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Charting digital horizons: Bain & Company's Marita Vavoulioti shares insights on navigating digital transformation

Discover actionable strategies for navigating digital transformation and gain expert perspectives on data-driven decision-making, innovation culture, and the evolving tech landscape.

In an era where technology is not just shaping but fundamentally altering lives, the concept of digital transformation has become paramount for businesses striving to remain competitive. This journey towards digital evolution involves more than just integrating new technologies; it requires a strategic overhaul of organisational structures, processes, and mindsets.

Marita Vavoulioti, Partner - Digital, Data, Growth at Bain & Company, brings a wealth of experience garnered from nearly two decades of consulting across the EMEA and Asia. With a focus on AEC, telecommunications, manufacturing, and digital, Vavoulioti has been instrumental in guiding organisations through large-scale transformations and performance improvement initiatives.

In this interview, as a judge in the SBR Technology Excellence Awards, Marita Vavoulioti offers insights for organisations navigating the complex terrain of digital transformation in the tech industry. With her strategic vision and practical wisdom, she illuminates the path towards achieving sustainable growth and competitive advantage in an ever-changing digital world.

Drawing from your extensive consulting experience in the EMEA and Asia, could you highlight key trends you've observed in the tech industry across these regions?

The tech industry has been shaping the way people think, feel, live, work, commute, and interact with their environments. Technology is available now and scale is possible. Semiconductors are the foundational tech that permeates nearly every aspect of modern life, driving innovation, connectivity, and efficiency across a wide range of industries. The chip sector is enabling cloud edge computing, mobile, IIOT, and the entire data explosion, AI/ML and GenAI agenda. Generative AI is upgrading people’s experience of the internet from transactional to personal, enabling two-way conversations. Tech is progressing at a much faster pace than humans can absorb, which is why it feels tech is happening to people rather than for them. Thus, very few organisations are true leaders in the digitalisation era, more than 70% of the organisations are classified as beginners or emerging when it comes to their data & tech business capabilities across sectors.    

What common challenges do organisations face when embarking on digital transformation journeys, and how can they effectively address these challenges to ensure successful outcomes?

Taking a step back to realise the impact level of digital. Digitalisation is about improving processes with digital solutions, whilst digital transformation is leveraging tech for a total organisational overhaul. Often, digitisation is a task-level change. Digitalisation impacts operations processes, whereas digital transformation is a strategic shift. This strategic shift:

  • Triggers cultural resistance to embrace new ways of working. 
  • Requires fixing outdated legacy systems and technical debt.
  • Demands breaking data silos and redefining your data strategy, tools, and talent approach
  • Rethink the impact on talent & skills and how you can maintain a culture of learning and cross-skilling 
  • Manage change effectively, measure ROI, and be laser-focussed on prioritisation based on the impact on the bottom line
  • Planning for scale whilst starting small, always having in mind the end experience  

Given your extensive consulting experience — including work in transport, construction, smart cities, and manufacturing — how do you see technology and digital innovations influencing the construction industry, and what specific challenges and opportunities do you anticipate for companies in adopting and integrating these advancements?

This is a great question and quite relevant as it concerns all our AEC clients. The market is challenged, and AEC is the least industrialised/digitalised sector. Digital technologies adoption varies across industry verticals, with higher maturity being achieved in more complex projects such as hospitality and healthcare. Productivity has been declining for the past 30 years. Construction is a front-stage actor for the global sustainability agenda. Several forces are propelling the AEC sector change. Customers are expecting more with less cost (e.g., sophisticated requirements, desire for smart buildings, push for digital and simple interactions, etc.). There is a shortage of skilled labour, materials shortage, and stricter regulations in safety and sustainability. AEC characteristics and inputs are changing with the evolution of new materials and industrialisation. Technology-enabled shifts in AEC bring opportunities for existing stakeholders; however, an optimal strategy needs to be defined. Whilst building owners and operators will be getting closer to the end-user, other players will focus on operational efficiency to address supply chain challenges.

As someone deeply involved in optimising production, what do you believe are the critical factors for organisations seeking to leverage Industry 4.0 effectively? Are there any common pitfalls they should avoid?

My answer to unlocking operations' full potential in a tech-enabled transformation has five foundational beliefs. Root the effort in business value and drive an integrated approach across operations, technology, and op model to enable growth and innovation, and improve business resiliency. Focus on making the few pivotal decisions early on to ensure guardrails are set for longer-term deployment/roll-out always aiming at improving customer experience, enabling efficiency, and promoting the ESG agenda. Design and deploy tech stack iteratively to ensure IT/OT convergence and scalability, leveraging an ecosystem of partners. Align IT/OT operating model to ensure accountability for IT/OT convergence and develop DataOps / DevSecOps capabilities driving human-centric automation. Assure delivery by driving behaviour change at the frontline and accelerating/de-risking tech delivery.

How can companies stay ahead in adopting and adapting to technological advancements amidst the ever-evolving landscape?

Continuous learning and training. Investing in their people and ensuring their people have the relevant skills and knowledge to effectively leverage the latest technologies. Adopt lean and agile strategies that can allow their company to quickly integrate and leverage new technologies. Allocate resources to research, product development and innovation. Think about how they can become winners by fostering partnerships instead of competition.  

As a judge at the SBR Technology Excellence Awards, how do you assess the innovation and effectiveness of the technologies under consideration?

Assessing the innovation and effectiveness of a technology involves several aspects. Impact on the bottom line of the business and how the technology under evaluation aligns with the overall company’s strategy and objectives. How we measure the impact of the given tech is also important, e.g., cost savings, revenue growth, productivity improvements, customer NPS, and/or competitive advantage. I would like to get an idea of what the voice of the customers is for the given technology. Then there are other criteria around: scalability, flexibility of the given tech, security and compliance, and the impact on the industry (e.g.: is it a game changer for the industry or is it a step uplift for the industry, etc.), as well as its roadmap and evolution. Finally, it is important to have a positive ROI when we execute and implement the given tech.   

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