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Digital transformation research

In the last few years, I’ve been given the opportunity to work on some incredible digital transformation research projects at Salford University. Digital transformation is a hot topic currently and we are running more and more training courses, projects and research. This article outlines how organisations can take advantage of working with a University to take advantage of digital transformation research through practical projects. 

Wordcloud innovationSince the late 1990’s, I’ve been helping organisations to make better use of digital technologies such as websites and web based systems as a programmer and media developer. Over the last 5 years, I’ve been involved with various training courses for digital marketing and web development with tools like WordPress. It’s this kind of experience at this stage, which has led to opportunities for more sustained and reflective digital transformation projects. A good example of this is our recent HEIF Knowledge Exchange (HKE) project.

HKE and KTP Projects

A HKE project is quite similar to a KTP (Knowledge Transfer Partnership). In both cases, a company has identified a challenge and opportunity where they perhaps don’t have the in-house expertise, knowledge or facility to take advantage of it. The project allows the organisation to work closely with a larger organisation such as a University, which has expertise in that particular area. They are usually technology based and are therefore ideally suited to digital transformation projects.

A project like this is typically 18 months to 2 years and the scheme unlocks funding to pay for things like an associate, training and an academic team. The associate is all important, because they become the key person, working for both the company and the University and creating a link between both to drive the project forward. In addition, an academic (or academics) with relevant experience and expertise become the University team in order to support the project and most importantly, create research and papers around the project. So from the companies perspective, their goal is to create a profitable and innovative new part of the company supported by the associate and the University. The primary interest of the university team is the new knowledge and research derived from a real world case study and the opportunities that brings. An important point to note is that these projects are not consultancy – they are about knowledge transfer. That means that at all stages, we are always trying to make sure that the company is gaining the knowledge that is needed to create in-house, embedded capability by the end of the project.

HKE project with Hydro-X

Heinze, Tapas, Fenton, Griffiths

Aleksej Heinze, Zahid Tapas, Alex Fenton and Marie Griffiths at the Manchester Inspiration Awards

A recent example of one of these is with a company in Sheffield called Hydro-X. They are a very successful water treatment company who came on our popular Certificate in Executive Business Administration (CEBA) short course in 2017. They had started a small project selling digital health and safety training relating to their business. Through the course, it helped them to think more about the potential to consider their own future through digital transformation, but they needed help.

After a further conversation about KTP, they realised that this would help them to grow the company. In particular, the digital training arm through a greater understanding of digital marketing, digital learning management systems and e-Commerce. The academic team were composed of my brilliant colleagues Dr. Aleksej Heinze, Dr. Marie Griffiths and myself. The Associate was recruited, one of our MSc Information Systems graduates Johnson Bankole who had previously done a successful final MSc project on another digital transformation project called Fan Fit project.

Digital business maturity model

Taking advantage of digital transformation

One year in, Hydro-X training has been born and is already starting to be successful selling legionella training courses. Knowledge has been transferred so that this arm of the company is growing to become self sufficient. The academic team have also been able to draw upon their extensive experience to pull together the first journal paper on this project. It’s called ‘Knowledge exchange partnership leads to digital transformation at Hydro-X’ and the draft version can be downloaded from our open access repository. The full version can be downloaded from Wiley here. Basically, the paper outlines the case and the context of digital transformation. It then introduces the business model canvas and the digital business maturity model. The model is quite simple, but a good way of thinking about how organisations can take advantage of digital technologies to become more competitive and streamlined. This is a really hot topic at the moment as we’ve seen so many example recently of companies falling foul of the disruptive changes that digital has brought with the growth of smartphones, fast broadband speeds and changing customer behaviours.

Digital transformation HINGES on this

HINGE - Digital transformation model

HINGE Digital transformation model (Heinze et al, 2018)

The paper introduces a new model for digital transformation called HINGE. This is derived from the experiences of the team of around 10 KTP projects and our decades of experience of working with companies, particularly SMEs. It’s no coincidence that the HINGE diagram above is in a circular shape. Each step may be done in a different order and on an iterative basis in order to take advantage of digital transformation and to stay competitive. The steps represent:

  • Horizon scanning: Evaluating the external environment – find out what is happening and what is on the horizon
  • Internal audit: Assessing the internal environment – what systems are in place, what is working and what could be improved
  • New models: Reaching new business maturity levels and creating new business models
  • Gap analysis: Evaluating current and future states of the business.
  • Evaluation of options: Testing and evaluating the different options available.

What next for digital transformation?

Now we have developed this model, the next steps are to undertake some new and exciting projects and research. We could like to further apply, test and write about HINGE and develop some new ideas and models. If you are interested to speak to me about anything in this article, I would love to hear from you, drop me a line.

Alex Fenton

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