Digital transformation is becoming more and more present in nearly every business and indicating its presence by changes in work management and organisation style. Although we still hear the echoes of the discussion about the importance of all the fuss about digitalisation, more and more frequently we deliberate how to implement solutions to automate processes in our company. The discussion turns into action rapidly in the service sector, in which effective task execution is the major factor impacting competitive advantage. What is the reason, however, that makes digitalisation increasingly important for companies? What makes some sectors adapt to this trend faster and others need more time to do so? How to prepare for these changes, where to start and what to avoid? You will find answers to those questions below.
What is digitalisation all about?
Let us start from the beginning. Digital transformation has become a fact. It is also true that we talk less and less about when it is expected to knock on our door, but instead, we consider how digital transformation can give us a competitive advantage and what extra values it will bring to our company. Although several factors are contributing to this situation, the following three play a major role:
- Employees expectations. Everyone uses a variety of services in their everyday lives, such as online payments, instant messengers or cloud file sharing. We will soon use virtual health records, e-prescriptions, e-sick leave notes or other solutions offered by the digital world. Unfortunately, despite the digitalization of our lives and the inevitability of those changes in our companies, many of them are still not even considering the implementation of digital solutions to facilitate their everyday operation and work of their employees. We still encounter paper leave requests. Attendance lists need to be physically signed. Dealing with a problem by an e-mail seems to stand for ultimate digitalisation. Then, why not just adopt cyber solutions in a company? At a certain point, companies will reach a level where they will have to address these issues too.
- Employers expectations. The majority of entrepreneurs and managers are starting to notice how important the effective operation of their businesses is. Work efficiency is essential to keep your own products or services competitive. Therefore, more and more new methods, technologies and competencies are looked for to ensure the efficiency, scalability and the possibility to transfer these products and services into new markets. Considering the situation in our country, on one hand, we have one of the lowest work efficiency rates in Europe (despite significant progress in the last few years), on the other hand, low labour costs are still encouraging corporations to invest in Poland. The question is how long will it last, though. Wages in Poland are rising gradually, therefore work efficiency should increase as well so that the competitiveness is kept in the long run. This, however, requires the implementation of automation, digitalisation and constant efficiency improvement, so that a high level of work efficiency becomes the major factor attracting investments at a certain point. Things may go in different directions although we live in interesting times: we have huge potential for digitalisation, our technological competences are amongst the world’s best and all this takes place when the awareness and need to increase work efficiency is more and more visible amongst entrepreneurs. Therefore, it is the best time for investments in this area!
- Global trend. Technology is developing faster than ever before. The process of implementing innovation has been significantly shortened and the number of new solutions has rapidly increased. Interestingly enough, statutory provisions are starting to chase technological development which brings us new opportunities to increase efficiency. The world is heading towards blockchain, AI, machine learning, merging IoT and AR, which allows delivering important information to a particular recipient in a given place and time. Furthermore, Remote Expert solutions are developed on the basis of AR and 5G and software development is starting to be more and more independent from the hardware platform. This is happening already! And whether we like it or not, it influences our business both from the customer and employee expectations perspectives. Certain elements are adapted faster in some sectors and slower in others. Current state-of-the-art allows for an impressively high degree of automation. The battle is currently about the financial profitability of particular technological solutions. Meanwhile, the discussion on Digital Transformation has moved towards the role of humans in the future economic process based on advanced automation.
Since there are technical possibilities and digital transformation has become a reality in many sectors, the question which arises is how to start?
How to start?
To begin we need two elements. First, to define our vision and strategy. Second, to find a partner to help us adjust and implement the technology and to manage the changes in the company. The last element is especially worth pointing out. No change can be implemented in a non-invasive way. As people work according to certain processes, any interference makes the employees have to change their habits. There are no shortcuts here and it happens quite often when laying a finger on a relatively simple process, we encounter a pretty significant organisational change. For example, the project to automate co-worker settlements we implemented last year. One simple form required a change that affected several teams and nearly 150 co-workers. The effect quickly compensated the effort, therefore we have decided to implement a global program digitalization the internal processes for the entire company. The program aims primarily at ensuring high scalability, which in the case of TTPSC, is defined as:
- Internationalisation allowing for expansion into foreign markets.
