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Roundtable Discussion - Digital Transformation at Arcadia: Derisking Change and Scaling for Massive Peaks

25th April 2018 by 
Capacitas Conference news Presentation

Over the last 7 years I’ve run several roundtables similar to the one we held at The Maze on 28th September, and they’ve all been really successful and enjoyable (let’s face it, it’s a hard format to beat!), but I can truthfully say this one was the best.

Our guest speaker for this roundtable event was Jamie Ovenden (Digital and Retail Technology Director at Arcadia). Arcadia have been successful in remaining at the forefront of the retail sector for decades, continuing to grow and remain market-leaders both online and on the high street. In his talk Jamie outlined the programme of work Arcadia have carried out over the last three years (with performance experts Capacitas) to derisk their Digital Transformation and meet the challenges of rapid new product development, and scaling up massively during peak trading periods. 

What made the roundtable truly successful was the active participation from our guests: they set the right tone from the outset and were generous with their questions, experiences, challenges and words of wisdom.

As promised, I’ve written up some notes from the evening. I’ve been massively helped in this task by notes taken by one of our guests, Natasha McCabe, whose notes from the evening are considerably better and more useful than mine!

Jamie’s talk included a few themes that were repeated throughout the evening, including:


Attracting the right sort of people and keeping them. As well as internal staff, this theme encompasses the partners you work with: Jamie was adamant that you need to build a core, internal team to succeed in Digital Transformation, and to support that team with specialist external expertise (such as Capacitas) - you can not successfully outsource your Digital Transformation to an SI; their goals as just always going to differ to some degree from your goals.

‘People’ also encompasses the part of our discussion that covered the roles that ‘The Business’ and IT share. There was clear agreement across the group that to be successful there can be no ‘them and us’, yet the different drivers for these two groups (e.g. increasing revenue v cost reductions) can make that difficult to achieve and maintain.


In order to achieve change you need the support of a wide range of other stakeholder, and in order to get that support they need to trust you. Jamie very kindly said that this was the greatest outcome from working with Capacitas: going into Black Friday 2015, after the difficulties experienced in ‘14 would have been fraught with risk had it not been for the certainty in the platform’s ability to scale (and the detail and clarity of data to back up that certainty). The trust that this gained enabled Jamie to invest more heavily and drive forward faster with his major transformation plans. It enabled him to gain the right level, and right amount of sponsorship; and it also helped him ‘shift the perma-frost’ - to bring along those areas of the business that were resistant to change


The notions of ‘people’ and ‘trust’ lead to ‘sponsorship’, which was an interesting theme that many people expressed an opinion on. And unsurprisingly so: without enough of the right sort of sponsorship major change programmes are almost certainly doomed to fail. Any pockets of ‘perma-frost’ - those parts of the business that are well-established and resistant to change are immovable. My favourite comment on this theme was “failure is an orphan”, as well as the flip side of this being you can have too much sponsorship.

Below are some raw notes from our discussion. 

Question - What are the ingredients for a successful Digital Transformation?

  • Partnership and communication
  • Nomenclature - having a common set of language that
  • Willingness to change
  • Trust
  • Breaking down barriers
  • One vision
  • No division or separation
  • Setting up a multidisciplinary crack team
  • Conflicting agendas: IT - OPEX reduction v Business - Growing Revenue focus

Question - What are the greatest challenges?

  • “Perma-frost”: parts of the business that are resistant to change
  • “Agile” and “Being Digital” is not the panacea
  • Attracting and retaining talent
  • Cohesion across disparate groups
    • Strength of SIs and multi-supplier environments
  • Priority of outcomes: their v yours
  • Change fatigue
  • Sponsorship
    • Lack of
    • Too much
      • “Failure is an orphan”
  • Strategy / Vision: reality and BAU
    • Shelfware
    • Adoption
  • Courage
    • New blood or old?
    • Sponsorship and challenge
  • People
  • The ‘frozen middle’
  • “Digital” “Transformation” - what do the words actually mean?
    • What are the outcomes?
    • Evolution v Revolution v Transformation
  • Scarcity of the right business resource
  • MVP or Minimum Loveable Service
  • Risk of change v reputation
  • Appropriateness: finding the right level at the right time
  • “Show me the money!”


If you are a senior IT leader within an enterprise organisation and would like to be invited to one of our future events please contact us.