How this evident advice is often overlooked in digital transformation (and it is not about technologies!)

When what you need is not exactly what you get

"We notice that this often results in a recurring list of functionalities: a CRM, PIM, webshop, business dashboards and social media platform."

Didier Stickens

Digital transformation: many companies are working on their ‘masterplan’ these days. Special project teams are set-up, consultants may be asked for advice, new departments may even be created. We notice that this often results in a recurring list of functionalities: a CRM, PIM, webshop, business dashboards and social media platform. All these applications are tools that can facilitate a process and may be very useful. But however, unless they are part of a bigger plan on how to make use of them, they won’t generate a ROI. There is even a high chance people in the company, or even customers, may see them as a burden if they are just dropped onto the team. The typical example is the sales team that perceives the CRM as yet another database to maintain.

There are two groups of people that are often not heard: the company’s people on the floor and the customers. However, both groups are best placed to (indirectly) define what is required.

Over the past 20 years, many companies in production environments have adopted continuous improvement processes such as Lean, Six Sigma, TQM etc. Those systems are somehow all focused on improving efficiency in a continuous way. It has become clear that workers on the floor can be a great source for potential improvement, if not, describing their workflow to a process engineer may be another way of detecting potential optimisations.

In administrative environments however, this continuous improvement process has been adopted much less or not at all. Introducing an IT system without having a clear view on where the opportunities are, may result in a situation comparable to providing a city bike  to a professional cyclist who is asking for a  racing bike. In addition, because many administrative departments lack this habit of continuous improvement, they tend to handle the digital transformation as a one-time project. The classic list of IT systems gets installed. At the moment the real opportunities for improvement become clear, there is no budget left.

Customers are another valuable source to contact before finalising the plans for automation. Before implementing all the classic systems, it is best to define the ideal customer journey. This will allow you to better prioritise on what needs to be done internally and which systems are best suited to get to that future state. It is painful to see how many companies have installed the wrong internal systems to serve their customers. This is because people deciding on the automation process tend to do so from their own point of view. Good product managers are capable of detecting customer needs regarding the product they develop. Today companies are no longer solely judged by the quality of their product but on the total customer experience. The capability to define what this means regarding digital capabilities in a B2B environment is not yet up to level in many companies or is fragmented over several departments. Under pressure, it is tempting to quickly do what everyone else does, namely the standard list.

Talking to people on the floor and to customers is not a miracle solution to the above mentioned issues. It is however a good starting point, is easy to implement and may avoid bad surprises in the end.

Realized with the support of Flanders Investment & Trade.