- Process repeatability enabling the fast establishment of new branches and scaling them.
- Process coordination in several departments and offices which will reflect in better fulfilment of the goals set.
- Communication – from organisational goals to everyday operational communication.
- Document flow, primarily concerning their legal verification and electronic signatures, in which case we are going to eliminate as much as 90% of paper documents.
- Efficiency management, including managing competences and the development of employees.
Having specified the direction of changes and identifying company areas we intend to automate, it is important to emphasise three elements which may decide whether the whole project is successful or not:
- Support from employees at each level – the more changes, the more focus on communication is required. In our case, we communicated the needs and the goal directly in each department. It is very important that the changes have a face and that they can be identified with a particular person or team implementing them. Each stage should be explicitly announced and each request clearly expressed.
- Tools, technologies and safety – this is the most pragmatic part of the whole project which often requires to involve a technological partner. It is essential at this point to stick to certain solutions already present in the company or use the best solutions available on the market in case we are starting from scratch. If you use Confluence already – that’s great. Let’s update it to the most recent version, reorganise the interface, integrate it with processes in Jira. Without proper support, it’s better to avoid a technological revolution. Without sufficient competencies, you may get your project seriously stuck on the first obstacle encountered. In our case, most of the solutions were based on systems from Atlassian – Jira, Confluence, relying on our competences in this area. They are leading and promising technologies with which we feel comfortable with, both from the point of view of the implementation and of the user.
- Culture – you can narrow it to the elements connected with structure, communication channels, hierarchy and work organisation. Unawareness of work culture may result in the automated process becoming too rigid (satisfying only some of the departments or teams), thus making it impossible to adapt in full. On the other hand, a process that is too lenient will still require a lot of effort to coordinate it, therefore its implementation will bring a low work efficiency increase. The decision we are facing here is about the extent to which we should adjust the culture before we start implementing changes. Support from managers, especially line ones, is priceless due to their huge influence on people and the way they work.
We must be familiar with the cultural conditions of an organisation. We must be aware of which tools are going to be easily adapted and what the technical conditions our organization offers. It will make our communication and efforts efficient and convincing. It will put the team in a good position of the leader of the changes.
The finishing touches and off we go
Before we start our work and implementation of particular solutions, we must create a classic backlog of tasks. It is a good idea to perform a “stocktaking of processes” and a series of interviews with various departments in order to figure out their needs and expectations. Then we prioritise. A simple approach to estimate importance and influence will be sufficient at this point. It allows for regular management of our backlog. A more advanced approach requires taking several additional (qualitative) criteria into account:
- goals of the organisation,
- the efficiency of particular departments,
- current issues,
- implementation difficulty level.
Furthermore, it is worth ensuring good PR for the project. This means the distribution of activities in such a manner, that benefits from the developed solutions affect as wide a group of stakeholders as possible, and that the progress of work is visible frequently enough. This will keep the employees involved and the transformation progress visible.
Let’s do it then!
Defining a plan and priorities leaves us with no choice but to start the implementation. Depending on the scale of changes we implement, it is worth keeping 3-5 tasks in progress, diversified with regard to the main recipient, the technology or the relation between the completion time and the expected results. It is essential to announce the start of the work on a certain solution, test plan with the involvement of a test group as well as to announce launch to production and project closing. This accomplishes the process and lets us begin to pick another task from the backlog.
To conclude, I would like to quote one of the interesting conclusions I found in the Deloitte report “Paradoxes of industry 4.0”. According to it, one of the biggest obstacles in the way to digitalisation is the perception that it is a defensive strategy (we implement modern solutions to keep up with others on the market). Such a perception makes us closed to the opportunities our company faces. Instead, we should consider digital transformation as an offensive instrument and use it to gain a competitive advantage, creating a better and more efficient work environment.