How To Use Digital Transformation To Take Your Company To The Next Level

Posted on January 13, 2023

As part of Authority Magazine's series on "How To Use Digital Transformation To Take Your Company To The Next Level," Hamed Arbabi sat down with the team to share his insight.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Before we dive in, our readers would love to "get to know you" a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your 'backstory' and how you got started?

As a child, I had a natural affinity for asking questions and was curious as to how things worked. It was this curiosity that led to my very first business. Instead of the typical after-school type jobs, I began assembling computers from the ground up. I found the whole process fascinating, from sourcing the necessary components all the way through to producing the final product. At the age of 16, I was building computers for friends and family and running the whole operation from my parent's basement. When I look back on it, I can see how this shaped who I am today and my passion for technology. 

My journey has been my teacher. As much as I love what I do, entrepreneurship is often glamorized; the reality is that it can be a challenging journey. It requires a lot of sacrifice and perseverance. But most importantly, it requires believing in yourself and taking a risk, which doesn't always pay off. I like to think of myself as more of an impactreneur, focusing on innovation and implementing ideas that deliver value to others. 

Before VoPay, I founded a venture in the telecom industry. With a focus on reshaping the telco's legacy infrastructure, the company offered groundbreaking cloud-based solutions. I grew that venture to over two billion dollars in sales, with a team of 160 employees operating in five continents. It was during the time spent at my previous venture that the idea of VoPay was born. I saw firsthand the significant disconnect between how money was moved and the time it took to manage account payables and receivables. These long processes with so much unknown around cash flow. This is crucial when operating a business and the crux of the issue I wanted to solve.  

When I began venturing into the financial landscape, I was fascinated by how money moved through the system and where the challenges lay. I learned quickly that payments are highly complex and the industry carries many pain points. 

Six years ago, VoPay was created to help businesses navigate the complexities of payments. Making it easier, faster, and more accessible by offering a fintech-in-a-box solution to businesses of all sizes. There was a lot of trial and error, but as you begin to build a business, the process becomes less about making mistakes and more about learning. 

With VoPay, I came into it understanding the need and importance of payment automation. By integrating a single Application Programming Interface (API), businesses can build and launch products ten times faster at a fraction of the cost and ultimately offering advanced financial solutions to customers. In a world where paying by cheque and wire transfer is considered to be standard B2B payment practice, we turned things on its head with VoPay. Our clients across North America have secure, data-driven financial services embedded into their operations. 

Looking at the future of my story, it is an obsession with ensuring we continue to be innovative to keep up with fast-paced technology and build cutting-edge solutions. As entrepreneurs, it is essential to always think of ways your business can continue evolving and be ahead of competitors.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or 'takeaways' you learned from that?

I don't know if this story classifies as the funniest mistake when I was starting, but without a doubt, it left its mark when it comes to the impact it had on me as an entrepreneur. It was quite possibly one of the biggest "takeaway" lessons from my professional career.

At the time, I was working on a critical telecom project that was stalled. We were waiting on approval from the CEO of a prominent telephone communications company. The project was in a make-or-break phase. We needed the CEO's sign-off, or all was about to be lost. While his approval was a must-have for us, it seemed to fall low on his priority list, and we weren't able to schedule a meeting for months.  

I wanted this project to go through, and I was determined to make that happen. Initially, I planned to go to his office to try and catch him for a brief discussion between meetings. I went every day the first week to no avail. Not willing to accept defeat, I was committed to creating a more strategic game plan. In week two, I set up camp in the office, working away on my laptop. I was able to make friends fast with almost all the staff there and was even included in the lunch run. Well into my third week, I was still dedicated to the cause. By the fourth week, my perseverance had finally paid off. 

It only took 10 minutes to get the ball rolling and have the deal signed. I am not sure if he remembers the guy that sat in his office for four weeks, but I sure do. It shaped who I am today and how I run my business. It is not easy, and it sometimes can be humbling, but persistence pays off. Things don't just happen; sometimes, you must make them happen. You have to focus on the reward and never give up.  

Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

While there are many people I am grateful for being on this journey with me, it is always hard to pinpoint simply just one particular person. Many people have shaped this journey and contributed to its success thus far. My parents taught me the most important life lesson, to treat people with respect and work extremely hard. There are no shortcuts. 

My family has been understanding and patient through the ups and downs of my business over the years. If you surround yourself with a small number of like-minded, trustworthy people in business and in life, that is far greater than having a large network of acquaintances. I think it is very important to keep learning, whether it be from friends, family or fellow entrepreneurs. I enjoy hearing about other success stories and learning from those that share trials and tribulations.  

My philosophy for achieving success is less about making the right decisions and more about doing your best to reduce the number of wrong decisions. While we all make mistakes, it is important to learn from them to continue to strive for success and ensure you are still on the course of your timeline.

Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

This is an excellent question. I am very fascinated by human behaviour and social science subjects. Beautiful Math by Tom Siegfried holds a place in my top five books of all time. The way Tom Siegfried uses game theory and mathematics to explain how people behave and how we interact with one another in different scenarios is eye-opening. The book explores how people form relationships and how our decisions can impact future outcomes. These topics have always resonated with me. In a way, the book held many life lessons as I've carried its wisdom with me along my journey.

Extensive research suggests that "purpose-driven businesses" are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?

Growing up, I watched how technology and this concept of digital transformation fuelled new businesses, sparked innovative ideas, and paved the way for greater opportunities. We tend to think things happen overnight, yet, in reality, the process is much longer than that. Technology will bubble below the surface for quite some time before widespread adoption occurs. 

So when I started VoPay, my vision for the company was simple. I wanted to transform the way people and businesses transact. I wanted to remove the barriers and inefficiencies in the system. What began as a simple idea is now a venture that focuses on innovative technology and the future that lies ahead. Payments will not be the same 10 years from now. They will be autonomous, embedded, and everything will be unified. But it is important to ensure that as we head down that path, we bring everyone with us. Financial inclusion moving forward is critical. It is a key component to building a strong societal foundation. 

I believe financial services should be easy, affordable and accessible to all, regardless of technical abilities, geography or socioeconomic status. That is at the core of VoPay. And we never stray from it. 

Are you working on any new, exciting projects now? How do you think that might help people? 

We have our sights set on significant expansion into the U.S. market with some exciting partnerships that will be announced in the New Year, including our latest product rollout, which will enable real-time data portability between VoPay and various accounting software applications. We are aiming to further streamline financial operations by applying robotic process automation. 

Internally, we plan to increase our team and talent base by 400%, open a new VoPay HQ2 and make headway on our journey to becoming a carbon net-zero organization. We will also be taking the first steps to attain B Corp certification. 

Finally, a big priority for us this year will be VoPay's Community Initiatives. 2023 is the year our focus will be on corporate social responsibility. Not something we take lightly, we have been working behind the scenes to launch specific purpose-driven initiatives. In continuing to expand on the work for my previous Not-For-Profit Company, Vision for Kids, the next step is to increase our efforts in helping the fight for financial literacy. A CAP program is in the works and set to launch next year. 

Our ultimate goal is sustainable finance. We are taking steps to ensure a greener and better future exists for all. As part of VoPay's corporate social responsibility plans, we will be incorporating and rolling out plant a tree initiatives here in Canada and in the U.S.  

Evidently, we have a big agenda for 2023, and we will be pushing hard to bring VoPay to the next level. 

For the benefit of our readers, can you help explain what exactly Digital Transformation means? On a practical level what does it look like to engage in a Digital Transformation?

The concept of digital transformation has been around for ages; in fact, it actually dates back to the 1940s. Of course, in the last few years, it’s been more of a buzzword around boardroom tables, but I think the pandemic has really brought the conversation to the forefront. 

It’s not just the big corporations looking to adopt new technologies and strategies; we see every business, big or small, looking at new ways to operate. For me, digital transformation is looking at aspects of your day-to-day operations and seeing where technology could play a bigger role. Companies are using technology to reinvent their business models, create new areas of market growth and address critical operational deficiencies. Whether it is introducing robotic process automation (RPA) to help with payroll processing productivity or integrating payments into an application for a seamless customer experience, it is about using technology to enhance your organization. 

