Seth Lively, US digital lead at PA Consulting, discusses digital transformation in an Authority Magazine Q&A.
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?
Iwas growing up right around the time where computer science was becoming a trendy thing. I was very interested in how people interacted with computers which led me to testing, coding and implementing software for warehouses. When the .com boom hit, that all became “digital.” I got a new job consulting for new eCommerce businesses (Sears, Target, Nordstrom, etc.) and the rest is history. Early in my career, I consulted for many of the top 10 eCommerce retailers.
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?
I’m not sure how funny it was, but as a rookie consultant, I was up at the crack of down to catch my flight to the client site. I slept walk through security and through the gate only to board the wrong flight. After falling asleep on the plane and backing up off the tarmac, a flight attendant tapped me on the shoulder. I boarded a plane to Boston when I was supposed to be headed to New York. Of course, the round of applause came as I exited the plane. Lesson learned — don’t wear yourself down taking 6 a.m. flights just to meet the status quo. You are much more effective and accurate if you are well-rested and alert. The client really didn’t care if I was in the office by 9 a.m. on a Monday. At the end of the day, they wanted outcomes.
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?
Around the time of the financial crisis, I was working on an eCommerce project for a large retailer in London. I desperately needed a content management expert. I managed to find one in London that could join the team. It turned out he was overqualified, and two years later he was my boss. When he retired, he recommended me to take over his role, and that is what put me in position to become a partner. We are still friends to this day — thanks, Phil.
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?
The Pilgrimage by Paulo Coelho. The guy walked the road to Santiago, and his mentor gave him a lot of very simple life lessons to keep himself grounded. I am all about staying grounded, despite being in a creative profession. I have given that book to multiple friends.
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?
You must go way back (1943), but PA Consulting’s original purpose was to make people more productive by using a human-centric approach. Fast forward and we have maintained our focus on ingenuity, but broadened our purpose to create a positive human future. Our purpose is what makes us successful and drives us. It is hard for our clients to not engage with us, when they are presented with opportunities and solutions to their problems in terms of how the world will become a better place. If we can’t answer that question, we are not likely to work with you.
Are you working on any new, exciting projects now? How do you think that might help people?
I have a team working on a pricing transparency project related to new CMS regulations in healthcare. It has many benefits, one of which is to remove friction from the US healthcare ecosystem and allow people to make more informed decisions about their insurance as well as their healthcare providers. CMS has come up with the regulation, but we are innovating ways to make it impactful.
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?
True Digital Transformation is improving the way you do business by building smart connections through data and technology. True transformation includes new products, revenue models, ways of working, and operations. Every consultancy, software company, cloud provider, etc. wants to latch on the term “Digital.” Digital, as the market defines it, is about creating new experiences for consumers, customers, employees, and partners.
Which companies can most benefit from a Digital Transformation?
The easy answer is “any company,” but companies that have grown through M&A typically have the highest potential to benefit. M&A not only brings efficiency opportunities and economies of scale, but also brings together data and people that can form new products and experiences.
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 is no shortage of Digital Transformation opportunities in the market. One customer we work with provides pest control and sanitation services to residences and commercial properties. The range of benefits coming out of the transformation has been endless. They are using sensors to identify activity and becoming smarter about how often to service a customer. Making it easier for customers to self-service, as well as manage their account and their appointments online. It has also made their call center more efficient by bringing together different data sources to answer questions and identify opportunities faster.
Additionally, we are helping a healthcare payer digitize their products. During COVID-19, access to information is more important as face-to-face advice is hard to come by. Putting products online and providing access to customer segments that previously have been identified as “non-digital” has allowed them to educate people on their healthcare options, with a more patient-centric approach. It has also helped them qualify leads as they add more patients to their customer base.
In the past, my teams have helped customers across industries create new experiences leveraging digital including retail, financial services, energy, and more. Everything from helping retailers create new shopping experiences to helping consumers through life events (weddings, babies, etc.), to helping banks onboard new customers, to helping planners forecast oil supply, to helping consumer goods companies launch products direct to consumer. Most of my work has focused on helping clients become more efficient, ease processes for customers and their people, and take advantage of market opportunities at pace.
Has integrating Digital Transformation been a challenging process for some companies? What are the challenges? How do you help resolve them?
Absolutely it is a challenge. The biggest challenge is getting started. How does a company define Digital? Digital needs to be a core part of the overall corporate strategy, and it needs to be tied to commercial opportunity.
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.
I use a four-prong approach to transformation:
In your opinion, how can companies best create a “culture of innovation” in order to create new competitive advantages?
Companies can create a culture of innovation through diversity. You cannot innovate if you are talking to people that look like you, think like you, talk like you. Any innovation methodology requires empathy with different personas inside and outside of your organization. Those personas need to be involved in innovation daily, and it should not be a separate department or “think tank” working in isolation.