Feature: clarifying digital transformation – before it’s too late
When 70% of CEOs claim to have digital transformation (DX) at the centre of their IT strategy, clearly change is afoot.
But how many of these DX strategies will ever extend beyond the boardroom? What, in effect, do they really entail? DX is being merged with the Internet of Things (IoT), machine learning, even Artificial Intelligence (AI) to create an unmanageable, unfocused concept of ‘doing things better’ without addressing the fundamental, underpinning essence of that change – the data.
With so many innovative technologies coming to the fore, it is easy to get distracted; but organisations need to focus on the core objective – what is the point of increasing the amount of data collected if the business does not have complete trust in that data? Why make data look visually appealing, if people still won’t use it to automate processes and decision making? If individuals are not prepared to accept that data resources enable better decision making than intuition, a business cannot be digitally transformed – however much it has expanded its connection with customers, suppliers and partners.
With DX beginning to suffer from the same over hyping that has beset far too many IT industry innovations, Peter Ruffley, Chairman at Zizo, insists it is time to take a step back and achieve some clarity in the DX strategy.
There is no doubt that better use of data can have a dramatic impact on the bottom line. Being able to effectively and reliably use the data that a company owns and generates, means that every aspect of the business can be managed more effectively. Yet surveys show that less than 20% of companies think of making true business value from any knowledge they derive from their data and a similar percentage only think that they can turn data into useful information. Less than 30% claim to know what data they have or can get*.
So much for the great Business Intelligence (BI) revolution or the promise of big data. And the problem is getting worse, not better. As the digitally enabled technologies gain ground, organisations are leveraging the connected world to increase data volumes exponentially. 90% of the global data resources were created in the past two years,* and much of this increase is machine-generated data, both from industrial infrastructure consumer devices and other smart devices. But where is the value?
Right now, while DX may be a board-level objective, when it comes to strategy or roadmap, there are some concerning signs. On the one hand, organisations are investing in new ways to capture data – from connected devices onwards. On the other, they are embracing exciting visualisation tools, such as exploding pie charts and genomic analytics. Spot the gap? Where is the underpinning data structure? Where is the essential data trust?
- 61% of European businesses undergoing a digital transformation, says Interoute
- Digital report: How FCR Media is leading the digital media market in Belgium with a customer-focussed transformation
- Read November's issue of the Business Review Europe magazine
Forget the pretty pictures and the amazing technologies that can collect previously unimaginable quantities of real-time data; a successful DX strategy is one that embeds a data-driven culture at its heart. A digitally transformed business is one that has inherent data trust and a conviction in the quality and efficiency of data-led operations. And how many organisations’ DX strategies have that on their roadmap?
Realising the DX objective is less about IoT and 3D visualisation and far more about significant cultural change. This change cannot be imposed from the top or driven by IT: the objective must be to create data confidence across the organisation by demonstrating the quality and hence value of the new data resources.
So how can that be achieved? How can a business accelerate cultural change and create a truly data-driven organisation, one with the data confidence to embrace and trust the depth of new data resources?
Achieving that unshakeable data confidence may appear daunting, especially to organisations wary of embarking upon massive investment – but the latest cloud analytics services enable businesses to try out analytics both to gain confidence and to respond to a specific business objective. And that is a significant step forward.
Cloud based, flexible DX systems and services provide companies with immediate and cost-effective access to data, without replacing the existing systems integral to the day-to-day operations of the company. This is not about Big Data – that doesn’t work. Yes, cloud based analytics tools can be used effectively across large volumes of data, of different types and from different sources, but it is the flexibility of the cloud service that is key. By offering the chance to take a tactical, bite-sized approach driven by a tangible business outcome, organisations can begin to embark upon that process of developing data confidence – and hence becoming data led.
A cloud based analytics platform provides the essential data foundation. It creates the building block for the cultural change that will define a digitally transformed organisation, an organisation that will have immediate visibility of all data and, critically, implicit trust in that data. While existing applications will continue to perform as usual, the digitally transformed platform will enable organisations to rapidly build new applications that use diverse data resources to drive operational change. And with this data platform in place, organisations can confidently scale and embrace a raft of digital innovation, from AI to cognitive analytics.
There is no one size fits all, of course; no prescription for a digitally transformed organisation. But by taking a solution-led approach, rather than a nebulous ‘digital’ strategy, organisations can embark upon the transformation journey. Critically, the focus must be on addressing specific business requirements, whether prompted by the need to upgrade a dated system or respond to new operational requirements. By ensuring developments are business driven, data led and customer focused, with the right foundation a business can use its data to make essential change.
Of course, there have been multiple attempts to effect cultural change and achieve that data driven model. What is different this time? Essentially, it is culture not technology. DX is not about IoT or 3D visualisation; it is about creating a new business ethos where the entire focus is on becoming digital, about finding new ways that people can interact with the business, capture that data and leverage new insight to drive change.
