Insight: Five steps to preparing for digital transformation
Terri Hiskey, vice president, global product marketing for manufacturing, Epicor Software, outlines five key steps companies need to take to prepare for a successful digital transformation journey.
1 - Align your business transformation strategy to your business goals
A massive 96 percent of companies see digital transformation as important or critical to their development. However, to avoid investing in new technology for the sake of it, or because you feel you should, it is essential that businesses identify where technology change is needed most.
Start by assessing your overall business goals and ask what objectives your business wants to achieve in the short, medium, and long-term. Then ask what technology will help achieve those goals. For example, it might be that your primary focus is to expand into new markets quickly, in which case it might be sensible to hold off on that AI investment you’ve been planning, and instead make sure you have a solid cloud infrastructure that can support your mission-critical processes from multiple locations.
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2 - Invest in the right technologies
Digital transformation means different things to different businesses and certainly, heavy spending alone is not going to guarantee success. The Aberdeen Group has identified three digitalisation technologies that have the potential to impact operations–the Internet of Things (IoT) because of its ability to provide operational intelligence, the cloud for its scalability, and big data analytics, which can transform data into predictive and actionable insights.
But there’s no one size fits all. According to our research, 19 percent of manufacturers are planning to invest in inventory management, 18 percent cloud, big data and customer relationship management, and 17 percent are planning a mobile technology implementation.
There are multiple options, and businesses must ensure that they are investing in the technologies that are right for them. While one business may see immediate benefits from implementing cloud infrastructure, a manufacturer operating out of just one facility might want to look at other options first. For example, they might instead see more immediate ROI from keeping data on-premises, but implementing an ERP solution that uses big data to track orders against stock and supply chain information in real-time. However, if they choose right, their ERP technology should be flexible enough to accommodate growth and an eventual move into the cloud.
3 - Ensure buy-in from key stakeholders within your business
After you’ve identified how digital transformation can support your business goals, now is the time to bring stakeholders on board because successful digital transformation strategies change how businesses work. They impact people’s jobs, how they complete tasks, and also how they work together.
Unfortunately, for many businesses, engaging with stakeholders is easier said than done. According to a recent Interoute study, 51 percent of UK IT leaders struggle to get executive sign-off on their transformation strategies.
However, staff from the boardroom and beyond need to feel they have a personal and professional stake in the changes being made. Helping them understand the reason for the business’s investment will make it easier to overcome any potential resistance to new processes. This is particularly important when digital technologies are being implemented to automate tasks that are otherwise completed by staff members, or when it might not be immediately obvious how an investment will deliver ROI.
4 - Turn insight into action
Businesses today are collecting more data than ever, but simply amassing vast amounts of information as a result of digital transformation, is not enough. The key lies in being able to use insights effectively, to guide change or identify new revenue streams.
The latest data analytics suites can provide businesses with crucial information about customer trends and predictions, or information about how products are performing. Some businesses are already using this sort of data, to turn insights into action.
For example, UK manufacturer of fasteners and latches, Southco, has optimised the assembly line in its smart factory in Worcester. Intelligence from the Epicor Mattec MES system demonstrated the business was only benefiting from 20 percent utilisation of its static assembly lines. Many products were previously only assembled on their own ‘exclusive’ assembly benches. However, once it was highlighted that in some cases a bench would only be used for eight hours a month, Southco deployed semi-automated plug and play assembly machines which are now used for multi-assembly tasks. This has pushed average bench utilisation up to 60 percent.
5 - Continually reassess your digital strategy
Understand that digital transformation is a journey that is never complete. New technologies are being launched all of the time—from robots that complete tasks on the production line quicker than humans, to machines that can fix equipment problems without intervention. All of these bring with them multiple possibilities for UK manufacturers.
As Charles Darwin once said, “It is not the strongest or the most intelligent who will survive but those who can best manage change”. This applies to more than just the natural world. It is just as true for manufacturers in the current UK economy.
It’s important to therefore constantly adapt your digital transformation strategy to new possibilities, reassess your journey, and question your rate of digital change—does it match up to your customer expectations? How does it stack up against your business goals? If these change, perhaps your technology should too.
Adapting to the digital world can be a challenging undertaking, however there are plenty of online resources that can help you along the journey. An international study by Epicor shows that two-in-five industry professionals agree that digital transformation will offer them strong opportunities for growth in the future - proving that the benefits at stake outweigh the costs.
Innovative enterprise resource planning solutions (ERP) solutions, combined with Industry 4.0 developments, are already helping to automate production lines, streamline supply chains, and provide the intelligent data manufacturers need to react quickly to changing consumer demands.
For UK businesses to take a place among the world’s production leaders, deploying advanced technology to drive manufacturing efficiency is going to be the way forward.
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.”