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Digital Transformation Leadership with Isha Jain

Calendar icon 28th September 2023

Recently, Sistla Vaishnavi spoke with Digital Transformation leader, Isha Jain to talk about digital transformation and its significance, the importance of aligning business and technology visions while addressing the need to measure its success, and make digital transformation relevant to all types of businesses.

Isha Jain comes with 18+ years of experience transforming various businesses with Digital Technology, spanning a diverse range of sectors and multiple geographies. She is now part of the UK Executive Committee at CBRE to drive forward the Technology change agenda and strategy board to ensure digital and technology is at the heart of company strategy. Isha is currently an Executive Director and Head of Digital and Technology for CBRE, UK and Ireland – the world’s largest Commercial Real Estate company.

Isha’s Profile

My career began as a Software Engineer at a consulting business, and I have since moved up the ranks – moving to Business Analysis, Project Management, and Product Management and subsequently heading up these practices. From an industry standpoint, I have worked across Financial Services, Utilities, Logistics, and most recently Real Estate internationally.

In 2014, I decided to enrol on an Executive MBA at London Business School – this decision stemmed from the fact that I was interested to do a deep dive into Business and understand how Technology and Business could have a symbiotic relationship and add value across a global Enterprise.

Currently, I am an Executive Director and Head of Digital for the UK and Ireland at CBRE – I built the Digital Strategy from scratch all the way through to implementation. During my initial days at CBRE , I understood that the business and technology vision were quite distant from one another, and the focus was on deploying global Technology platforms in the regions. However, that strategy was not ‘working’ because the global platforms did not meet the regional needs in various scenarios which widened the gap between the UK business and Digital teams.

Since then, I have created a strategy that has generated a balance between the global and the regional Digital strategies. This included building a team from scratch to a size of 50 + partners, increasing the budget by 10x and partnering with the business to use Technology as an enabler. It is vital to remember that Digital Transformation is not about ‘delivering’ it is about enabling Technology to drive value – this was a huge success at CBRE UK, and our other geographical locations are now following this model.


As an expert and leader in this space, what does Digital Transformation mean to you?

Digital Transformation is an ongoing process and discussion.

It takes a business years to transform, and during that transition – new technologies are being continually released into the market which changes the landscape we work within. The industry is extremely dynamic at the moment, especially in Technology, and we need to work extra hard to keep pace with change and strategically select which technologies will have a genuine and sustainable impact on our businesses.

The biggest breakthrough a business can have during Digital Transformation is when they are closely partnering with the business – people think that Digital Transformation is only related to IT, but it is truly business and people-centric.

The strategy needs to be driven top-down from the Executive level all the way down to the apprentices and it needs to be a significant part of the wider business strategy. In this market, anyone who is in a client-facing or revenue-generating role needs to know how Technology can be an enabler in making them more successful – it is now a business-critical skill that every colleague should be owning and upskilling in.


What are the first signs that the digital transformation needs to occur or be adjusted?

It is important to remember that Digital Transformation does not only need to occur when a business is not doing well – CBRE for example, is a successful business – we don’t have a burning platform – so how does one create the case for change?

What we have done successfully at CBRE is to look at the industry and focus on what our clients’ needs are. What kind of issues are they dealing with and what kind of solutions can we can offer that are enabled with Digital Technologies? It’s not enough to be doing well today, we need to look at 5,10, 20 years into the future and assess how technology will help us to remain market leaders.


How do you measure if your digital transformation was successful?

It is difficult to pinpoint this and unless your business model is ‘selling’ oriented, it can be hard to assess what revenue has been generated based on the Digital strategy alone.

However, in my opinion, there are 2 – 3 key indicators:

  1. Looking at revenue contribution of initiatives/projects that were enabled by Technology.
  2. How efficient the business has become with the use of Technology – automating processes, offering Technology solutions, allowing the business to be more efficient. This could result in headcount reduction or cost reduction. For example, the business may not need to hire 4 individuals but could hire just 1, as the other aspects of the requirement can be done by Technology.
  3. Education and literacy level – This can be hard to measure but it can be understood through Talent attraction and retention. When you are the trailblazer in this space, the talent in the business is excited and will stay as it is an opportunity for them to up-skill themselves.


Why do you think Digital Transformation is so important and do you think it is equally important for all types of business?

If you asked me 10 years ago, it could be more industry and size of business specific – it is now required in all businesses no matter the size or industry. This is because almost every company is moving towards Digital Technologies. What we are trying to achieve now is not only for today, but also about building for the future; the younger generation today is very Digitally savvy, and we need to be cognisant of that. As leaders, it is important that we think at least 15 years ahead firstly to keep up with the pace of Technology but also to continue creating efficiency for our businesses.


Digital Transformation can be a long, complex, and painful process – how can businesses and leaders simplify this process?

Absolutely, Digital Transformation is long and complex – it is an entire culture and mindset shift.

There are a few ways that businesses can simplify this process:

  1. Look at high-impact quick results. Trying to implement 20+ new Technologies at the same time sounds exciting but may not be realistic or achievable. When there is already some resistance to change, it is important we focus on achievable results quickly – this will build trust amongst the business and help to integrate Technology into the business.
  2. Bring in the right solution and demystify it – a lot of people tend to get ‘scared’ of new Technologies such as Generative AI. It is important to highlight the benefits of incorporating Technology into daily tasks and educate employees on how this Technology is an enabler, not a threat.
  3. Clear and transparent communication – Technology is changing constantly therefore everyone is on a level playing field, the focus should be more on creating curiosity and a culture of self-learning.


Read more insightful Zeren conversation here