Five Lessons in Digital Transformation - Insight from Tom Sapsted, WIG Head of Content and Events

Over the last few weeks a popular meme has been circulating the professional networking sites, in it one person asks another, ‘Who led the digital transformation of your organisation? The CEO, the CTO?’ The answer, rather hilariously (or not) is ‘COVID-19’. Hilarity aside, the basic tenet has proven to be fundamentally true within the context of The Whitehall & Industry Group and for many other WIG members whether they be from the public, private or not- for- profit sector. Over the eight or so weeks of lockdown, organisations have been looking to adjust the way they offer their services, how they run internally and how they work with others.  

Within a WIG context, this has proven challenging. As an organisation, over 90% of our work has traditionally been delivered face- to- face, guided by the importance of building trust and creating a safe space for crucial conversations and exchanges to happen. With the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, it has been critical that we adapt fast, while continuing to serve our purpose of promoting cross-sector dialogue and collaboration.  

To set it in context a little, from the beginning of March we faced the prospect of postponing or cancelling a large part of our face-to-face events taking place over the coming months, including over 20 briefings with senior civil servants and private sector representatives, our annual flagship event, a full-day conference and a range of senior-level roundtables and policy discussions. That is not to mention the countless leadership programmes, development seminars and other offers to the membership. The picture was ‘challenging’ to say the least.  

Jump forward six weeks (and many late nights), and WIG has a fully-fledged online offer. As of last week, we have run over 10 virtual briefings with experts from across the sectors with a further 30+ booked in from April-July, we have had over 5,000 sign-ups across our online webinars alone, we hosted a range of senior-level roundtables with CEOs from across our membership, and began building a range of digital reports to ensure the cross-sector dialogue and learning continues. And that is not accounting for the complementary offer of online masterclass tasters and virtual discussion forums on topics of D&I from the leadership development team. This has not been straightforward and has certainly not been error-free. 

Reflecting on this, in my role as Head of Content and Events, I have learnt a range of lessons along the way. I do not think these are exclusive to WIG and having spoken to a range of stakeholders across our membership, I believe these lessons will resonate.  

  • Your team is your asset- I am extraordinarily lucky to work with five incredible individuals within the events and content team (plus all those in wider WIG family), each have completely different skillsets and outlooks, each have had highs and lows (myself included) throughout the lockdown period. It is clear to me that the digital transformation of WIG events offer would never have happened without the vast amount of work they put in. None were established experts in digital content or online delivery. Trusting them to explore options, scope out potential offers, and spot the problems was most certainly the smartest thing I could have done. Between the five they managed to spot potential challenges and address them with a constructive approach and unveil two months of online events within just two weeks.   

  • Remaining open-minded is critical- Last year WIG went through the process of reviewing our organisational values, landing on three which defined our ethos and approach: Trusted, Creative, Open-Minded. At the time I thought little of it. Jump forward one year, and one value sticks out more than the rest, namely ‘open-minded’. It has been critical to remind myself that there was no ‘right’ answer to transforming our offer to a digital one, we needed to think outside the box. Personally, I found simply writing the words ‘stay open-minded’ down on a notepad in front of me during the countless meetings and discussion helped ensure that I didn’t dismiss the idea before it has had the chance to take off.   

  • Test and test, but accept technical difficulties will happen- Once we had identified the digital platforms and content offers we wished to pursue, testing proved critical. That included run through of fake presentations for virtual briefings (including one particularly insightful one on One Direction… don’t ask). Of course, testing is not a new concept, my reflection is that even with all the testing in the world, we could not have played out every scenario, and that only the live experience has revealed the challenges that digital offers can present. Ensuring contingency plans are in place and that the value can still be offered to the members has been key in mitigating the impact here. 

  • Done is better than perfect - there is a danger that this piece looks like one giant pat on the back. The reality is that digital transformation has been a messy affair with a lot of learning as we go. There have been technical issues, there are still gaps to iron out, and still areas we will continue to improve on. In launching the digital offer, we have had to accept that in order to provide value we can’t make everything perfect from day one… fine-tuning will be the focus for next month!  

  • Value to the customers (or in our case members) is the priority- One of the biggest dangers of the entire digital transformation process has been to forget why we are doing it. This has been heightened by the speed at which it has had to happen, and the fact we are all working in isolation. Reminding ourselves of WIG’s charitable purpose and holding ourselves to account on this has been especially important. An ongoing feedback loop with members, stakeholders and advisors has been critical to the success of the digital transformation.    

To check out the upcoming webinars and online offers, go to the events calendar here, and see the new resources available to members here.  

I would love your feedback on the digital transformations taking place within your organisations. Please do drop me a note with your thoughts and areas you would like to see us address in forthcoming WIG offers.  


  • Tom Sapsted

    Head of Content & Events

    As Head of Content & Events, Tom is responsible for overseeing the entire WIG events portfolio, ensuring they remain a forum for constructive collaboration between government, industry and the not-for-profit sector. The focus is on researching new ideas, building on the existing events and working with the wider WIG team to build a robust and relevant event schedule. Before joining WIG, Tom has worked across both government and industry. He ran the energy division for a commercial conference company, worked within the Department for International Trade, and developed new business for an independent TV production company that worked exclusively with not for profits. Tom graduated from UCL with a BA Hons in History and subsequently picked up a Masters in International Security and Global Governance from Birkbeck. Outside of WIG, Tom is a keen Tottenham Hotspur fan and spends time exercising, having completed the London Marathon in 2018.