Virgin Media takes digital very seriously: in fact, it has an entire department dedicated to digital. Rhona Bradshaw is the woman in charge of heading up the department – which, whilst encompassing both marketing and IT, sits quite separately from both.
Originally Head of Marketing at UPC Ireland, Rhona saw an opportunity to future proof the internal structure of Virgin Media when the two companies merged in 2013. With a background in marketing and a focus on delivering the best possible service experience for end users and employees, Rhona was well placed to take on the challenge.
Three years on Drop Everything caught up with Rhona to find out how the department fits into the business, and why a specialist Digital Transformation Department is a must have in the telecoms industry.
You’re the first IT Hero we’ve interviewed who heads up their own department for Digital – so tell us a little more about why Digital is being prioritised at Virgin Media.
From 2009 onwards we, like many other businesses, really began to see the value of digital. With change happening fast and forward thinking digital strategies becoming a business differentiator, we realised we needed to use digital to: 1) bridge the gaps between existing legacy systems, and 2) to act as a gateway for embedding new platforms like cloud - which would allow us to do things faster and be more agile.
It was a big task, hence the need for a dedicated department with clear goals, objectives and priorities – but we certainly didn’t get where we are today without support.
Digital, after all, is all about collaboration and co-creation. We leant heavily on agencies and third party businesses to better understand what was going on in the outside world. The aim was (and is) to use digital to retain customers and improve their experience, by investing in digital tools that simplify workflows and make the business more agile – vendor relationships certainly helped us do this.
How does the department work – who do you report into and how do you set digital objectives?
We report into the COO who is aware of everything we do. He’s at the centre of the team and supports all aspects of the customer journey. Everything we do can be measured in operational KPI: conversion to sales, reduced customer contact and improved workflows. So our objectives are twofold: they’re part of the core business objectives but also help us priorities where digital focus is needed internally and externally.
Why is having a dedicated digital team important and why do you think other companies aren’t doing the same?
We’re in a unique position where we can set digital objectives and build digital platforms from end to end – unlike in other organisations, there’s never a point where we have to hand over control to another department. We have the marketing skills to understand our audience and the technological skills to implement the best systems.
What other companies often do is make digital decisions based on marketing or technology priorities – neither is right or wrong – but we are able to make digital transformation strategies based on a more holistic view of the business, taking into account employee and end user needs.
We really see digital as a different way of thinking – it’s a mindset as opposed to a channel. The challenge for other organisations is when digital is still considered a channel, by employees and the board. That’s such an outdated view. Businesses really need to embrace digital if they want to speak to, and engage with, customers in a different way.
What technology have you invested in as part of the digital transformation process at Virgin Media?
We are embracing all technology but there’s definitely a role for cloud, especially in terms of design and real time delivery. The cloud enables us to make a much deeper connection with the business, employees and our end users.
And, given the focus we’ve been able to put on digital, our service delivery is now cutting edge. We’ve been able to deliver personalisation across the entire business and evolve our offering, and improve customer experience as a result. Our analytics engines are much more connected and we’ve seen a decrease in contact as a result. Cloud technology, paired with analytics tools, have definitely improved the quality of service our customers receive.
How have you achieved success internally?
We’ve had a lot of commitment and belief from the CIO, C-suite and the executive team – that’s essential to success. We were able to demonstrate our ROI at every stage and that helps when trying to get buy in from key decision makers in the business.
The biggest challenge was the cultural change. Changing people’s mindsets and how they approach challenges was difficult. It’s difficult to change an organisation of our size into a quick, agile operation, but if we can achieve it, any organisation can.
The fact we have the belief of the team and the long term investment helps to showcase the value of digital - from the top down - and shows employees that we’re here for the long haul, not just a digital fad!
What advice do you have for other companies wanting to follow a similar model?
My advice is to make as clear an objective as possible and involve as many people as possible, right from the get-go. Bring people along for the ride and make the benefits, for employees, end users and the business, clear. And, rather than speaking a language that people don’t understand, figure out how you’re supporting the organisation and the tangible benefits for each department. Like any major cultural problem, just take it step by step.
In a lot of ways, it’s a difficult task. People will often argue against it because digital’s different and something they’re not used to. But if you have the support around you, to stand by your digital objectives, you’ll succeed.