Lessons Learned from a Digital Transformation in the Finance Industry

Guest post

This is a guest post from Thomas Kronawitter.

In May 2023, Thomas Kronawitter, Head of Data-Driven Applications & Services at Grenke AG, joined Redgate CPO David Gummer at the Gartner Data & Analytics Summit to provide insights and advice based on his own digital transformation journey in financial services. This post highlights the key take-aways from David’s conversation with Thomas, including the strategies, challenges, and successes that shaped Grenke’s experience.

What are some of the challenges you’ve faced in your digital transformation journey at Grenke?

I would say there were three main challenges, the first being handling the sheer number of stakeholders that were involved. There was a clashing of ideas, interests, and priorities, with one department declining involvement in the digital transformation efforts altogether. We needed to build a consensus by creating one vision that would unite us, so we could build out a cohesive data strategy.

The second challenge was that a strategy alone does not do any real, tangible work. It won’t move the data into the cloud, and there is a sticking point when moving from theory into practice.

Finally, and understandably, the teams who handle our data are very protective of it. There are lots of ‘T’s to cross, and ‘I’s to dot, and we really needed the business to get involved in this element of digital transformation.

Why is the database an important part of digital transformation?

Everybody cares about data. It’s vital for the business, for our customers, and for our employees. Ironically, Data Governance is the foundation on which we are able to share data with the business. If we don’t start with that, we are just inviting chaos. We need to have clear and controlled ownership of the database and the data within to ensure it is used to its full potential, but as safely as possible.

Tell us more about the democratization of data and how this is being implemented at Grenke

Data is the oxygen of the company. It’s vital. You need to keep it clean and make sure it can flow everywhere you want it to. Ultimately, you also need to delete it after you no longer require it.

We have a lot of data, as information is at the core of our company. So it’s not just about having the data, but making the data matter, and IT cannot do this on their own. Democratization is the realization of this.

Our data teams need to learn the language of the business, and in return we need to teach the rest of the business our vocabulary. Tearing down silos and bringing departments and people together was the key to our success, but to achieve this there first needed to be a shared understanding. By building these alignments, our Dev teams now appreciate that the insights and knowledge we can glean from our data can directly shape the path for developing their applications.

This enables the business to create a business data model with us. On this model, we are building the technical layers like a data catalog, data quality checks and data flows.

What are the business benefits of enabling the democratization of data?

Ultimately, better business decisions. If we can better understand the data, and ensure we are using it responsibly, we can factor that knowledge into our conversations. Stakeholders around the business can make better informed decisions. With this, we are able to convert data to insights and information. Again: Making data matter.

The results are also measurable. In the last three months alone, the time to deploy has been significantly reduced, and we are able to provide data for new reports in a fraction of the time. That initial investment to describe and categorize our data has led to immediate returns. From a business data model perspective, we can identify data sets much quicker than before, meaning the quality of the requests has improved and our ability to provide tailor-made data has improved as well.

What steps have you taken to scale up software delivery at Grenke?

We are enabling the business to influence the source of their development by moving from large monolithic applications to event-based data management. That switch is challenging for many because it involves gaining data insights and shifting the focus to decreasing latency.

To help enable this, we’ve adopted Redgate Monitor across our estate which has resulted in a 75% decrease in the time needed to monitor our databases, freeing us up massively to focus on implementing our digital transformation strategy.

You mentioned the time saving aspect of using Redgate Monitor and how this frees up time for your teams to further digitalization efforts. Can you elaborate further on that? What does the freed-up time allow you to achieve?

Having that additional time means we can invest it in business priority projects like digital transformation. To begin one requires a big upfront commitment from the business. Digital transformations are not something someone can take on alone. It’s a team effort, so any and all freed-up time is crucial to progressing that project and moving the needle closer to your ultimate business goals.

One piece of advice I can share is that starting a project like this requires exercising your trust. The business needs to trust the IT department, and vice versa. The three areas to focus on are service excellence; starting with small tasks to get the data strategy off the ground and illustrate initial wins; and finally educating the wider business on the impact of the strategy implementation to build the mentality that we’re in this together, working towards a common goal.

Can you give us a few key takeaways to sum up your learnings?

If you have data, you need to have a data strategy, but this cannot be created in a silo; it needs to align with your wider organization goals.

Also, IT is good at implementing IT, and business is good at business. Essentially, they share a common goal of wanting to help the business evolve and grow, but this is not always an obvious connection. Their means of achieving that shared goal are very different and it can be challenging to bring both together.

When you get started with digital transformation, the first thing to do is address that pain. Bring the teams together, learn each other’s languages, and once you start to bridge that gap, the rest of the journey will be much smoother sailing.

If your organization is starting or going through a digital transformation journey and you’re interested in championing the database as part of that project, you can hear more from Thomas and the panel in our upcoming webinar: Championing DevOps in the Financial Services Sector