The best way to think about digital transformation is through the lens of companies reinventing themselves by deploying different strategies to remain the powerhouses that they are today. Some of the best examples are organizations that might not immediately spring to mind, such as Ikea’s adoption of cloud services for its click-and-collect and pay-and-go services or how Capital One is using AI to help them deliver exceptional customer service. 

Digital transformation is not just about staying one step ahead; it’s about being heads and shoulders above the rest. As a business, you need to look not just at today or the next year, or even two years from now. You are looking at how things could play out in the next five or 10, or even 15 years from now. With technology in play, things move faster than ever before. All you have to do is research companies that failed to innovate, and you will see a long list of organizations that were at the top of their game at one point in time. But they weren’t scanning the horizon for what the future had in store. 

On a practical level - it starts at the top, with the leadership team. Pay attention to industry trends. While fads may come and go, trends provide a glimpse into the future. Prioritize the process over the application and investigate solutions with a demonstrated capability to extend beyond the needs of today. Put the customer first and then move forward. Look at where their pain points are. Is there friction caused by legacy technology? Introducing automation. Learn how your organization can benefit from embedding new technologies into your day-to-day operations.  

Which companies can most benefit from a Digital Transformation? 

I believe that every company across industries will benefit from digital transformation. Still, a few industries that stand out are healthcare, manufacturing and supply chain, farming and agriculture, banking and government. 

The pandemic spotlighted some glaring challenges companies in these industries were facing. Without the effects of the previous two years, we may not have noticed it this early on. Pre-pandemic many businesses in these industries were, for the most part, able to operate much in the way they always had. And then, when the pandemic hit, legacy processes and archaic infrastructure left them vulnerable to changing and unprecedented conditions. These institutions are less likely to pivot and adapt on a dime, making them particularly vulnerable. Companies in these industries are vulnerable. They are increasingly under pressure to improve customer outcomes while reducing costs.

VoPay has the ability to further help businesses in any industry to succeed in a digital transformation. Our one goal is to eliminate all payment inefficiencies, so businesses can focus on what they do best. We digitize online bank account payments with speed, transparency and traceability in today’s fast-growing digital economy. We help businesses and consumers by bringing integrated payments and automation to investment platforms, lending, fintechs, and digital platforms

In your experience, how has Digital Transformation helped improve operations, processes and customer experiences? We’d love to hear some stories, if possible. 

Most definitely. VoPay is doing exactly that. I have seen the ways in which digital transformation improves operational efficiencies and the customer experience exponentially. It can sometimes be difficult for companies and the executive team to initially see if they haven’t broken down the steps involved in the “traditional” way of doing things or are comfortable with an outdated process. In the office, we refer to it as quantifying the qualitative. 

A great example is paper cheques during COVID. At a time when companies were refusing cheques and cash, and banks were shut down, paper cheques were an almost impossible way to get money from the hands of one company to another. And if it was moving, it certainly wasn’t moving as fast as people needed it to be. This caused consequential challenges due to an outdated legacy process that businesses relied upon. While many of us in our personal lives might be used to digital transactions financially, it is not indicative of how some businesses operate. Consumers actively and willingly digitized how they managed money well before businesses. COVID forced a change in companies that may not have happened for another five to 10 years. Cheques are still in rotation but have decreased significantly, and businesses have or will continue to implement safer and more efficient processes.  

Here’s how applying digital transformation helps. Consider how charitable organizations operated pre-pandemic. Donations would often come in as paper cheques or perhaps cash. Once the pandemic hit, charities found themselves taking a significant financial hit. This is where technology and VoPay can play an important role. We have several clients in this space, with the majority reaching out to us for help during the COVID era. All experiencing the same problems. The entire payment experience can be done online by digitizing the donation industry. The campaigns can run efficiently. Donations, tax receipts, and reconciliations can be managed online. By instituting a virtual experience complete with online secure bank account payments, charities can eliminate paper cheques and the operations needed to process cheques and instead focus their efforts on sourcing additional donations without being bogged down by the back-end woes that accompany traditional payment methods.

