Let me start with this quote I saw recently:
“Clearly, the thing that’s transforming is not the technology — it’s the technology that is transforming you.”
— JEANNE W. ROSS, MIT SLOAN, CENTER FOR INFORMATION SYSTEMS RESEARCH
This seems to capture how, arguably it is we who are changing in how we view and utilise technology. We know change happens every day and that new tech offers great potential to all businesses. However, what can be quite daunting, and often prevent deployments of new tech is how to really make it work for you, how to deal with a slew of new data at an almost immediate speed and how to manage change by bringing your operational and back office staff along on the journey so they feel engaged and in control of the change, or certainly as much as possible.
Has the ‘Proof of Concept’ had its day?
Over the last 18 months, we’ve seen more customers make the leap from testing new digital solutions then actively deploying these, achieving real benefits, some of them quite staggering with upwards of 250% productivity gains!
We are getting less questions about what this new tech is or running a proof of concept and more frequently ‘how did they do that’, and ‘how can we also do that’.
There is no golden shot or formulaic answer, often it’s a mix of context, vision and ownership that mark out successful deployments, mixed of course with a healthy dose of determination and pragmatism to make things work.
- Context: is about where the current operation is at, which processes can be converted straightaway that will have an immediate positive impact, which teams and people to start first, and how could we deploy across the business.
- Vision: where this digital transformation could go while adding value. Avoid the adage of trying to fly before learning to run, so have a more specific view as to what data you would benefit from seeing to start with, how you would view it and share it, how it would help decision making, and how you evolve the use of this new data.
- Ownership: finding several ‘owners’ within the business who will champion and take on the new way of working, helping others in the team, being realistic with goals and enabling delivery. These should be a mix of exec leadership and frontline operational staff. This is after all about people, and the attitude is to accept and embrace change, focusing on what you can influence and finding out what the tech can do for you and your customers.
From our experiences with customer trials, here are 3 areas we see people figure out early while evaluating new tech solutions, and in doing so, giving them a pathway to move from test to deployment.
1) New needn’t mean difficult
Digital Transformation is more a state of mind rather than a task or project that has to get done so you can move onto something else. It's a process of constant change, adaptation, learning, improving and refreshing how to evolve your processes.
Customers deploying these new digital workflow tools don’t take the ‘don’t fix what isn’t broken’ approach. Rather their lookout seems to be change is happening, so how do we make this tech work for us? There is also a concerted effort to keep the emphasis of change on achieving Simplicity, helping to focus the start point and end goal of adopting this new tech.
We saw a great example of this at a site trial recently where it cropped up that a simple rubbish removal process could be digitised to help improve the operation. Previously trips and falls from blockages caused by rubbish or debris would occur with seemingly no accountability as to who should clean this up and how quickly it should be done with it taking far too long to request a clean up.
And no digital record of this was kept, meaning if the blockage was happening frequently, well, from where, when, why and how could it be prevented. Creating a digital ‘Urgent Clean Up Request’ they ran it straight away which meant immediate visibility, and audit when raising a request. It also brought with it all the relevant analytics, how many times has this been requested, where in the Plant, at which machine location, what sort of debris, photos or videos of the issue.
Similarly, the process to clean up the issue was also digitised providing an audit and photos of the process being completed and any faults logged to arrange a repair of fix to help eradicate future issues.
Alongside the initial machine maintenance inspection work, this was an unintended benefit and was added to the digital transformation program.
2) Start small, learn fast, grow quickly
Successful deployments have generally moved quickly starting with a small team with processes that are visible enough to demonstrate value where the business can learn, adapt, change, and then grow almost organically, from one process and one team at a time.
The philosophy behind this is you wouldn’t use a new set of tools to do the most difficult jobs straight away until you really understood the capability of these tools and have seen results at first hand. And so it is with a digital tool kit such as workflow software.
Another factor of success is to ensure a close working involvement for the frontline operational staff so the users can not only provide immediate feedback but can also contribute and suggest changes and adaptations to improve processes.
Changes to paper processes can take quite a while, meaning valuable changes often aren’t brought forwards, whereas change to a digital process can be fast, with immediate results, meaning you can test, learn, assess use or delete all very quickly and dynamically. It’s quite liberating to operational staff to have first hand involvement in this process. And engaging key stakeholders, external customers as well as internal stakeholders in a shared objective helps to refine what you will work on first, what success will look like and how they will work in your business.
Small Changes Have A Big Impact
Digital workflows allow you to add photos, small video clips, technical references and guides into a specific step right there at the point the worker needs it means you have straightaway shared deep experience on best practice, improving confidence, avoiding misunderstandings and delivering a consistent experience.
So although the start point might be small, as you get to use and become familiar with the digital workflow tools, adding new processes can be very quick with clear, impressive results which in turn helps gains support from your staff who would be using the new tools everyday, ultimately through to supporting the business case and plan for change.
3) Visualise the outcome
Start with what you want to see, why is it important, how will it help and how would you use that data. This early conversation is a great starting point, it really drives the ‘so-what’ aspect to keep the program on track.
In addition to operational processes, this could be staff training where you are able to harness some of the incredible experience from long serving staff to help train new staff, either new to the organisation or simply new to a specific role if transferred from another department.
It is also hugely valuable in onboarding temporary contractors helping to maintain safety, accuracy and compliance with the correct processes. And, providing you as the primary supplier with immediate data on your contractors progress and reports, for which you may well be liable and responsible for outcomes.
Realtime Reports Eases Pressure On Staff
We see this increasingly as another key goal. After a long shift where staff have to write up their inspection reports, add photos and either email or input into another system, this can take days, sometimes weeks to be completed.
The goal is to remove the pressure on staff to find time to write up reports, to avoid entry-errors and give them time back to complete more inspections or to analyse results rather than writing reports.
This should not be underestimated in it’s value to your operational staff, to your contractors and to your customers and often this delivers one of the biggest savings in time.
Two recent examples of this are one customer using a full web analytics dashboard to show process hot spots (faults/anomalies) with date/timing, location details, customer or product name and other important info to provide an enhanced view of operational results.
Another customer built Excel tables, graphs and trends to highlight performance and issues which helped with staff job allocations/work rota’s as well as staff onboarding and training.
Rules and data exports are set out at the beginning so anyone who runs the relevant workflow will see data being exported and integrated into the dashboard or excel doc automatically, with no user intervention needed.
Two different approaches, both with highly effective results that worked for their business.
Customers who adopt and deploy these solutions most frequently have that clear idea and goal in mind, even if it may change and adapt as they start their journey. An important part of this is to always look for a digital workflow solution that is designed to integrate and to deliver automatic reports so you can maximise all the new sets of data in a usable and practical way.
All of this is most definitely now in the ‘delivery suite’ of can-do’s rather than it being a nice concept, too difficult to achieve.
The Right Partnership
This final ingredient is almost as critical as the right software solution. Find the right software partner for your situation, with a similar outlook, ambition and desire to help you succeed and with a solution that feels more like a tool-kit that you can work with, adapt, grow and evolve.
I mention this aspect as moving at pace, with potential and flexibility to adapt are important in keeping the momentum going for delivering change and getting the best from what the new tech can offer you.
The value of a like-minded partnership should never be underestimated and will most certainly be another sign post on your journey to achieve digital transformation.
I will leave you with a final quote which I feel sums up quite well the pace of change underway today.
“It’s no longer the big beating the small, but the fast beating the slow.”
— ERIC PEARSON, CIO, INTERNATIONAL HOTEL GROUP (IHG)