And that new ethos is 100% dependent on data trust. With the right data foundation in place, organisations will have the data confidence to move forward. CEOs are right to have DX on the agenda – but the cornerstone of digital transformation is not IoT or machine learning. It is good data management – a way of gaining value from existing data resources as much as harnessing the new. With access to affordable, secure, flexible and scalable cloud based analytics, the rest of the transformation will take care of itself.
Automation of repetitive tasks leads to higher value work
Two-thirds of global office workers feel they are constantly doing the same tasks over and over again. That’s according to a new study (2021 Office Worker Survey) from automation software company UiPath.
Whether emailing, inputting data, or scheduling calls and meetings, the majority of those surveyed said they waste on average four and a half hours a week on time-consuming tasks that they think could be automated.
Not only is the undertaking of such repetitious and mundane tasks a waste of time for employees, and therefore for businesses, but it can also have a negative impact on employees’ motivation and productivity. And the research backs this up with more than half (58%) of those surveyed saying that undertaking such repetitive tasks doesn’t allow them to be as creative as they’d like to be.
“When repetitive, unrewarding tasks are handled by people, it takes time and this can cause delays and reduce both employee and customer satisfaction,” Gavin Mee, Managing Director of UiPath Northern Europe tells Business Chief. “Repetitive tasks can also be tedious, which often leads to stress and an increased likelihood to leave a job.”
And these tasks exist at all levels within an organisation, right up to executive level, where there are “small daily tasks that can be automated, such as scheduling, logging onto systems and creating reports”, adds Mee.
Automation can free employees to focus on higher value work
By automating some or all of these repetitive tasks, employees at whatever level of the organisation are freed up to focus on meaningful work that is creative, collaborative and strategic, something that will not only help them feel more engaged, but also benefit the organisation.
“Automation can free people to do more engaging, rewarding and higher value work,” says Mee, highlighting that 68% of global workers believe automation will make them more productive and 60% of executives agree that automation will enable people to focus on more strategic work. “Importantly, 57% of executives also say that automation increases employee engagement, all important factors to achieving business objectives.”
These aren’t the only benefits, however. One of the problems with employees doing some of these repetitive tasks manually is that “people are fallible and make mistakes”, says Mee, whereas automation boosts accuracy and reduces manual errors by 57%, according to Forrester Research. Compliance is also improved, according to 92% of global organisations.
Repetitive tasks that can be automated
Any repetitive process can be automated, Mee explains, from paying invoices to dealing with enquiries, or authorising documents and managing insurance claims. “The process will vary from business to business, but office workers have identified and created software robots to assist with thousands of common tasks they want automated.”
These include inputting data or creating data sets, a time-consuming task that 59% of those surveyed globally said was the task they would most like to automate, with scheduling of calls and meetings (57%) and sending template or reminder emails (60%) also top of the automation list. Far fewer believed, however, that tasks such as liaising with their team or customers could be automated, illustrating the higher value of such tasks.
“By employing software robots to undertake such tasks, they can be handled much more quickly,” adds Mee pointing to OTP Bank Romania, which during the pandemic used an automation to process requests to postpone bank loan instalments. “This reduced the processing time of a single request from 10 minutes to 20 seconds, allowing the bank to cope with a 125% increase in the number of calls received by call centre agents.”
Mee says: “Automation accelerates digital transformation, according to 63% of global executives. It also drives major cost savings and improves business metrics, and because software robots can ramp-up quickly to meet spikes in demand, it improves resilience.
Five business areas that can be automated
Mee outlines five business areas where automation can really make a difference.
- Contact centres Whether a customer seeks help online, in-store or with an agent, the entire customer service journey can be automated – from initial interaction to reaching a satisfying outcome
- Finance and accounting Automation enables firms to manage tasks such as invoice processing, ensuring accuracy and preventing mistakes
- Human resources Automations can be used across the HR team to manage things like payroll, assessing job candidates, and on-boarding
- IT IT teams are often swamped in daily activity like on-boarding or off-boarding employees. Deploying virtual machines, provisioning, configuring, and maintaining infrastructure. These tasks are ideal for automation
- Legal There are many important administrative tasks undertaken by legal teams that can be automated. Often, legal professionals are creating their own robots to help them manage this work. In legal and compliance processes, that means attorneys and paralegals can respond more quickly to increasing demands from clients and internal stakeholders. Robots don’t store data, and the data they use is encrypted in transit and at rest, which improves risk profiling and compliance.
“To embark on an automation journey, organisations need to create a Centre of Excellence in which technical expertise is fostered,” explains Mee. “This group of experts can begin automating processes quickly to show return on investment and gain buy-in. This effort leads to greater interest from within the organisation, which often kick-starts a strategic focus on embedding automation.”