Micro transformation: Driving big business benefit through quick IT wins
Strategic micro transformations enable IT leaders to digitally evolve their organizations without disrupting business continuity, creating continuous cycles of improvement that deliver large-scale benefits with lower overhead and risk.
When it comes to IT projects, Daragh Mahon likes to think small. The CIO of transportation and logistics company Werner Enterprises has spent the bulk of his career doing full-blown transformation projects that often took two or three years to complete and ended up being a “massive, monolithic platform.” But by then, the business requirements had changed, “and frankly, it doesn’t work,’’ Mahon says.
So Mahon is driving digital transformation in a different direction, doing minimum viable products (MVPs), or micro transformations, which are pieces of a system that are digitized in small increments.
For example, IT started by moving the “least complex part” of its logistics platform, which sat on a legacy system, onto a modern platform, Mahon says. Over the course of time, IT did many more MVPs, migrating more complex pieces of the logistics system, and eventually moving the entire platform in an 18-month period.
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Micro transformations are a strategic approach to digital evolution, enabling IT leaders to innovate without disrupting business continuity. Typically quicker, micro transformations are more adaptable — and lower risk — than large-scale projects, helping organizations achieve tangible improvements faster. When done right, they emphasize what many organizations strive for: improving the customer/client experience.
And when performed strategically in succession as Mahon has done at Werner, such quick wins can lead to much larger business transformation over time — with less big-bang disruption and change management thanks to measurable proof of enhancement along the way.
Here’s how IT leaders are embracing a quick-win, cumulative approach to digital transformation.
Finding a cure for hospital readmissions
Dealing with limited financial and human resources as well as a need to increase patient engagement meant Chris Belmont needed to find a way for his IT organization to produce some quick wins a couple of years back when he was vice president and CIO of Memorial Hospital in Gulfport, Miss.
The hospital was grappling with how to effectively stay in touch with patients who had been discharged but might need a follow-up visit. “The traditional approach was we’d get lists and call them, but that’s not going to work 100% of the time,’’ explains Belmont, who left Memorial in February to become senior vice president and CIO of Ochsner Health in New Orleans. A new approach was needed that would produce “more shots on goal.”
“It wasn’t like we were in a big room and an executive said, ‘We want to move in this direction,’’’ he recalls. “It was more, ‘Let’s do this under the radar and prove out a couple of micro wins … and that will lead to more macro benefits.’ It gets contagious — you do one and it leads to others.”
IT worked with the hospital’s clinic operations group to build “EmmiJourneys,’’ a series of automated scripts that were a blend of engaging and educational content in the form of interactive voice response calls and multimedia videos targeting patients based on their needs. The program reminds patients about discharge care instructions as well as follow-up appointments.
The program has resulted in a 50% higher likelihood of former patients attending follow-up appointments within 21 days of discharge and 26% fewer avoidable emergency room visits, which results in lower costs, Belmont says.
From there, “the next thing you know, we’re using the same methodology and approach in other departments and scaling up and out,’’ he says.
IT worked with solutions provider Wolters Kluwer to build EmmiJourneys, which Belmont describes as coming to fruition with “a little bit of begging for permission … versus talking through a large decision-making process.”
Belmont says IT will do more micro transformations as well as macro initiatives. “We want to move more toward value-based care, and we can do that with both larger and quick-hit projects like [EmmiJourneys] with relatively low overhead costs and risk,’’ he says.
Now at Ochsner, Belmont is about to embark on a micro-transformation project that involves deploying an ambient listening platform that records information from a clinic visit and produces a high-quality note. Eventually, IT will integrate the system with Ochsner’s Epic electronic medical record platform. Belmont introduced ambient listening at Memorial, where it was a challenge keeping human scribes, and started with 100 doctors instead of “a big bang” rollout.
It behooves IT to engage with the user community and understand their business “and not wait for them to call you and ask for solutions,’’ he says, but rather, look for “small, quick, short wins that have an immediate impact that can scale.”
The value of doing something small is the ability to learn from one use case, make any necessary tweaks, and see where else it can be applied. “We still do a lot of big things, but if we can fill in gaps and get some wins along the way … it’s a great enabler.” Too often, Belmont says, IT tends to think about products and shiny objects more so than outcomes.
Connecting and consolidating siloed systems
Even in a massive university system, small changes can reap great value. Technical College System of Georgia, which comprises 22 colleges and 88 campuses, and serves 350,000 individuals, needed to modernize systems to adapt to customer expectations, says Steven Ferguson, CIO.
The way people want to interact with the college system has changed drastically since the pandemic. Now, they expect to have 24/7 virtual interaction and just-in-time services, Ferguson says. “If someone live is not available … they wanted an intelligent chat service to answer questions,” as well as flexibility in offerings, he says. That means if a class can be online, students want that option.
So IT did a micro transformation dubbed “eCampus,” leveraging the existing framework for online education via a shared services model. That meant sharing faculty and course capacity among the various colleges.
“It’s a large change but a small thing that happened,’’ he notes. Because faculty was already teaching online at one campus, it was mainly a shift in mindset and saying, “We’ve got faculty, let’s make them available across the state, and a shift in technology from one to many.”
