You are what you do: Business activities as a practical guide to digital transformation

11 May 2023 Consultancy.eu 8 min. read

Digital transformation. It is perhaps the business theme of the 21st century. However, it is now also as notorious as it is famous: projects fail more often than they succeed. Leveraging its MultiModal Business Activity Model, Anderson MacGyver has in recent years guided many successful transformations. What is the secret behind the success of the proprietary model?

You have to get to the bottom of a problem before you can solve it. Therefore, organizations that undergo a digital transformation process have a rather obvious question they should answer: Why are digital transformations so incredibly difficult?

“This is mainly because the impact of technology and data on the ‘core business’ of organizations is huge,” argues Gerard Wijers, one of the two founders of Anderson MacGyver.

Gerard Wijers, Lotte Nieuwmeijer en Albert Sprokholt - Anderson MacGyver

Whereas traditionally IT was supportive of the organization – similar to payroll and facility services, for example – today the function is a central part of business strategy. How do you handle it when the essence of your business is constantly subject to rapid change?

“CIOs used to have a role in a more supportive setting, now they have to play a crucial role in the digitalization of the organization,” Wijers outlines the changed task.

Creating order in a complex world

In this contemporary task, digitalization touches every part of the organization. But in what way? As a CIO, how do you create the necessary overview of the complexity of an organization? This is where Anderson MacGyver’s MultiModal Business Activity Model comes in.

“There is an increasing need for an integrated enterprise-wide perspective when discussing digital transformation. This requires a single agreed-upon model of the future at the right level of abstraction,” states Wijers.

You are what you do 

To arrive at a useful perspective, the MultiModal Business Activity Model looks at the different activities within an organization. The model uses the idea of multimodality to provide a new perspective on organizations: based on how specific and sensitive business activities are to change, the model divides them into four modalities.

With this novel idea, the model brings structure to the transformation challenge by starting from simple wisdom: you are what you do. “Rethinking your organization at the level of business activities has proven to be extremely powerful,” says Wijers, referring to influential studies by Porter and Osterwalder, among others.

Classifying these activities on the relevant characteristics provides practical guidance for mapping out digital strategy. “We have added multimodality as a supporting mechanism to better identify where a company can truly differentiate itself and better respond to changes in its environment.”

This makes the model a powerful tool for organizations looking to critically examine themselves. “Organizations discover what really makes them different! But also where they can better leverage existing best practices and market services.”

A common understanding

While “You are what you do” can be seen as the guiding principle behind the model, with respect to digital transformations, another well-known one-liner is usually more commonly referred to: “the people make the organization”. Where technology facilitates digitalization, success hinges on the extent to which employees embrace transformation.

Lotte Nieuwmeijer, consultant at Anderson MacGyver, emphasizes that creating an overview of the transformation and getting people on board are inextricably linked. “For a (digital) transformation, it is very important that everyone is on the same page about where they are going,” she explains. “We all have implicit ideas in our heads, and these ideas about current and future conditions can differ between stakeholders.” 

“The MultiModal Business Activity Model helps to structure and visualize the ideas and visions that everyone has and thus supports having a conversation about them. It creates a common understanding of where we are and where we are going, which is critical to transforming the organization.”

“With multimodality, an organization can better identify where it can really differentiate itself.”

Mindset for every strategic choice

The model thus enables organizations to make clear choices. “It is of great value at the start of a transformation,” states Nieuwmeijer. “Whether it's determining a (digital) strategy – ‘what should be the focus in the future?’ – or determining what the organization that supports this strategy should look like – ‘what capabilities do we need?’”

“The model makes you aware of what kind of business activities you perform, what differentiates your organization, and what kind of teams you need in different areas of your organization,” she explains.

The insights provided by the model are so fundamental that they are applicable not only when starting a transformation, but in any (strategic) choice you face as an organization.

“A concrete dilemma in which the MultiModal Business Activity Model is very useful, for example, is determining the sourcing strategy,” Nieuwmeijer continues. “What activities do you want to keep in-house and what activities are appropriate to outsource?”

Wijers describes the idea of multimodality as a “mindset” for how leadership and management should look at a specific business domain or activity. “This mindset must somehow be present in every decision/improvement you want to make,” he explains.

He gives an example: “Take a stable, generic activity like procurement. That should remain standard as much as possible and be driven by cost and efficiency. Improvements that lead to exceptions should therefore be avoided by definition.”

At the other end of the modality spectrum, very different maxims apply, he explains: “Avoiding unnecessary changes is a good strategy and management culture for generic business activities but is really a totally wrong strategy for distinctive business activities.”

Rare combination of theory and practice

Since Anderson MacGyver first developed its model – in 2014 – it has proven itself extensively in practice. The strength of the model, according to Wijers and Nieuwmeijer, lies in how it manages to bring theory and practice together.

“What makes this model special is that it has its origins in practice and was developed by two very experienced consultants, and then validated and strengthened by academic research,” explained Nieuwmeijer.

“When concepts are grounded in theory but also elegant in everyday use, it helps to get real buy-in.”

“This is a rare combination of theory and practice. You can find many theoretical frameworks that are difficult to apply in practice and vice versa. Adding a theoretical basis to this model proves that it is not “just another consulting framework,” Nieuwmeijer says.

“For me personally: I like practical theories,” adds Wijers. “If concepts are grounded in theory but are also elegant in everyday use, it helps to get real buy-in.”

And completely in line with the idea of a practical theory, Anderson MacGyver is also adapting the model based on its practical experience. Wijers: “In 2020, we really chose the concept of multimodality as our core concept, which was also the basis for a long-term academic collaboration with Utrecht University. This led to several refinements in our latest model.”

During this process, Nieuwmeijer played a key role. For her thesis research, she worked on the model’s further development based on the idea of multimodality, and after completing her master’s, she was able to immediately start working at Anderson MacGyver.

The multimodal era

With that, she too made the transition from theory to practice. And in that practice, the first clients are already reaping the full benefits of this updated version of the model.

“One of our clients who have really embraced multimodal thinking is a large telecom infrastructure company,” says Albert Sprokholt, principal at Anderson MacGyver and also one of the founders of the model. “They use the multimodal model internally to inform their strategic investment decisions and to implement internal reorganizations.”

Another client, thanks to the model, discovered what kind of company it really was. Sprokholt: “They came to the conclusion, based on the multimodal thinking, that they are not actually a logistics service provider, but much more a fashion company that puts together collections for customers, purchases these collections and delivers them to their customers' stores and retail channels at the right time.”

In short, with the novel idea of multimodality, Anderson MacGyver is showing companies both who they are and how technology can help them become the best version of themselves.

“One of our clients really wanted to fundamentally change his tech organization, with much more ownership and multidisciplinary teams working on the different tech platforms. He called the whole transformation ‘Masters in Multimodality’, which made me quite proud of our concept,” Wijers concludes with a smile.

Want to know more about the MultiModality model? Download the whitepaper on this page.