Putting digital at the heart of business transformation
Early recognition of the importance of a digital-first business has helped Laure Frank to oversee wholesale digital transformations within companies across industries, from retail to banking.
The business potential of transformational technologies like IoT (Internet of things), artificial intelligence and robotics, is enormous but how do you separate the hype from the reality?
For Laure Frank, distinguishing between the two is second nature. She studied International Business in France and Germany before moving to Spain and later Switzerland, where she is currently working as Head of Digital Business for Raiffeisen Switzerland and aspiring an EMBA at IMD. It was here that she got her first taste of life among the C-suite, assisting the CEO of the country's largest department store on company strategy. It was to prove a pivotal moment; while most retail players at the time thought of a digital presence as a "nice to have", she could see the writing on the wall, recognizing the potential competitive advantage of a digital presence.
That recognition resulted in her pushing forward a digital strategy for a company and a sector at a time when traditional brick-and-mortar stores were just starting to grapple with omni-channel capability and a more sophisticated digital offering. "The big question was how to take 100-year old processes to the next level and build a strong sustainable business. This is the most fascinating and challenging part of running a business in my opinion," she says. Indeed, trying to engineer change in a company and an industry that at the time was not necessarily averse to it, but comfortable with established and longstanding approaches to strategy execution was a tough ask.
Nonetheless she set about gradually enabling transformation of the business from top to bottom, engineering the creation of a new photo studio and established new processes for website development and IT backhaul, before going on to scale up the number of products and categories on the website, developing more advanced logistics capabilities and overseeing the creation of a click and collect service. She was also keen to capitalise on the growing use of mobile, pushing for a mobile-first architecture and trying to drive typically challenging conversion rates forward. Throughout the process of digital transformation, it was the time spent in close proximity of the CEO that provided her with an invaluable bird’s-eye perspective of the business's many moving parts.
She has since used some of that intimate knowledge to mentor startups, while also taking on roles on the advisory boards of these companies to assist them with their digital transformation. She is now turning her extensive skills in corporate digital transformation to helping Raiffeisen Switzerland in its digital transformation, primarily revolving around the development of an e-banking proposition and customer experience platform.
Focusing on digital transformation has enabled her to transition across industries with greater ease than might have otherwise been the case. In part, this was due to her recognition of the disruptive nature of digital early on. Digital was rapidly gaining in importance, she says, but she could see that companies had very few digital competencies. "At the beginning, no-one wanted to face or acknowledge that the market, and the rules, was changing." Initial dismissiveness about the digital threat was later replaced by an urgency to respond and a fear of being left behind.
That urgency was given renewed energy by the pandemic. With broad swathes of the global population confined to their homes under government-imposed lockdowns, the ongoing transition to digital picked up pace. Increasing numbers of people turned to e-commerce, digital banking, cloud gaming and social media platforms for their shopping and communication needs. This rapid growth has slowed somewhat since restrictions have eased in various countries across the globe, but the trend towards more use of digital technology among customers only serves to underline the importance of a digital-first platform. For Frank, it has given her renewed confidence and reassurance to commit her team to a higher place of digital transformation and improved business agility.
"To be a part of digital transformation and to play an active role in it is one of the most exciting parts of what I do. I can lead and create a sense of purpose for everyone in the company," she says.
It is Frank’s combined motivation to spearhead digital change and motivate others to share that vision that perhaps sets her apart from most. She acknowledges that changing people's mindsets and bringing people on the journey is no easy task, adding that even if you are met with success in bringing people along, finding the right metrics to track and measure success adds another layer of complexity. None of these issues have straightforward answers, but with a passion for digital and an appetite for a challenge, the answers will doubtless be forthcoming.
In fact, with a voracious appetite for learning, one wonders in what ways Frank will take digital banking at Raiffeisen to a new level.