Akash Bahal, Head of Transformation Office at SG EBS
What was the level of digitalization in your center before COVID-19?
Société Générale is globally known to be a Digital Bank. We have always been committed towards providing Innovative and digital solutions to our clients and are reasonably matured when it comes to innovation. There is a lot of focus around Innovation and Digitalization within the group. There is also an Innovation department in the group that is directly supervised by the management of the group. The strategy of Innovation revolves around 3 axes – Open Innovation, Supporting Transformation for the Business Lines within the group, and; Gather Market intelligence about Digital and Disruptive Trends. So while Covid-19 posed the necessity to expedite innovation at Société Générale, this was not the inception point for us.
How did COVID-19 impact digital transformation of your company?
This is an interesting question! At the beginning of the pandemic, I received several jokes also about what powers Digitization in an organization – the options were CEO, CTO, COVID 19… Of course COVID-19 has disrupted our normalcy and in a way, is forcing us to rethink transformation and digitize to remain competitive and sustainable in business. We cannot deny the fact that these are the most challenging VUCA (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity & Ambiguity) times our generations have known, and they happened at a global scale thereby impacting every industry and organization and we weren’t untouched by it either. The humanitarian impact made both customers and employees radically change their behaviour. The good part is that everyone has acknowledge the need to be digital, understands that process have to be transformed rapidly therefore everyone is onboard! Now, we need to be careful about doing logical transformation ensuring processes are indeed Digital. This can take time but the journey has begun with focus.
What type of processes did you digitalize in the last 2 months?
With social distancing as the new norm, remote & distributed agile/new ways of working, digital capabilities and simple, efficient processes & governance at a distance have become real imminent challenges. These have henceforth been our focus areas. We explored and implemented processes for Digital Onboarding for new employees. This includes – Recruitment and new ways of engaging and interacting with staff. Induction is an important process within an organization to familiarize employees with Group Values and Processes. We are creating VR modules for our induction that people can use to have an immersive experience around our values and at the same time making many Classroom trainings to be available in Digital mode where people can take the trainings at their own pace. While keeping and creating a connection with customers is critical for survival and growth, digital channels will become first-level access points, and the face-to-face interactions will now become the complement.
What helped you the most during this period? And why?
Agility, adaptability and rapid decision making. Now was not the time to freeze but to move forward, decide with speed and execute upon decision. We kept the processes simple, engaging and focused on solving issues at hand. We are also preparing qualitative ideas giving visibility on why should we transform now, what are the risks and ROI of the project.
What was the hardest thing to do? And why?
To change from a reactive to proactive mindset. We realize that if we want to be successful in the post-pandemic era we must shift from digital evolution towards the digital revolution. As they say, you cannot begin to dig a well when you get thirsty.
Do you think COVID-19 is a turning point in digital transformation?
Yes, of course. The pandemic will force organizations to think about Real Estate, Paperless offices and Virtual presence. Office will not be the same workplace again and there will be a lot of shifts towards Digital. I would say the Digital Era has arrived and in style!
How did the employees adapt and embrace digital transformation during the lockdown?
Actually people were appreciative of our efforts on Digital transformation. People had additional time at hand during the isolation period and were able to think about transformation of the processes. We have launched 4th Edition of “Catalyst”, an internal accelerator program, where the objective is to solve business problems in Agile mode being disruptive. In this edition, we have 4 themes, – Optimization of Process with automation, Digital Channels for our Clients, Green and Sustainable IT and Improving Client and Employee Experienced. We are leveraging digital tools for workshops that are done remotely. The key during this time is to make the process of transformation simple, effective and interactive. This is what we also are focusing on.
Do you have a story or an image regarding this forced digitalization that you will remember or tell when someone will ask you about this period?
An article I read in a McKinsey report on Decision making during difficult times, I believe this is a strong reflection of times to come and how leadership needs to undergo a change in the traditional decision-making style.
What is the next step in your company digital transformation?
Businesses can’t afford to put capability building on hold. Whether the effort is reskilling or a company-wide aspirational transformation, we can’t simply push the pause button on critical workplace learning, even as we move rapidly to put employee safety first. So our critical focus will be towards building the workforce for tomorrow, the customer of tomorrow will prefer remote and digital and our employees should be able to embrace and excel in that changing environment.