked was the ability to deliver an initial solution much quicker than ever before.

“Previously, digital products had taken up to one year to create and scale out to the full user base. Numerous reasons such as delivery methodology, lack of a data platform, legacy or process-heavy deployment had all accumulated to slow delivery,” says Abernethy. “However, recent similarly sized products have been delivered in just a few months to the full user base. This is followed by smaller frequent releases helping to get rapid feedback and allowing us to react to possible changes in requirements. That way, the tools start to deliver value – even if initially it’s only an aspect of the original request.”

This doesn’t mean that there won’t be further change. Each company’s digital mindset will evolve constantly – a process that will continue as more people embrace new ways of working.

Laying the foundations of digitalisation with data

As well as getting their people and processes ready for further digitalisation, organisations need to make sure their new digital tools have the right information to work with. They need a trusted data layer to fuel the digital processes and drive effective decision making.

“The data layer is one of the key foundations to any digital product,” Abernethy explains. “Once you have that foundation in place, you could give the business access to the data layer – allowing them to tap into the data for themselves. So, it becomes a balance between delivering a digital product to them or allowing them to explore to get their own insights out of the information.”

With the right foundation in place, business colleagues can now upskill and leverage the Low Code/No Code platform (known as DIY in Shell) to create their own solutions.

Carl Abernethy, Digital Opportunity Lead for Shell

Men looking at data graph on screen

Abernethy outlines the impact data visibility can have on a team, sharing the example of a supply issue caused by a fire at one of their suppliers.

“The supply chain needed to know the product portfolio, networking, current stock and future demand so they could manage the situation with customers,” he explains. “They could download reports and work with the information in Excel but crunching all the data was a time-consuming process. And they needed to make quick decisions.”

Abernethy and his team were able to create a highly tactical solution to this specific problem in roughly three days. This gave the supply chain managing this crisis the visibility they needed – along with automatic daily updates.

“It was a task that they’d have normally done once a week or once a month, and now they had that information daily,” says Abernethy. “It highlights what you can achieve with digital tools built on a strong data foundation, and the difference they make.”

Avoiding duplication of work through smarter solutions

Even with the right people, processes and data in place, it can be a challenge to avoid duplicated digital products across different business functions – something that will definitely slow down the pace of digitalisation.

For Abernethy, engaging with each function to understand their needs within the context of the wider digital ecosystem is often a useful first step.

“If a new idea comes in from the business, it may well be that we realise there’s overlap with existing tools in our portfolio or the data foundation is already in place within our data platform,” he explains. “This provides us with situations where the effort to deliver a new solution is low, but the value is huge. And the more we can do that – the more we have that overlap – the better.”

People don’t always know what solutions are available. It’s simple to join the dots for them when you have a clear overview of your digital tools – and how you can build on them.

Carl Abernethy, Digital Opportunity Lead for Shell

Within Shell, new opportunities are collected by a process that Abernethy refers to as a funnel of opportunities, with each idea being grouped under the LSC operations of Plan, Source, Make, Deliver. It’s a concept where ideas and digital tools are categorised to give visibility of what already exists within the business – and what might prove to be useful when applied to another function.

“All of our products sit in one (or more) of these four pillars, which gives us an overview of how they complement each other and support the supply chain,” says Abernethy. “By having this visibility, we can clearly see what products could be extended to meet the different needs of each business function. And this only increases the pace at which we can develop and deliver new tools.”

Accelerating towards a do-it-yourself digital future

In the future, Abernethy also sees companies taking an even bigger step that will further accelerate their digital journeys. Where they’re currently able to reuse and expand existing tools across different business functions, organisations can adopt a Low Code No Code approach where colleagues are able to create their own solutions quickly and effectively.

“This gives people the ability to replace tasks and functions that are repetitive and time-consuming but are potentially too small in value to put a product team on,” he says. “With the right framework and handrails in place, any individual in the business can become a citizen data engineer and be part of the overall acceleration of digitalisation.”

The move to embed a Low Code No Code approach shows what an organisation can aim for with the right digital foundations in place. Accelerating digitalisation then becomes less about how your business keeps up with the competition and more about the opportunities it can unlock to give you an advantage.

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