Cracking the digital transformation code: A conversation with ACP

These days every technology vendor, including Citrix, spends a lot of time talking about digital transformation. But talking about it and actually doing it are two different things. Some technology sellers are still searching for the best way to engage with customers around transforming their businesses. Some, like ACP IT Solutions, one of our Platinum Partners in Germany, have got it down to a science.

We sat down with Dirk Waltje, managing director and board member at ACP, to find out the secret to ACP’s success.

Rule #1: Stop talking about technology.

There’s plenty of debate around what digital transformation actually means, even whether it’s a real phenomenon or just the latest buzzword. Waltje believes the key to talking about it with customers lies in emphasizing the “transformation” side of the equation, and not worrying so much about the “digital.”

“I see the impact of digital technologies as a major change in our society that affects everyone,” he says. “But the thing that customers need to understand is, it’s not really technology-driven. It’s about changing human behavior.”

Cloud computing, big data, the Internet of Things (IoT)—these and other digital trends really can help customers reimagine many aspects of their business. But companies don’t invest in technology for technology’s sake. The conversation should always start with human beings: What problems can we solve by making your people more connected, accessible, efficient, informed? Where would that make the biggest difference?

“For us, the first step in digital transformation is holding a workshop with the customer, just to generate new ideas,” says Waltje. “We need to understand the customer’s real needs from a business process level to be able to identify the best way to move forward with innovation. It’s only after that you start to consider the kind of cloud computing or analytics solution that would support it. Technology decisions come later.”

Rule #2: Help IT grow into its changing role.

Waltje sees broad variation in the kinds of organizations embracing digital transformation.
“I get surprised by our customers every day,” he says. “It’s not a question of how big a company or IT department is, it’s about their innovation level. We work with very small companies who are far ahead on this topic, with innovation centers searching for new ways to bring customers closer to production processes, for example. And then there are very large customers who haven’t even started with digital transformation.”

Waltje does, however, see one common theme among customers who are farther along this path: they’re rethinking the focus and expectations for IT.

“In past years, our customers’ IT managers were very price-sensitive,” he says. “They typically worked under finance departments or CFOs, so every project was price-driven. Now, IT is taking on more responsibility and being tasked with innovation rather than just cutting costs.”

This shift makes sense; IT works with every part of the company and typically has a close-up view of every department’s processes, tools and interfaces. Which puts them in a unique prime position to think deeply about how those processes can be improved.

“There's a big chance for IT leaders to move beyond pure technology discussions in the company, and really address innovation and business processes,” says Waltje. “When they trust us to help them bring these kinds of topics to their management, it can be a real thrill for them.”

Rule #3: Be ready to rethink your own organization.

Transitioning to a more open-ended, human-focused customer engagement approach was a big change for ACP—and required investments in new people and skill sets. For example, ACP created dedicated transformation specialists in multiple areas who can speak the right vocabulary for different parts of customers’ organizations. ACP also built up an entire digital transformation organization to conduct the high-level innovation workshops that kick off such engagements with customers.

Changes like these can be difficult, especially for a company like ACP, which has been operating for more than 25 years. People have been doing things a certain way—with a great deal of success—for a long time.

“As we shift to more of a consulting approach, where we try to look at these problems the way our customers think about them internally, we need different kinds of skills,” says Waltje. “We’re approaching that with a mix of hiring new people, creating new organizations in our company, and investing in retraining. Honestly, it’s been a challenge. But if you do it right, you’ll end up ahead of the competition, and that’s what ACP has done.”

At Citrix, we’re making our own changes to help partners like ACP navigate this new landscape as well, such as shifting licensing to a cloud-based model.

“This gives us much more flexibility in finding the right offer for the customer and the right dynamics for our solutions,” says Waltje. “We can take away this significant overhead that our customers previously had to deal with and focus much more on optimizing their processes and environment.”

Rule #4: Transformation in Action

What does ACP’s consultative approach to transformation look like? Here are some real-world examples:

  • Embracing the IoT: A provider of heavy equipment used to prepare ski slopes was struggling with manual processes that made it hard to get the job done quickly enough each night, before skiers arrived the next morning. For example, operators had to stop the vehicles every few minutes, get out to manually check the quality of the snow produced, and adjust the equipment. ACP’s digital transformation team developed a solution that uses IoT sensors to continually check snow quality, so vehicle operators never have to stop.
  • Forecasting energy costs: For ÖBB, the biggest railway in Austria, purchasing energy on the open market is among its largest expenses. Precisely forecasting how much power they will need in the coming week can translate to massive savings. Cubido´s (a subsidiary of ACP and part of the new digital transformation organization) big data and analytics specialists worked with the railway to develop a highly accurate forecasting solution, using state-of-the-art statistical analysis and machine learning algorithms. The solution is saving ÖBB hundreds of thousands of euros annually. 

In both cases, ACP didn’t start out by walking into these customers’ offices with a product to sell. Rather, they conducted open-ended workshops with company leaders, solely to understand their business processes and pain points. From the dozens of ideas those workshops generated, ACP developed concrete proposals to solve business challenges in novel ways.

“These customers are in the business of selling machinery or running a railway—not thinking about IT,” says Waltje. “But we can come in and help them improve their IT capabilities to make a better product or increase productivity or lower their costs. These are good examples of how we can use these workshops, and the expertise we’ve developed, to create new solutions that bring these kinds of customers to the next level.”

Rule #5: Accelerate Progress

Is the way work is organized in your company and how technology is adopted slowing your progress in your own digital transformation journey? Listen to “Accelerating Productivity w/o Compromise through Immersive Digital Workspaces,” on-demand for a fresh take on how work really gets done in the modern era and how technology can enable this new approach.

For existing partners, learn how Partner Kickstart can help you begin these conversations with your customers.

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