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    Cultural Change

Thinking Beyond the Challenges

Why prioritizing people is key to digital transformation.

Technology is radically transforming the workplace and keeping up can sometimes seem challenging. Ali Khan, from global management consulting and technology firm, ZS, believes any organization can evolve, innovate and thrive through digital transformation. The interview below looks at his experience and his guidance on the best practice that can help organizations stay ahead of the curve.

“Like many organizations looking to make the most of the opportunities of technology, ZS began in an era that was firmly analogue,” explains Ali Khan, ZS’s Global Manager for Governance, Risk, Compliance and Audit. Founded in 1983 on three core values – treat people right, do the right thing and get it right – ZS is a global management consulting and technology firm focused on transforming global healthcare and beyond. “We leverage leading-edge analytics, data and science to help clients make intelligent decisions.”

Yet by the mid-2010s, the potential applications of technology for ZS’s clients – including in decision-making, health equity and clinical trials – led them to become transformers of global healthcare by driving toward a connected ecosystem.

“We recognized that to be able to advise our clients, we needed to keep moving forward as an organization,” explains Khan. “For us, the digital transformation is not just about using technology. It’s about transforming our expertise in consulting, data and decision-making through technology. We have had to become the experts and the leaders to create our own innovation and experimentation.”

Khan believes embracing the benefits of the digital revolution means thinking beyond challenges to consider instead how best they can be managed. “Avoidance is the best form of mismanagement,” he says. “Don’t shut the door on technology but keep your mind open to what it offers.”

Putting people at the centre

Taking a people-centred, rather than a technology-centred approach has served ZS well. “People are the absolute foundation to it all,” says Khan. “Their expertise, their minds, and the innovation they create.”

It is this focus that led ZS to work with BSI, at first as an audit partner for reaching certification for information security (ISO 27001), and since then with an ever-growing scope. “BSI is an organization who wants to be collaborative and enabling, as well as being excellent auditors,” he says. “For us, these certifications are not just credentials. They’re a demonstration of our ideology around digital trust and emphasis on people-centric culture.”

"The digital transformation is not just about using technology. It’s about transforming our expertise in consulting, data and decision-making through technology."

A values-led approach to technological transformation

It’s in part thanks to the organization’s values, established long before the digital boom, that ZS can continuously navigate through transformative technological change. “We’re a policy-light, value-heavy organization,” Khan explains. Policies will and should change to match the demands and expectations of the time, but values are timeless.

ZS’s core values – treat people right, get it right and do what’s right – have allowed them to set appropriate guardrails for technology across the organization as they’ve adopted it: “Treating people right has meant giving people room to innovate and experiment with technology," he says. “Getting it right has meant pursuing excellence and using technology to achieve the best results. Doing what’s right has meant tackling the right problems in a consistent way, considering the impact on people and society as a whole, and having a good intention as a motive.

“Technology is created by people and not vice versa,” he continues. “So we tend to think about technology as the outworkings of someone’s passion – passion is what keeps things moving forward, and we are flabbergasted by how that translates into technological innovation.”

Adopting new technology successfully involves numerous steps, including fulfilling the criteria of regulators and statutory bodies and ensuring the solution you’re implementing is the right one for different cultures and geographies. But as Khan says, “it might take more time to get it right, but as long as you’re committed to something, every challenge has a solution.”

Certifications are not just credentials. They’re a demonstration of our ideology around digital trust and emphasis on people-centric culture.

He describes ZS as an ecosystem where everyone is learning and adapting at their own pace towards a common goal. The organization is focused on developing the capabilities of its people, as well as prioritizing their well-being. “We invest in internal and external training, in rapid scaling programmes, and in offering the right education,” explains Khan. “We have a lot of collaborative partners so we can continually learn what’s happening round the world, to upskill our people and ourselves. We have a lot of health checks for our employees too, to make sure they’re getting the right space and support, and to find out how they’re adapting to any digital interventions we’ve introduced.”

The advantage of a ‘human firewall’

When it comes to cyber security, Khan considers people to be a ‘human firewall’ safeguarding against the risks of digitization. “In the past as security professionals, we’ve often described people as the weakest link in security, but why can’t we think about people as the strongest link? If all innovation begins with people, then they can change the world.

This is where organizational culture is key, as he explains: “If you want to do what’s right by people then you will be concerned about someone else’s privacy as much as you’re concerned about your own, you’ll care about the unauthorized transfer of sensitive information. That’s the human firewall – When people work collaboratively it’s a business enabler, rather than a business blocker.”

When it comes to facing the technological change of the future, Khan insists on the value of people first. “Whenever you’re in doubt about what to do, consult. We don’t have to have just one person thinking about the future. We can have every one of the 14,000 minds in our business, working together, learning new things, unlearning other things, evolving together over time.”