In 1980, Bill Gates famously made it his mission to put ‘a computer on every desk and in every home’. Visionary that he was, even he couldn’t have predicted that, 40 years later, computers would be involved in almost every area of our working and personal lives.
Without a doubt, we’re living in a truly digital age, where we expect to be able to do everything at the click of a button.
The challenge for business is to keep pace with our increasingly online/instant expectations. Companies that fail to ‘digitise’ will get left behind by more agile competitors who use technology to do things faster, better and more collaboratively. But where to start on a digital transformation journey? Simon Crump, Technical Director, explains.
How would you define digital transformation?
For most businesses, digital transformation means using technology to work more efficiently and to serve customers better. And whilst computers and IT are part of the conversation, the real essence of digital transformation is data.
If you can collect the right data, and turn it into insightful information you can make better decisions to increase productivity.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re a manufacturer trying to streamline production, a retailer trying to serve customers more efficiently or a part of the supply chain trying to do things quicker, the ability to turn data into useful information should drive the digital transformation strategy.
Whilst relatively young, emerging businesses can be founded on digital principles (think Uber), most established businesses are facing a journey towards digital transformation. The term has been in use for a number of years so many have already gone through their journey and come out the other side, though it’s certainly a continual process.
However, there are lots of B2B companies, and manufacturers in particular, who still need to go through a digital transformation, with increasing urgency. With new platforms, big data and cloud software options now more readily available, the question for these businesses is not whether to begin, but how?
How should businesses approach digital transformation?
Technology is changing the way we live and work to the extent that, with your business, it’s possible to digitise almost everything. Think of a manual process you want to automate – if the technology doesn’t already exist, there are enough platforms out there and bespoke software specialists like us who can create it.
The key to successful digital transformation is to set aside any ideas about technology and instead think about your business holistically. How is your industry shaping up, how is your organisation responding and what’s the long-term strategy? Only then should you start to consider how technology can help you on your journey.
It’s not about doing the same things faster, but rather, asking yourself how you can use technology to differentiate: to work smarter and reduce cost while serving customers better and remaining competitive. As exciting as technology is, your digital transformation programme should be strategy-led rather than technology-led.
How do you go from idea to reality?
All too often, digital transformation projects get too big, too cumbersome and just too difficult to implement. The best projects take a step-by-step approach, improving one area at a time in priority order.It’s important, really, to get started with practical actions such as a thorough audit and review of internal and customer-facing processes to start to identify where technology can make the biggest difference.
Most businesses we work with have a fairly detailed insight into their customers as a result of long-term relationships. This enables them to pull data and information to inform the ideal customer experience and the ideal internal processes that inform the delivery of that experience.
Managing the transition
The amount of effort it will take to get technology ingrained in your business operations should not be under-estimated. As with all major IT change programmes, there is a difficult balancing act to ensure business as usual for staff, customers and your supply chain whilst you go through digital transformation.
- Certainly, clear leadership has a role to play in setting the tone for how receptive your teams are likely to be to the inevitable disruption a digital transformation process will involve. Anyone who has been through a significant IT upgrade or business process change will know it requires complete buy-in from the people whose day-to-day work is affected. Disengaged staff can become almost impossible barriers to implementation.
- Setting clear goals is another critical factor. There will inevitably be a number of areas where it’s easy to measure the impact of digital transformation, especially if you reduce the amount of time it takes to perform everyday tasks or reduce customer service queries by enabling customers to self-serve.
- However, many of our clients want to achieve longer-term payback, such as using technology to make their business more robust against the competition, for example, and increasing the lifetime value of customers because they’re able to serve them better. Then there’s the impact on operations: the ability to attract the best talent because you have effective processes that create a less pressured, more pleasant working environment.
- Getting clear on these goals from the outset not only gives you clear direction for your digital transformation strategy, it also helps the various areas of your business to understand why any short-term pain is worth the long-term gain.
Want to find out more?
We can help you with all aspects of digital transformation. From audit and strategy through to technology choice, customisation and implementation, we provide a complete suite of solutions to help your business shape up for the digital age.