Strong Leadership helps Australian Businesses Build a Digital Culture and Thrive


Very few business leaders have adopted full-blown, enterprise-wide digital strategies to ensure their companies have a vibrant future. Avanade Australia’s Managing Director Sarah Adam-Gedge speaks about why a lack of digital strategy can be a business killer and how Avanade is facilitating a shift towards a new standard of business behaviour.

Digital is no longer a nice-to-have – it is at the core of how modern business gets done, as well as underpinning engagement with employees, partners and customers.
Some of the most renowned companies in the world today built their success on getting ahead of the competition and by being digital from their foundation, or by transforming to embrace a digital strategy. Atlassian is a fantastic example of an Australian business that recognised the power of digital and has subsequently redefined workplace collaboration and unlocked doors to productivity and innovation.

In the retail industry, there has been a strong shift away from bricks-and-mortar stores, with brands like The Iconic making online shopping the norm for the next generation of Australians.
Now think of mining.

With the global commodity price slump, slimming down costs and boosting efficiencies is critical to survive and deliver profit. In a heavily regulated industry that places significant focus on safety, employee engagement and productivity, digital strategies for the organisation itself are now seen to be as important in driving success as physically extracting iron ore.
No industry is immune to the digital revolution.

Implementing a digital strategy is by no means easy, but businesses should see it as a significant opportunity. The first step is to create a digital culture.
Digital transformation cannot be achieved by reading a manual or eBook. It requires leadership, wisdom and guidance. If there are no digital or tech-friendly leaders guiding teams, it becomes almost impossible to implement a workable enterprise-wide strategy.

According to Avanade Managing Director Sarah Adam-Gedge, to be a digital company on the outside, it’s vital to be digital on the inside.
“For organisations to be relevant, they need to adopt digital operations to cultivate and nurture their own digital culture. This includes having digital leaders, digital engagement, and ethical frameworks to help navigate through this brave new world. These elements ensure the entire business goes on the journey. Acting as a digital leader doesn’t always require deep technical knowledge and skills, but rather an ability to lead by example and embrace digital tools and work practices that help drive productivity and flexible working. Establishing a digital culture starts with a vision from leadership and a comprehensive road map to realise that vision.”

Like any business change, it must be owned and championed by the leadership team, but digital is not just about technology, it’s about people. A digital strategy must be human-centric and focussed on enablement – be that deeper data insights to help an employee perform his/her role better, or a more connected and customised buying experience for a customer.
To drive digital engagement, leadership is key.

“Effective digital leadership should drive widespread digital engagement throughout an organisation, and beyond to its customers. One of our clients, Treasury Wine Estates (TWE), has migrated to the cloud to bolster global collaboration across its global network and ultimately deliver better engagement with customers,” Sarah says.
“TWE has also moved to a managed services model for its commoditised applications and processes, freeing its people to focus on innovation and enabling them to provide more value-added activities.”

In January, the Australian Computer Society (ACS) published a report entitled Tomorrow’s Digitally Enabled Workforce, which outlines how businesses and education can benefit from driving a digital workplace and equipping the next generation of workers with skills to survive and thrive in an increasingly digital work environment.
Avanade’s vision is to be the leading digital innovator, realising results for its clients and their customers with digital and cloud technologies.
“Not only are we seeing client demand for digital transformation, but a digital culture is desirable for the next generation of workers. People entering the workplace today expect that the experience they have outside the workplace is mirrored within,” Sarah says.

According to analysis conducted by the CSIRO’s data innovation department Data61, in conjunction with the ACS and other bodies, the makeup of Australia’s workplace is shifting faster and more dramatically than ever before.

“Digital workplace transformation is critical for countries like Australia as we shift to a knowledge- and innovation-based economy. Many companies are primarily focused on digital to drive customer engagement, but to remain relevant during this time of fostering new digital innovations, organisations need to walk the talk by cultivating and nurturing their own digital culture.”

This is where Avanade’s experience comes to the fore.
“I’m not going to say we help to develop an organisation’s vision, but we certainly help them understand how we can digitally enable the business to achieve its vision. That’s where we operate,” Sarah says.


Avanade was formed as a joint venture between Microsoft and Accenture in 2000 and now has more than 29,000 professionals worldwide. Avanade helps large enterprises to innovate with technologies in the Microsoft ecosystem, but also provide advice to company leaders on the best way to develop and implement an enterprise-wide digital strategy.

“When Microsoft, Avanade and Accenture come together, we are working with a client to solve a difficult issue and help them move into the future. We call it the ‘power of three’ because we think that’s an unbeatable combination.”

At the root of Avanade’s culture is a passion for technology and a desire to change the world for the better. Most organisations are challenged by what Avanade calls ‘two-speed IT’ – the difficulty of maintaining and building a core business, while innovating to continually adapt to the fast-evolving market.
“No two clients are the same; some are slower to adopt new technologies, while some race ahead,” says Sarah. “We put that whole transformation of an organisation down to: ‘are you just trying to make operational changes or are you trying to build a top-down pervasive digital culture?’”

Looking at how Avanade has helped businesses transform gives some insight into exactly what can be done.
“We work at a rapid pace to help businesses meet innovation objectives,” Sarah says. “We are currently working with an Australian retailer on a pilot program. Adopting an agile, fast-fail approach, we first ideate and prove the concept out in a two to three week period, and then – once we have the client’s feedback – we go ahead and build and deploy. Another example is how we worked with Henkel, a multinational company active both in the consumer and industrial sectors. Henkel wanted to replace an aging IT environment with better workplace technologies, rapidly and with minimal risk to business operations. We moved quickly on the deployment and cut the time to get it done by half. For the client, the shift to a digital workplace reinvigorated the corporate culture and spurred productivity, with 50 per cent of the workforce adopting the internal messaging tool to increase collaboration across teams. Similarly, we recently completed a project with the Australian Department of Industry to deliver a persona-based solution that promotes national innovation by making it easier for Australian businesses to navigate to information they need on the Department’s website.”sarah4

Avanade also ensures that it too is taking care of its own digital needs. How can it expect to be a leader in its field, if it is slow to adapt itself?
Sarah is clear when she says: “We believe in leading by example. For example, to drive global collaboration, we’ve rolled out Skype for Business to our global workforce, and all of our team members have their mobile devices securely synced to Office 365, so they can do what’s needed anywhere, any time. Our staff often work remotely from both client offices and home base, so having a functioning remote office environment is important. To ensure our teams don’t lose the sense of their community, as a business we have also embraced the internal social network, Yammer, to share ideas and thoughts between staff members.”
Avanade also supports its staff globally to innovate.

“Each year, we gather colleagues and partners from all around the world for the annual TechSummit (an event that provides a platform for ideas-sharing and global innovation). A select group of clients also join us as at TechSummit to discuss new technology trends and see solutions we are showcasing as we imagine the future. TechSummit is an annual pilgrimage not to be missed, and all Avanade businesses around the world invest in ensuring colleagues can get together to exchange ideas and inspire each other.”

Sarah says the second half of this decade represents a period of further significant change. More change than the entire history gone before us, thanks to digital.

“The speed of digitisation is on the rise and will continue to set the agenda for the way businesses interact and operate in the future. Innovation will define a number of critical choices we have to make: what work to do, how to develop skills, and how companies enhance work environments to stay relevant to all types of workers.”

In that sense, Avanade stands at the forefront of this change, influencing and inspiring Australian companies to embrace a digital culture to drive productivity and fuel Australia’s future economic success. BFM

Business First is a peer-to-peer magazine: written by CEOs and other high level executives, with interviews with some of the country’s best leaders.

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