NTT DATA UK: Long-term business relationships and the new social norms
Tim Bardell is Head of Consulting, NTT DATA UK. Here he focuses on how technology and digital transformation are fundamentally reshaping our business relationships and creating a need for enterprises to rethink how they approach relationships at every level of their business – from their customers, to suppliers and society more generally.
At the end of last year, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) estimated that, at the end of 2018, 51.2% of the human race was online. Across the world, this new state of play is reconfiguring our relationships – with governments, with businesses and with each other.
Whether peer-to-peer, business-to-consumer or business-to-business, just 200 years ago relationships were hyper-local and exclusively based on a personal knowledge of the person you were interacting with. However, with the growth of legal protection and contracts, as well as through industrialisation and urbanisation, knowing the person that you were doing business with became both less necessary and less manageable.
With the advent of CRM and database marketing software in the 1980s, businesses began to recognise the potential for technology to create more personal relationships with customers. Ultimately, though, the thinking was ahead of the technology and these solutions fell short of the promise. In the 2000s, Amazon reanimated this idea with a business built on the concept that ‘if I know you better, I can sell you more’. However, who among us feels that they have a personal relationship with Amazon?
Fast forward to the present day and anyone with an idea or a product to sell can instantly reach 3.5 billion people. This immense scale brings new opportunities, but it also means that businesses increasingly want to create more personal relationships with their customers. So, how do organisations learn from these examples and strike a balance between reaching the right people at scale, while building long-term and meaningful business relationships?
Relationships in flux
With appropriate application of technologies such as machine learning, artificial intelligence, big data, social listening and sentiment analysis – plus the requisite GDPR permissions – it is now possible to have a personal relationship with each and every customer, supplier and even the wider society.
However, the power of technology to reshape relationships also raises new questions. What are the new social norms when it comes to data usage? How should we behave when businesses and customers have digitally-enabled relationships? How do you avoid being manipulative, creepy or exploitative?
In reality, we don’t yet know the answer to all of these questions and the new ‘rules of engagement’ need to be agreed on. While cases like Cambridge Analytica represent a breakdown in those guidelines, the changing relationships between businesses and people or between the technologies that power commerce and society need to be acknowledged.
Working for the long-term
To help us find answers to the questions that technology poses, it is important to also think about the qualities we value in our relationships.
Japanese philosophy teaches that relationships mean nothing without long-term commitment. Numerous Japanese proverbs highlight the value of tenacity, perseverance and an appreciation of the long-term, but one of my favourites is “Three years sitting on a rock”. The legend behind the saying is that three years are needed for the rock to eventually become warm, telling us that success may not be instantaneous and that big commitments are required to achieve our goals.
This is a mentality that is still visible in Japanese culture today. For example, with its Vision Fund, SoftBank has declared that it is thinking about its future as a business, its investments and its partnerships over the next 300 years. In comparison, most Western companies may be only thinking about the next five years, or even as short-term as the next quarter.
Even in our own business, we appreciate that there are times that our customers and partners may not need us – and that’s fine. We know that, further down the line, there will be projects where our interests overlap once again.
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Finding the answers
In order to avoid the pitfalls of being overly exploitative and invasive, businesses must prove themselves to be committed to their customers, suppliers and people for the long-term. At the same time, it is essential to prioritise building and earning trust, creating lines of communication and engagement, and demonstrating transparency.
These same business leaders must regularly ask themselves “what can we do to demonstrate the commitment to build, grow and develop long-term relationships that will have a positive impact on our businesses and shape new social norms?”
To develop the next version of our society, it is important to be prepared to innovate with business models, technology, organisational structures and relationships. By opening this conversation, everyone can create a new path for the future together.
Tim Bardell, Head of Consulting, NTT DATA UK
As the lead for design, technology and business consultancy, Tim’s focus is guiding organisations through change to drive business value.
He is driven by the opportunity to make lasting change happen for his clients, their teams and their customers. As such, he believes that putting people at the heart of business transformation is the key to success. This includes creating a working culture at NTT DATA that allows our own consultants to thrive.
A huge advocate for fairness, equality and opportunity for all; he is an active member of NTT DATA UK’s Diversity & Inclusion steering committee and proud to be the sponsor of the company’s LGBT forum.
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.”