For digital transformation, ‘mindset matters most’

18 Oct 2021

Image: Joan Mulvihill

Siemens digitalisation lead Joan Mulvihill discusses why she prefers not to focus on the challenges that come with digital transformation.

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Digital transformation has understandably accelerated massively since the Covid-19 pandemic began. Organisations in virtually every industry had to digitise some part of their business or operations in order to carry on throughout the restrictions.

But now, 18 months on and with a potential end in sight, conversations about life after Covid-19 are starting to become more of a reality.

One of the biggest topics in this area has been whether or not remote working is here to stay, but what about the other elements of digital transformation? Will this catalyst effect continue or should we expect a slowing down?

According to Siemens’ digitalisation lead, Joan Mulvihill, the changes companies have implemented recently look set to continue. “Having now experienced the benefits of digitalisation, there is even greater pull pressure from their stakeholders for more, so it’s unlikely there will be any slowing down for the foreseeable future,” she said.

“As society reopens, I anticipate even greater demands for our buildings in particular to perform, to be more responsive to the people they serve.”

Mulvihill is a well-known figure on the Irish tech scene and took up her current role at Siemens in 2019. Her previous experience includes a seven-year stint at the helm of the Irish Internet Association, during which she passionately promoted the benefits of businesses adapting to new technology.

She told Siliconrepublic.com that while the pandemic itself came as a surprise, the resilience, ingenuity and openness of businesses in Ireland was less surprising.

“I am not at all surprised by their capability and resourcefulness in transforming their businesses through technology,” she said.

‘There are no prizes for being a completely digitalised business that offers no value to its customers’
– JOAN MULVIHILL

In her own organisation, Mulvihill said Siemens is working in partnership with customers on projects that are delivering business insights and helping them make decisions for the future.

“The world is changing at pace and it’s not enough to be simply maintaining competitiveness through efficiency. We’re working with customers to imagine, envision and deliver the future version of themselves in a rapidly changing ecosystem.”

While digital transformation has become more important than ever for businesses, it’s not without its challenges. But Mulvihill said this is no different to the challenges that come with anything to do with change.

“The challenge is almost always mindset. Can you ‘do’ change? The technology is here. The funding mechanisms to support businesses are here. The partners like ourselves are right here,” she said.

“I’m a pragmatist. I get that there are operational and infrastructural hurdles but I just don’t want to put them on a checklist for some person to focus on why this might seem too hard to do right now. Mindset matters most.”

‘Sensors don’t make buildings smart. Designing buildings for an optimised human user experience does’
– JOAN MULVIHILL

The phrase digital transformation has been thrown around so much it can often feel like a buzzword. This could leave leaders falling into the trap of digitalising things for the sake of it, without really considering the needs or the benefits.

Mulvihill said it’s important to remember that digital transformation is really business transformation through digitalisation.

“There are no prizes for being a completely digitalised business that offers no value to its customers. For example, having a high IQ with no knowledge, no understanding of context or human sensibility has very limited value,” she said.

“Smart buildings are a bit the same. Sensors don’t make buildings smart. Designing buildings for an optimised human user experience does. The sensors, like the high IQ, make it easier, they make it possible.”

It’s safe to say that digitalisation is a key priority for businesses, especially now. But what about other important considerations on the corporate agenda, such as sustainability?

“I get asked regularly if digitalisation has been replaced by sustainability as a business priority and my answer is, I hope so, yes,” said Mulvihill, a self-described evangelist for digitalisation.

“The fact is that I defy anyone to address the sustainability of their organisation without digitalisation. Digitalisation is an enabler. Sustainability is an outcome. So, my thoughts on this are very straightforward. You cannot attain that outcome without that enabler,” she said.

“There isn’t and there never has been any point in starting on a digital transformation journey without an envisioned business value outcome. Sustainability is one of those business – and societal – value outcomes.”

Jenny Darmody is the deputy editor of Silicon Republic

editorial@siliconrepublic.com