IT ran a pilot in 2021 with one instructor. On the back end, that required “some plumbing” using Cisco Webex to broadcast the faculty member across a larger footprint. Whereas a macro transformation would be to repeat the same process 22 times, “the micro transformation was flip that one-to-many switch,’’ Ferguson says.
Despite being a university system that works together and looks similar, “there’s really 22 silos and everyone has their own learning management systems and tools and their own databases,’’ Ferguson says.
The shift required taking data systems, connecting and standardizing them, normalizing the data, and then aggregating the data back to a common database IT could pull from. This “ultimately allowed us to make this seamless for both faculty and students,” he says.
Today, IT has built out the eCampus transformation program in all 22 colleges across 300 courses. Switching to a one-to-many model has enabled innovation to continue at a steady pace, Ferguson says. Although nationwide, enrollment in two-year colleges is declining, eCampus and a related portfolio have contributed to greater than 3% enrollment growth over the last academic year in their institutions, he says.
“So when everyone’s losing [enrollment], we’re growing as a system,” he says.
A more pampering app for pet parents
As with most organizations, at MetLife, the impetus for any transformation — no matter the size — is always the customer, says Bill Pappas, executive vice president and head of MetLife’s Global Technology and Operations (GTO) organization. The most recent micro transformation GTO conducted this year was the launch of the company’s enhanced pet wellness app, which offers a set of resources in real-time with the goal of creating a better experience for insured pet parents. It was a cross-functional effort between GTO team members and MetLife’s pet insurance team, Pappas says.
Users can now manage pet insurance by securely viewing policies, chatting live with customer service, editing pet profiles, and submitting and tracking claims. Among the other new features, they can also access live a 24/7 vet chat to quickly get answers and tips from licensed vets without having to schedule a visit.
Pappas says they stayed ahead of any cross-functional digital transformation challenges “through intentional, consistent communication cross-functionally on the various stages of development. We also worked to ensure the right teams within GTO and the business were engaged to ensure a seamless and secure app experience for our customers.”
Since its launch in March, usage of the enhanced app has increased from a few thousand average monthly users to more than 35,000, according to Pappas. Additionally, the percentage of submitted MetLife Pet Insurance claims increased from under 30% to nearly 50%, he says.
In terms of whether he will lead other micro transformations, Pappas says, “We will continue to innovate in a way that’s intuitive to our customers.”
Micro transformations should not be done for the sake of innovating, he says. “We don’t chase the shiny new toy — we innovate based on customer wants and needs. No project is too small, and it’s important to make sure that the transformations you lead — no matter their size — add value to your customers and employees in a way that’s intuitive and secure.”
CIOs should also make sure they’re creating an environment for ongoing enhancements and improvements led by data-driven insights gathered through continuous listening models, Pappas says. “This will help to ensure that CIOs sustain an agile tech organization with the ability to adapt to the changing needs and growing expectations of their customer and employee base.’’
Casting a brighter light
At Custom Neon, a global manufacturer and retailer of custom-designed LED neon lights and signs, there was no lightbulb moment for CTO and co-owner Matt Aird to do a micro transformation. Spurring growth and innovation and racking up quick IT wins is how the company approaches projects, Aird says.
“It’s not about seismic shifts overnight but implementing small, targeted changes that progressively enhance the overall business operation and customer experience,’’ he says.
One such micro transformation was the overhauling of the website’s neon sign customization tool, a core part of its business. This shift was not monumental in scale but was transformative in its impact on the customer journey, Aird notes.
“We had a vision of a tool that was not just functional but enjoyable and intuitive to use,’’ he says. “The overhaul involved adopting a more modern, clean look, and making sure the process of customers designing their own signs was as user-friendly as possible. It was important to us to take away any guesswork and provide real-time visual feedback as customers design their neon signs, blending creativity with technology.”
While it’s still early days to determine the success of the micro transformation, the initial customer feedback has been encouraging, Aird says. “There’s something intrinsically rewarding when you hear directly from customers about how much they’re enjoying the new tool, how it’s adding value to their purchasing experience, and how it makes the process of creating their own neon signs easier and more fun and exciting.”
This is critical because Custom Neon operates in a “highly saturated e-commerce niche,’’ he adds, and micro transformations such as upgrading the website tool “subtly, but surely redefine the customer experience, contributing to our continued growth and competitiveness.”
This kind of micro transformation underscores the power of agile methodology, enabling IT to identify bottlenecks, implement targeted improvements, and quickly see the effects, Aird says. “Moreover, they allow us to enhance our KPIs, notably in customer satisfaction and operational efficiency.”
For micro transformations to deliver quick-hit wins, however, all the IT leaders agree they must be guided by the organization’s overarching strategy and goals. “For us, that means every small change we implement aims to bring us closer to our mission of delivering superior quality custom neon signs with exceptional customer experience,’’ Aird says.
When starting a micro transformation, identify those small but significant changes that can bring about immediate improvements, provide quick wins, and enhance the customer experience, Aird advises. “Doing this, you’ll create a continuous cycle of improvement that keeps your company agile, responsive, and primed for success … When looking to include micro transformations in your IT strategy and workflow, your mantra should be, ‘Think big, start small, and move fast.’”