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Tackling the Challenges of Digital Transformation

Tackling the Challenges of Digital Transformation

The theme for this year’s conference was “Digital Transformation.” As technology advances at an ever increasing rate, we are living more digital lives. But, mindful of the transition from the past to the future, the conference also had a second theme – “Mind the Gap.” Information for a digital process still frequently starts on paper and needs to be captured in some manner appropriate for the on-going digital process. Often, there’s a need for paper-based information to be added to streams of digital inputs, with both sources of information being processed in a consistent manner from then on. 

A compelling argument for the need for consolidation of inputs was put forward in the first presentation of the conference, which looked into “mega trends” – the various global transformative forces which are driving change across the world in which we live. One of these trends is that we’re living and working longer, which means that right now there are 4 quite distinct generations in the workforce, each of which have different preferences when it comes to using information. The older generation are more comfortable filling out forms on paper, whilst those slightly younger will be happier interacting by phone (as a slightly uncomfortable aside, I found out that I’m older than the mobile phone industry, with the first ever mobile call having been made just a few months after I was born). Younger generations still are more likely to communicate via text message, or social media for the Millennials who have never known life without the Internet. The fact that these groups are all active in the workforce means that digital processes will need to handle this variety of inputs for the foreseeable future. 

Capture of these different types of data sits alongside the increasing abundance of “Big Data.” Whilst we’re creating and storing even more information, the flip side is that typically only 20% of this flood of data is used, and just 0.5% is analysed for additional insights. That’s both an awful waste and a clear indication that the capability to convert data to knowledge is trailing well behind the capability to simply collect more and more data. But this does suggest considerable future opportunity.  

One of the recurrent themes across the conference was that new technology is not necessarily replacing the old – often, it is overlaid on the existing technology, as per the paper plus digital case just mentioned. Without a strategy to deal with this, multi-channel operation is going to add layers of cost to your operations. 

However, the second keynote described why – irrespective of your industry – it is only a matter of time before digital disruption touches you in some way or another. The best illustration of this was a description of how systems tend to transition from an analogue solution to a digital one, and finally to a truly “transformational” state. For example, reports and documents within a business used to be provided in paper. This has largely moved to electronic, as a digital representation of the previous paperwork. However, which business people really want is up-to-the-minute “real time” representations of their information. This is the “transformational” state, which allows information to be turned more rapidly into action and results, usually measured financially. I found this to be a very compelling idea, and the keynote illustrated this theme across a number of industries and functions. 

What is not so clear-cut is how to go about achieving this transformational state – especially if this means changing your current processes, or possibly had some uncomfortable impacts on your existing revenue streams. The argument there is to “be your own disruptor” before someone else comes along and undermines the value of what you’re currently doing. But it’s still easier said than really accepted and then actually done! The conference presented a variety of tactics to address this problem, although the view was that this will be a key issue that isn’t going away any time soon. What does seem certain is that the future is going to be complex and somewhat fragmented, with strong leadership an essential requirement for success.

Mobile data capture and access was another recurrent theme, with mobile devices being the more preferred tool used by knowledge workers. Time and again it was highlighted that consumer technology is still ahead of business or organisational IT provision, but this does give businesses an excellent resource to tap into. Consumer technology is all about the “experience” and simplicity, both of which are good guiding principles to adopt when considering digital transformation of your business. From the perspective of a technology vendor, these are also pointers for how products should be designed and sold. Changes are even occurring in how technology purchasing decisions are made, with the decision increasingly being in the hands of business process owners rather than corporate IT. This has far-reaching implications for how technology is sold and promoted. One interesting piece of advice was to strive for an outstanding customer “experience” – as being distinct and more stretching than good customer service. 

As always seems the case with technical conferences, a number of sessions talked about upcoming legislative changes – including the EU General Data Protection Regulation (which is happening regardless of Brexit), EIDAS (electronic signature regulation), and Privacy Shield (governing the obligations of US companies whom provide cloud services to EU customers). There’s a huge amount going on here and any company holding lots of personal data needs to get up to speed sooner rather than later. Most importantly, organisations need to consider how new legislation – especially GDPR – impacts data held in legacy systems which pre-date this new regulation. 

Some other quick points and conversation starters from the conference include:

  • People, process, technology – in that order!  People transform processes and may use some technology to do so
  • Data -> Information -> Knowledge -> Action -> Revenue
  • Paper usage is falling at 2 to 3% per year in the EU
  • There will be some digital disruption going on in your industry – consider when it might reach a “tipping point”
  • If you know that your industry is being disrupted, that’s not a cause for panic – but do consider when any accelerating trends may start to hurt your business
  • An online transaction is 20 times cheaper than the same transaction by phone, and 50 times cheaper than a face-to-face equivalent.

In summary, the world is changing at an ever increasing rate and everything we do will be touched in some way by digital transformation. The examples of Uber and AirBnB are well known and have changed their markets massively – don’t think that this won’t happen at some point in your industry. However, digital also gives you the opportunity to be your own disruptor, if you think like your customers and bravely challenge the current norms.  We live in ever more interesting times!

Finally, thanks and well done to Fujitsu for creating such an informative and collaborative industry event.

 

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