Alexandra Jankovich and Tom Voskes Of SparkOptimus On How To Use Digital Transformation To Take Your Company To The Next Level
An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis
… The wrong way is to set up an ‘Innovation Hub’ outside the business and fill it with expensive new people. The right way is to give people within the business the freedom to experiment with what they’re doing, and equip them with digital tools to get rapid feedback data. Then they need to adopt a fast-paced rhythm of testing, learning, and running new iterations of the test. High performing digital businesses are constantly testing every aspect of what they’re doing in one-to-two-week cycles.
As part of our series about “How To Use Digital Transformation To Take Your Company To The Next Level”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Alexandra Jankovich and Tom Voskes, Co-Founders of SparkOptimus.
Alexandra Jankovich and Tom Voskes are co-founders of award-winning digital strategy consultancy firm, SparkOptimus, and experts in the ‘why’ and ‘how to’ of digital transformation. Since launching in 2010, SparkOptimus has worked with global companies and change-makers on over 900 digital projects in 25+ countries. Alongside writer and editor Adrian Hornsby, they have co-authored new book Disruption in Action.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
We founded SparkOptimus over a conversation beside a fish tank in an empty Chinese restaurant — perhaps the most unglamorous spot in the Netherlands! We’d just done a digital project together, and took the leap of faith that this could become a business. Fast forwards 12 years and digital transformation has become one of the most pressing issues in business.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
In terms of gratitude, our biggest debt has to be to each other. We don’t always agree, but by pushing and pulling we make our ideas better — and that’s the best thing co-founders can do for each other.
Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
It’s perhaps a surprising one, but we’re very fond of the books of C. Northcote Parkinson — especially Tom. For those who aren’t familiar with him, Parkinson was a writer and public administrator in the mid-20th century who wrote humorous books about the paradoxes of bureaucracy. They’re brilliantly funny and timeless because they’re really about human nature which, after all, is what business is too. Businesses are people.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose-driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?
We fundamentally believe that tech should make the world better. We see it in everything — from new, easier ways to order food to better healthcare and education. Our purpose is to help organizations unlock the power of digital to improve things for people and the environment.
We also believe that the future will be defined by those organizations that master tech and data now, and use them to improve their products and services for customers, the environment and society at large.
This was our founding vision, and for over a decade we have been implementing it by working with top global companies and digital pure players — inspiring and guiding them to create disruptive yet sustainable value. We help leaders transform their organizations and unlock that better world.
Are you working on any new, exciting projects now? How do you think that might help people?
This year we launched refugeehelp.com in response to the crisis in Ukraine. It’s a digital platform that coordinates information about all the different services available to people arriving in the country for the first time. We saw there was a lot of help out there, but it could be extremely hard to navigate, and this was where we could do something. We built the site in collaboration with the Dutch Council for Refugees and a long list of NGOs, and the results have been incredible and uplifting. We had 65k users in the first fortnight alone!
Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion about Digital Transformation. For the benefit of our readers, can you help explain what exactly Digital Transformation means? On a practical level what does it look like to engage in a Digital Transformation?
There is no magic bullet here, and digital transformations can involve many different kinds of initiative — from digital acquisitions to launching e-commerce platforms to full scale transformations of global operations. But the key is the use of digital systems to start improving things for customers. The transformation follows from that, and the digital part is only ever a means to an end.
Which companies can most benefit from a Digital Transformation?
Digital is for everyone. It’s relevant across all industries, and because the landscape is constantly evolving, transformation is an ongoing process. This means all companies have to engage and no one’s done!
We’d love to hear about your experiences helping others with Digital Transformation. In your experience, how has Digital Transformation helped improve operations, processes and customer experiences? We’d love to hear some stories if possible.
There are many ways, but to give an example, we worked with a manufacturer on an app that helped them share information better with their distributors. This improved operational efficiency, but also, by helping them understand their end customers better, they were able to offer more relevant products. The happy customer feedback gave everyone a boost, and that provided the momentum to keep driving the change.
Has integrating Digital Transformation been a challenging process for some companies? What are the challenges? How do you help resolve them?
The biggest mistake is to think it’s all about tech. Digital change is 80% people. Companies have workforces and departments and ways of doing things, and you can’t change all that just by sending round a pdf and some software. Plus departmental leaders become defensive if they sense an intrusion. The most important thing is always to get people on board, and at every level throughout the organization. If you can win the buy-in, you can always sort out the tech.
Ok. Thank you. Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are “Five Ways a Company Can Use Digital Transformation to Take It To The Next Level”?
Stories are super-important — they help people understand what these digital initiatives really look like and how the people side plays out. Our new book, Disruption in Action, is structured around seven inside stories of companies taking on digital. Here’s a sneak preview of five:
- The Acquisition: A global retail company buys a digital start-up, but common understanding is hard to find. Things take a dangerous turn, leading to a rethink of digital, and ultimately of the global company itself.
- The Venture: A large corporate launches a digital start-up, sparking a four-year journey through pivots, downturns and competitor attacks.
- The Pilot or Sandbox: A soft drinks company creates a space for freeform experimentation within existing operations. They test new ideas, but also learn a lot about people, and what that means for getting new ideas moving throughout the company.
- Global Transformation: A flooring multinational is under attack from a digital disruptor. The new CEO rethinks the business model, forms a transformation masterplan, and pulls the trigger. Two years later, he and the chief implementer talk through progress.
- People Change: Personal accounts from people who experience a digital eureka.
In your opinion, how can companies best create a “culture of innovation” in order to create new competitive advantages?
The wrong way is to set up an ‘Innovation Hub’ outside the business and fill it with expensive new people. The right way is to give people within the business the freedom to experiment with what they’re doing, and equip them with digital tools to get rapid feedback data. Then they need to adopt a fast-paced rhythm of testing, learning, and running new iterations of the test. High performing digital businesses are constantly testing every aspect of what they’re doing in one-to-two-week cycles.
Can you please give us your favourite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Digital change is happening and a lot of companies are getting disrupted. We like to say: make disruption work for you.
We make disruption work by helping our clients navigate the impact digital is having on their industries, and turning it into a power. The best businesses are constantly disrupting themselves to get better and better.
How can our readers further follow your work?
By reading our new book, Disruption in Action, and visiting our Insights Hub, where we feature updates about our books, articles, and our CEO Stories — a YouTube series where we interview top CEOs and change leaders on digital disruption.
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!