by Cate Gutowski

GE digital transformation: collaboration leads to innovation

Oct 27, 2017
Digital TransformationInnovationIT Leadership

The vital importance of collaboration to enable transformation and innovation.

mobile collaboration strategy
Credit: Thinkstock

GE is undergoing a massive digital transformation from an Industrial to a Digital Industrial. As we navigate this journey, we are learning… a lot. It was one year ago this month that I moved back to the U.S. with my family from living abroad in Budapest, Hungary. As I reflect on the past year, one of the key lessons I’ve learned is the importance of collaboration.

Over the past year, we’ve built our Digital DNA for Customers, taking 50 instances of our CRM and creating one master CRM, the GE Hub. We built minimum data standards and implemented data governance in Commercial for the first time to enable a 360-degree view of our customers. We still have a lot more work to do, but as we enter into the next phase of our journey, I’m reminded of some simple truths. One of my favorites comes from my technology partner, Nick Perugini, GE Commercial CIO, who recently shared: “We all cross the finish line together, or nobody wins.”

Of course, collaboration is one of those things that sounds great in theory. But, we work in the real world. So how do you get people from different functions, businesses, and disparate groups to work together as one?

For starters, give each of them an equal voice. To activate the Digital Thread, we brought people to the table from different levels of management, functions, and different businesses. Every GE business had a voice and a critical role to play in achieving the enterprise-wide clean customer data model. No business was more important than another, or had more votes. Everyone was equal. And that’s key for people asked to work together: they must be starting from an equal footing.

Make change a groundswell, not a mandate. I get to spend time outside GE to learn, and very often I will hear, “This initiative will only work if it is mandated from the top down.” While I understand the premise, what I’ve witnessed is that an initiative simply won’t work if it is only mandated from the top down. When ideas originate from the bottom up, they tend to gain more traction and get stronger buy-in.

For our digital sales transformation, we crowdsourced ideas, and over 7,000 GE sales professionals globally voted and helped to build our product roadmap. The top request? It was simple—tell them who was calling on their customer. Some businesses wanted insight on who within their business they should be collaborating with on customer opportunities, and other businesses were seeking to work across their businesses, because they wanted to get a warm introduction to a new customer from the sales leader with the best relationship. Either way, our new digital product, GE Insights, now provides us with this data instantly. If we hadn’t crowdsourced this, I’m not sure we would have worked on it. After all, nobody knows what Sales needs, better than Sales.

Get the tech teams and the “talk” teams (domain experts) together early. It’s easy to think that technology solutions should be handled only by Technology. But in my experience, that’s exactly how we end up with lots of tools that no one uses. I’ve learned that the Technology teams care as much about customer impact and strategy as Sales and Marketing do. If we work in silos we will never win. The real magic happens when we come together and collaborate. Technology can’t do this alone—they need partners with a deep understanding of the function so we can ensure that whatever we build delivers high user adoption. If we can’t deliver high user adoption, then why are we building or investing in it in the first place? Repetitive daily user adoption is the only metric that counts in the Digital Age.

Silos are for storing grain, not growing business. Break down the silos within your organization, and get your functions working together to solve for the customer. I predict that in the future, functions will be dead. No more Sales, Marketing, IT. Just small, mission-based teams who wake up every morning ready to solve for the customer. We all have different skills and strengths. How can we unlock those skills and organize ourselves in new ways that enable customer obsession throughout our organization? How do we get horizontals and verticals working together, blurring the lines of functions and business units? Do our customers really care what function we sit in? I would argue that they don’t. All our customers care about is outcomes—are we delivering them, or not?

The bottom line? To succeed and grow, we as leaders need to find new ways and better ways to make it easier for our teams to collaborate. Companies that crack the code on enabling rapid, real-time collaboration will be the ones that innovate faster and win with customers.