Be more efficient. Along with improving the efficiency of workflows and processes, digital transformation can also lead to empowerment of your people and organization, striking the right balance between work and life.
Pete Hanlon is CTO at Moneypenny, the leading outsourced communication company that answers calls, live chat and digital comms for thousands of companies globally.
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?
I first started playing with computers at school using commadore PET machines. I was just playing around writing simple BASIC programs, but I loved it. My parents saw that my brother and I were interested in computers, so they bought us both a ZX80. They were insanely under powered compared to today’s computers with only 1KB of memory. It’s hard to imagine a computer like that now but at the time it was amazing. There was no internet, so we had to write our own games or copy games from magazines. That got me hooked.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
It was one of my first interviews and I was keen to impress. I got a new suit and was feeling confident. I was particularly happy when the person interviewing me asked if my suit was new. I was quite flattered until they pointed out the price tag that was still attached. Inside I was mortified but I laughed it off and, to my surprise, got the job. I think that taught me to be yourself if you’re in an awkward situation.
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?
I briefly worked for an amazing guy called Ivan Pope at the end of the 90’s. Ivan was the founder of Netnames which he successfully built and sold. I worked with Ivan briefly at Netnames then joined him at a new company he formed after the sale. Working with Ivan was a breath of fresh air. I had been working at larger organizations for most of my career to that point which were full of bureaucracy. Ivan was completely different; he was a true entrepreneur and challenged everything. I remember one meeting where he felt the energy had left the room, so we spent the day at the National Gallery for inspiration. That was a great place to work, sadly the dot com bubble hit us hard, but I learned a lot working with Ivan and the management team he built.
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?
One book that has resonated with me more recently is Yuval Harari’s 21 lessons for the 21st century. This book outlines some of the greatest challenges and changes happening in the world today. There are parts of the book that I didn’t necessarily agree with but the topics that I found most interesting were around the impact of technology and biotech and the things we need to think about now so that both can be used as a power for good rather than a way to increase the divide between the richest and poorest in the world. Over the past few years, we’ve seen how easy it is to create solutions that feel like they are helping us, such as the Facebook algorithm, but they can also be weaponized to work against us. Taking the time to think more profoundly about where we want to go with technology and the wider social impacts it will have on the world now before it’s too late feels important.
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?
Moneypenny came about after one of our founders, Ed (Reeves) had a bad experience losing a huge new business contract because his fax machine (remember them?) ran out of paper whilst he was on holiday. That was the moment when he felt that there was a better way that businesses could be run. He set about selling the concept to his sister, Rachel (Clacher), and Moneypenny was founded in 2000.
With successful careers behind them both, they spent time learning from that experience and the lessons learned and built Moneypenny on the principle of extraordinary people and market-leading technology, seamlessly working together to provide a valued resource to our clients. Their vision was to create a company where they themselves would want to work.
From the very start, culture has been at the heart of everything we do and we have spent a lot of time on creating the right culture of trust, from hiring the right people to giving them the opportunity to shine. Our customers trust us to handle their calls and chats brilliantly and we trust our teams to deliver this. And this, in turn leads to extraordinary things — whether that is listening to our clients’ ever-changing needs and working together to realize solutions to light-bulb moments which lead to introducing new tech for our systems.
Our purpose is to add value to businesses big and small, through providing the perfect blend of people and technology-based communications solutions. We passionately believe in supercharging people and businesses to be the best that they can be.
Are you working on any new, exciting projects now? How do you think that might help people?
We’re doing a lot of work around speech to text and conversational AI right now. We’re training our own Automatic Speech Recognition systems using our PA’s so that we can increase the accuracy of our transcriptions. We’re also working with companies like Huggingface to implement state of the art conversational AI capabilities into our product base. Our goal is for our technology to work in synergy with our PA’s and to leverage AI to make the next conversation better than the last.
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?
Digital transformation is about leveraging technology to fundamentally change, or more likely these days, improve how you operate and deliver value to your customers. It’s not just technology, it’s also a fundamental shift in culture where you need to continually challenge how things are done and be open to change.
The main thing to remember is that digital transformation isn’t about using the latest cool tech, it’s about using the power of technology where it makes sense to get the right business outcomes. Digital transformation touches all aspects of a business so engaging in this sort of work requires input from all areas of the business and leadership from the top.
Which companies can most benefit from a Digital Transformation?
All companies can benefit from digital transformation. Clearly companies that haven’t been investing in technology will have the most to gain in efficiencies, but digital transformation is a constant. We see constant change in technology and constant change in markets and customer expectation and in order to keep up with that change companies need to challenge what they are doing and, in some cases, completely pivot and reimagine the services they provide.
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.
I would say the most profound digital transformation I’ve been involved with was when I worked at AutoTrader. When I joined the company in 2003, it was predominantly a physical magazine. There was a website, but it was loss-making and didn’t have much traffic. What was impressive at AutoTrader is that the senior management team was clear about the importance of technology for the future of the business. Over a ten-year period we automated internal systems, improved processes, outsourced areas of the business such as printing that weren’t strategic and invested in the website. When I left the business, the website was taking at peak four million searches an hour and AutoTrader is now a FTSE 100 business. The key to the success of the AutoTrader was listening to our customers and being open to pivoting the business.
Has integrating Digital Transformation been a challenging process for some companies? What are the challenges? How do you help resolve them?
The main challenge in any Digital Transformation is taking people on the journey. You need to be clear on the outcomes of the transformation, how you will measure success but most importantly you need to double down on communication and training. You can’t overcommunicate when you’re going through a process like this. There will be many people that feel uncomfortable and challenged by large scale change. You need to be clear about how they fit into the future and constantly communicate why your changing things and support them through the journey.
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”? Please share a story or an example for each.
At AutoTrader we used search activity and information about stock to build systems that can automatically tell dealerships what cars to purchase and where to purchase them from. This data-driven capability created a completely new business.
At Moneypenny we are always listening to our customers and responding quickly — for example at the start of the pandemic we worked with Microsoft Teams in order to offer new services to our customers. This is a direct consequence of the pandemic. We saw people moving to video conferencing platforms and we made sure we innovated and had products and services that worked for them and their needs.
Re-think your markets
Does your digital transformation allow you to enter new markets using technology? New technology impacts all elements of your organization, creating opportunities and potential, from improving processes to creating new products or services.
Be more customer focused
Digital transformation is changing consumer habits, allowing them access to what they want, pretty much as soon as they want it. In a constantly connected world, customer service is about being proactive and offering a choice of channels. It is about being customer-centric.
Be more efficient
Along with improving the efficiency of workflows and processes, digital transformation can also lead to empowerment of your people and organization, striking the right balance between work and life.
In your opinion, how can companies best create a “culture of innovation” in order to create new competitive advantages?
It’s all about your people. At Moneypenny our people and our tech are at the heart of everything that we do. And to do this innovation has to be a part of your culture. To thrive, innovation needs a safe environment for your people to think independently, solve problems and be creative (within clear boundaries), giving ownership, listening and empowering your people to make decisions and take action.
It is also about creating an environment where people are not afraid of failure, within reason of course, and most importantly learn from it in looking to the future.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass, it’s about learning to dance in the rain. I saw this on a jeep in the Ilse of Mull and liked it. For me it says if you’re doing anything of any significance there will always be challenges. You have a choice to push hard until the end or take time to enjoy the ride.
How can our readers further follow your work?
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!