Has integrating Digital Transformation been a challenging process for some companies? What are the challenges?  How do you help resolve them?

I think digital transformation can be a challenging process for many companies. It brings about change, including new processes and different ways of thinking, which can be met with resistance. However, as we have seen repeatedly, the continued invention is what the market demands and what the future mandates to stay competitive. 

We recognize organizations that rely on legacy technology find it very difficult to apply changes toward digital transformation. This can vary depending on a lack of infrastructure or organizational knowledge. This is not uncommon, and we understand it. It is one of the reasons we have developed a “no-code” solution. It is a useful way for these types of organizations to get started in adopting digital solutions without a financial commitment and resources required to build the infrastructure. The no-code solution gets businesses on their way to transforming their business. 

Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are “Five Ways a Company Can Use Digital Transformation To Take It To The Next Level”? Please share a story or an example for each. 

Digital transformation entails more than just changing functionality and user interfaces. It’s a massive movement reshaping the business processes we’ve become accustomed to. 

Here are five ways a company can use digital transformation to take it to the next level: 
  • Workforce Enhancement - With the introduction of new technologies such as Robotic Process Automation (RPA), businesses can automate repetitive and manual tasks that drain employees' time and energy. Saved time can be shifted to more strategic, high-value tasks that employees enjoy. More enjoyment means increased engagement. Technology provides the ability to enhance human productivity and reduce manual errors. 
  • Increases Resilience - According to a McKinsey survey, only 8% of respondents said their existing business model would remain economically viable if their industry kept digitizing at its current course and speed. Implementing digital, modern operations provides businesses with opportunities to withstand competition and remain viable for years to come. 
  • Better Customer Service - Upstarts such as Apple Pay, Uber Eats, and WealthSimple have changed our habits and expectations.  Consumers are expecting fast and on-demand services that help them be hyper sufficient in their days. Whether that is using their smartphones to pay for groceries or applying for a loan and receiving the payout in less than twenty-four hours. Digital transformation is woven into every part of consumers’ financial transactions. If we can buy a couch from Amazon and have it delivered in less than three days, why can’t a mortgage or loan disbursement occur just as quickly? Most notably, we have seen that the “last mile” of the customer journey becomes a crucial, pivotal point in the customer experience. The final payment process can make or break the customer experience. It must be digital, and it has to be easy. 
  • Sustainability - Climate change and moving towards a more sustainable future are on every company's mind. There are some key components around digital transformation that are vital to decreasing emissions and reducing our carbon footprint. Even just the costs of paper-based processes and cheques are astronomical. 
  • Faster Speed to Market - Traditionally, when businesses wanted to launch new products or services, they would have to go through lengthy, costly processes before getting to the market. Today, if businesses want to add an additional service or add a new product offering, they can bring it to market much faster using digital technologies. For example, if an Human Resources (HR) software company wanted to add payments to its offering, it can simply integrate with another software company, like VoPay, to embed payments into its existing offering without the cost of building the infrastructure. This is thanks to innovative digital technology.  

Today’s technology is helping people and businesses make their tasks more accessible; it is helping them reduce costs, retain customers, and operate more efficiently.

In your opinion, how can companies best create a “culture of innovation” in order to create new competitive advantages?

It is not enough to simply impart the vision and mission to your team. You have to lay out the road map. As a leader, you must clearly articulate the goals your company is looking to achieve. Foster community and learning within your team, break down silos within departments and encourage sharing new ideas and initiatives throughout the organization. Garner and welcome employee feedback; it lets you easily see if your business is on the right track.  

Celebrate successes and wins but also provide the space for employees to learn from failures. It is easier to problem-solve together, and ask for input from your employees, empowering conversations and building better working relationships.  

Can you please give us your favourite "Life Lesson Quote"? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life? 

With a great ego, you become a banker. With great knowledge, you become a scientist. With great ego and knowledge, you are an unstoppable entrepreneur!

As I mentioned above, it is less about making the right decisions and more about doing your best to reduce the number of wrong decisions! 

How can our readers further follow your work?

You can follow me on LinkedIn or on Twitter @hamedarbabioon

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