Definition of Digital

Steve Westgarth
7 min readJun 30, 2023

Rich Corbridge (CDIO at DWP) and Steve Westgarth (Global Head of Engineering at Haleon) Writing our first collaboration together about the thing that connects us the most our views on how people work together and what is needed to drive change and behaviours, Steve and Rich have enjoyed being colleagues for a long time, now we don’t work in the same organisation we are able to be each other’s support network and bounce so much off each other.

So here goes…

Rich – When we have a clarity of sight we can see how we can impact on the future, in the last week we managed to gain approval for our digital business plan for the year ahead. No mean feat to have this out there, a document that gives every part of digital a direction to aim for and a wall to lean against, those two phrases require a level of engagement that is exciting to see build as every part of the team comes together to ensure their cog in the machine moves in concert with the whole department. I love a little cog analogy and as we spoke about the AI part of the business plan the analogy got added to. Is AI the grease on the machines that we have already or an entire new cog that could exist was the question, I loved that…

I don’t think I have ever seen a team come together so quickly and rally around a single purpose with such vigour ever before. Of all the ‘big important’ documents I have been part of this one really did supercharge my own enthusiasm for the art of the possible and then the reaction has been somewhat priceless with so many really informed and interested reactions from the team and the wider department.

Steve – Its great to hear about a new team coming together; similarly in my own organisation we have been focussed over recent weeks on the future as we look at how our operating model needs to evolve and how we ensure we set ourselves up for maximum success.

One of the strategies we have introduced within my own team is the concept of an Engineering Score Card that takes the key results defined in our Objective Key Results (OKRs) and presents a RAG rated dash board that clearly shows how we are progressing against our priorities. For me visibility is everything and regularly referring to the dashboard is one way that we can ensure our team remain focussed on the key priorities and feel empowered to say no to the things that aren’t helping us to achieve our critical outcomes.

Rich – Transparency is king here Steve, I can’t applaud you enough for shooting for the stars on this. We went for something different, something that focused on transparency, on us being closer to our business and on the human involved in every transaction and that has resonated a great deal.

I have recently been reading Edward Enninful’s wonderful biography and reflection on life as the chief editor of Vogue and how he got there. At one point in the book Edward describes his fear of losing his sight but also how he reflected on not having great sight for his entire career. I think we can apply his sentiments a little to what we have ended up with…

“In fact I had always felt that my poor eyesight had come with a side-order of super power. As the physical world could be a little fuzzy at times, it opened up a gateway into my imagination, where people, places and objects would live unbridled in glorious hyper-colour focus.”

As a designer, stylist and editor I guess clarity of vision (in all its meanings) would have seemed important but also the ability to paint the picture of the end in mind without having to get into every minutia of detail along the way was perhaps something that stands him out from his colleagues.

Steve – Talking of vision; an amazing thing happened in my family last week. 27 years ago my mum suffered a vitreous detachment loosing the sight in her left eye; over the last few years her eye sight has further deteriorated due to cataracts. Last week mum was referred to an eye hospital to have her cataracts removed and while on the operating table the surgeon successfully reattached the retina restoring the sight in her left eye – this simply wasn’t possible 27 years ago.

In our industry we have the power to impact peoples lives in ways that we simply cannot imagine; not everyone gets to give a patient the gift of sight but the systems we build are transforming the lives of customers, colleagues and patients at a pace that it is at times very difficult to comprehend.

Rich – An amazing success story and one that humbles us all as we try and do our ‘bits’ of technology. Those that have seen me at work will have often seen me peering over the top of my glasses or worse still them taken off and placed on the desk, I have an abject fear of not being able to see but in a way his reflection has enabled me to think of it in a different way. As a leadership team if we can paint the fuzzy picture for the team they can then get together with our business colleagues and refine it into the next level of detail and get their engagement and buy in too.

What if a fuzzy-ness to the direction we are going in is ok as long as the end in mind is shared. We used the Objective Key Results process to underpin the creation of the business plan and I believe that this is why we now can have the direction right (but fuzzy enough) that it can be the catalyst for innovation, new ideas and a change that we can make arrive.

Steve – As a leader I think that the most critical part of my job is to articulate the vision. With vision set teams can be empowered to bring their own creativity and find solutions themselves. Creating autonomous teams that can execute within clearly set guardrails is the only way to drive true business agility; the power of a large group of people all pulling together in the same direction for the same common goal is rarely seen in large organisations but is something every leader should in my view strive to enable. Rich talks of bringing clarity; for me clarity is something that emerges as the result of shared effort – when groups of people join together with a shared goal its amazing what solutions can be created to bring clarity to the most complex of problems.

Rich – When I take Mr. Enninful’s definition of fuzzy I can see how we can try to get to a definition of digital that perhaps more of the organisations we work with could get behind. The quote on clarity of sight and definitions could perhaps be a new catalyst for getting it right, but that comes with a health warning, I don’t think I have seen more than a handful of people yet agree on what digital actually is, but if we use this concept of getting it ‘fuzzily’ right I wonder what we would land on.

Steve – We talk a lot about OKRs as a means to drive understanding of what we need to achieve – perhaps we are now approaching a point in time where we need to drive shared understanding of concepts such as digital.

One architectural approach that I have found useful is Domain Driven Design. One of the key concepts here is that of Ubiquitous Language where we strive to share the same meaning and understanding when we use specific terms. Digital has become a term that means so many things to so many people that it is now almost impossible to derive shared meaning from it; in many ways it has suffered a similar fate to the term multimedia which was all the rage 20 years ago.

Perhaps now is the time for us to start considering what the technology language of the future will be? Within the last few weeks we have seen spacial computing emerge as a whole new category of device with the launch of Apple’s Vision Pro; we have also seen Chat GPT bring generative AI into mainstream conversation. In my view driving understanding and bringing clarity to our businesses so that we can create a shared vision for the future is the single biggest objective that we as digital leaders must accomplish and to do this we must imagine a future where we no longer functionally separate ‘IT’ and ‘The Business’ because in our digital future it is now evident that Technology is ‘The Business’.

Rich – I love the clarity here Steve, I think the one addition I would make to conclude this whole conversation would be not just the clarity on how digital works with our business teams but also the internal functions that make up digital. For me as we embark on the creation of a five-year digital strategy on top of the foundational business plan it is going to be super important that this strategy encompasses data, architecture, product and our people strategy. I think the join up that Steve describes with OUR business and this will demolish the silos perceived or real and allow us to march on towards digital as a delivery of change.

That was fun, hopefully interesting to see our views evolve and change and the perspectives we bring inspire a conversation either in agreement or challenging, thanks for reading our first colab blog.



Steve Westgarth

Steve 🏳️‍🌈 is the Global Head of Engineering at Haleon where he heads up the Software Engineering function.