Digital Transformation – What we can actually do!

Since quite a while when I am reading or watching IT News or just looking in some social media channels the term “Digital Transformation” pops up. At the beginning it was a buzz word which I was able to ignore successfully. Then I started myself what “Digital Transformation” means and observed it a bit closer.

Luckily I am working for Alfresco Software who is using this term frequently in combination with the products we have and how they can help other companies doing this transformation. So this was for me a good way of starting by listening to people and customers speaking about it (like John Newton – our co-founder and CTO – in one of the many articles or videos: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=umnD6tNL2ko )

But what does that mean to me and the people around me? As mentioned I am working for Alfresco Software and I am managing a team of Technical Account Managers and Service Engineers who are delivering our best support and services to our biggest, best and most challenging and complex customers.

Inspired from some of the things I heard I was looking at what we are doing with our customers already in a digital way and what we do in a manual / non-digital way. Figured out it’s a so and so. Some things we did already well on a digital side, but there were as well some things which still including a big bunch of manual steps or were not even defined. This means every time we had to repeat a task or project we had to re-invent the wheel and start with defining the steps.

This was an interesting journey to look at the piece of the business you are in this way. Next I decided to see if and how things get more digital and starting at those activities which include our customers. Not without reason I am part of Alfresco’s customer success team.

Just to give a brief summary what until now was done:

1. Look at the business processes, activities, projects, etc and identify if they are
completely or partially digital
2. Which of them generate the most value to or include most of your stakeholders (customers, partners, employees, etc.) or what contributes to your goals

From this point on it was going pretty fast and hands-on (I had identified some processes and related activities). For some of our processes involving customers I started to design a proper “perfect” workflow including who would be involved in which step, which content (like presentations, documentation templates, etc. ) would we need. One of the crucial points when looking at this stage, you need to know where is the information stored as a single source of truth. For example your employees and contractors the single source of truth might be your companies Active Directory, LDAP or other system, for documents it might be an ECM system, for customer data it might be a CRM system, etc. Only if you can integrate those systems you will be able to unleash the full power of the digital time.

As well you need to look from the customer’s perspective what they would like to see in this process or what they might require to understand the whole. This step needs an understanding how customers are working and how they see and interact with your company.

After this designing exercise you need to figure out the tools you need and then see if you can use them in the way you need or if there might be other systems suiting your purpose better. Many tools are out there for little price as SaaS offerings which is helpful if you have only little amount of activities which would make a software implementation not profitable. In our case I started with a tool called “Gliffy” where I designed the processes which I modelled with some help from my team properly in our own BPM Software (Alfresco Process Services powered by Activiti).

And again I was lucky as I have in my team people with a very strong development background and knew Alfresco Activiti already. I asked one to build a proof of concept by accessing our CRM (Salesforce) system directly from the processes I worked and this worked very smooth so that we can choose customers and retrieve data for this particular workflow. An integration with our other software product Alfresco One ECM is build-in anyway to retrieve and store content into the ECM system. That made this step very easy.

After the first two steps lined out above, those were the next ones:
3. Choose the tasks, activities, processes, etc. which you want and can improve (from manual or non-digital to digital)
4. Design the perfect state of it  (from the a digital perspective)
5. Look for all the information you need to deliver the best result and where this information is currently stored and accessible (and check if you can integrate)
6. Find the right tools to deliver your digital transformation
7. Find the people you need to get your idea brought into reality

Not on purpose but more due to external circumstances I was myself stuck for a while after designing everything and before getting it progressed and rolled-out. However this made me re-evaluate 6-8 weeks later what I have done before and I had some new ideas and most importantly I reviewed my work under the perspective how the employees would like and if they would adopt it. I learnt that the perfect process I had designed was very likely not very user friendly. This leads to my last point:

8. After finishing your design, have a look from the perspective of all users who might be somehow involved. This could be employees, customers, external partners, etc. Those different personas need to use what you did and if they don’t, all the work and time spent is for nothing.

Having described all this to you I want to explain that this is one of the areas where teams or single contributors can directly influence the digital transformation of companies. If this happens frequently from different parts of the company without the need of huge budgets this can have quite an impact.

I mentioned it already earlier here … I am a lucky person. This time I have the luck to speak frequently speak with customers or potential customers. In one of the conversations over lunch one customer was even going one step further in the digital transformation. It is a global company with many employees and customer contacts. Over time they got all information into their systems as it is required for a digital transformation. However at some point they realized they had in their own IT systems information which can be used as leading indicators for other industries needs. So they started using this data and built a complete new business unit which is opening completely new markets and customers and contribute to their own existing customer base … What can you do better?!

I know that this example is a bit more complex than an individual contribution, but if you think who knows best which data your company has already, it would probably be you and me.

Conclusion:

We have seen above there are many ways to contribute to the digital transformation without major and big strategies. But there is one big pattern it needs to be able to make this happen: Everyone in the company or organization needs to know and understand their role and contribution in this journey. If it is just the big bosses, it will fail. If it happens without a plan and strategy if will probably fail as well. As said everyone needs to be willing and needs to understand why has to be done and what will be the benefits.

Some further reads:
http://www.forbes.com/sites/alfresco/2016/11/22/digital-transformation-isnt-a-goal-its-a-journey/#2293a2e22f13
https://www.alfresco.com/blogs/digital-transformation-its-all-about-flow/