How to go digital in the post-Covid era
Companies across the UK are re-examining their business model after a year of pandemic and lockdown - and coming to a realisation that digital transformation is more imperative than ever.
Some have been putting off the process for years, out of a misplaced fear that it will be expensive, complicated or disruptive, others have started the journey but not taken it to its conclusion.
But there seems to be a growing consensus that digital transformation is now needed in order to keep up with the ‘new normal’ as businesses prepare to welcome employees back to work and assess what the new landscape looks like.
That landscape will vary between sectors, but the need to store, access and share data easily is common to almost all – especially in an era in which employees are likely to spend more time working from home.
The need to save money, be more efficient and to have a competitive edge over rivals is also relevant to every company, no matter their line of business.
So, what does digital transformation actually mean?
Digital transformation means different things to different organisations; it’s a catch-all term, encompassing just about any initiative which uses digital technology to improve business processes to better meet the needs of customers and improve profitability. And let’s face it, who doesn’t want to fundamentally improve their business?
However, for many managers tasked with this challenge, the key question is: where to start?
Here is a four-step process to help businesses begin their digital journey:
1: Be clear about the business case
If you’re thinking digital transformation is the answer, then start with the question: “Why are we doing this?” Be clear on what outcome you’re looking for and what benefits you envisage.
For example, in HR, faster onboarding of staff may be the rationale. Or in finance, it could be streamlining invoice management. Or do you simply want to reduce the paper mountain in the business, save space and gain faster access to files and documents?
Typically, the business case will require information and data to explain the status quo. This is likely to require a review of the current business process in question as well as identifying risks in failing to act. For instance, are current systems a threat to compliance?
Typically, the business case will have costs associated from consultancy and software, and good vendors should be willing to help you here with ball park estimates. But remember, digital transformation can result in significant savings, so the decision is about return on investment.
2: Articulate the vision
Once you’re clear that a digital transformation project is for you, it’s important to articulate what the future will look like. How do you want employees to feel working for you? Empowered because “the machines” do the heavy lifting and their work is “value add”? Think as big as you can. Scale is important, and a finance director is more likely to approve a project that is going to deliver a 10x business benefit than one that doesn’t.
Defining a project owner and a company-respected business sponsor is crucial. Often, the business sponsor will have initiated the idea in the first place. However, don’t cheat when it comes to socialising the initiative; there are bound to be sceptics, so do everything to bring key stakeholders on board.
It is also important to assess the current level of technology adoption and user readiness.
One of the key reasons digital transformation projects fail is due to a lack of understanding around employee readiness.
3: Plan for success
A project plan with clear timelines, owners, accountabilities and success measures is good practice.
You may already have decided on your software partner at this stage, or it may be time to determine the best fit of partner with your company.
Begin with the business process and talk to the chosen vendor about best in-class processes, as their software should have been designed with this in mind.
Then think about the information/data that is being used in the process, and what aspects of the current information/data lifecycle employees find frustrating.
Enterprise tools for searching, sharing and consuming information are vital; and ideally, that information will be delivered in a smart and compelling way.
Consider that you may need to weed out duplicate records and unwanted or out-dated information before you start.
Then, it's all about the people. No new technology or enhanced business process will work without the buy-in of those using it. Make heroes of your champions, highlight early successes and provide training to ensure the new technology is used to its full potential.
Step 4: Review and Repeat
Whether this is your first digital transformation project as part of a wider strategy, or whether the journey is complete, ensure that you are able to review the business benefits and assess the return on investment.
If you’ve started in one function such as HR and it’s been a success, then consider other key processes such as invoice management, contract management, mailroom, knowledge sharing, or case management. The opportunities to become more digitally enabled are limitless.
To access our detailed Guide to Digital Transformation 2021, click here.
Digital transformation stumbles at the UK North-South divide
Since the dawn of Thatcherite Britain in the 1980’s, the division between the country’s North and South has grown into a social and economic gulf. Through the concerted efforts of Tory governance - and compounded by the neoliberal policies of the Blaire era - London has become the economic, cultural and social heart of the UK, much to the detriment of other industrial and population hubs, particularly in the North of England and Scotland.
In his 2014 essay, Thatcher’s Legacy Still Looms Large: The North-South divide in Britain’s electoral support, Ed Fieldhouse, the principal investigator of the British Election Study, and a professor at the University of Manchester, noted that during the economic turmoil of the 1970s and the deep recession of the early 1980s, “the North of Britain was hardest hit by economic restructuring and deindustrialisation.”
He adds: “The Conservative Party under the leadership of Margaret Thatcher became associated with neo-Liberal economic policies that many regarded as the solution to Britain’s economic problems. Others saw them as legitimising the mass unemployment of the era. Not surprisingly those favouring market based approaches were disproportionately likely to live in the South of Britain whilst the rest of the country favoured redistribution and government intervention.” Those policies, which spurred economic growth in the South (particularly in London), and stemmed it in the rest of the country, continue to shape the UK’s socio-political and economic makeup today.
Now, new research from Pulsant suggests that the UK’s North-South divide is extending into the age of digital transformation as well, something that could have dire consequences for the future of the nation as it makes its way into a post-Brexit future on one withered, shaky leg.
According to Pulsant’s survey of business and IT leaders throughout the UK, 61% of organisations in the South East and London say their location is advantageous to their digital transformation ambitions compared to just 41% in the rest of England.
“There is a clear regional divide emerging across the country as organisations strive for digital agility. The South East has better access to infrastructure, leadership and skills to drive change,” commented Pulsant CTO Simon Michie on Wednesday.
While digital transformation is recognised as essential to organisations on both sides of the divide (with 75% in the North saying transformation is ‘very important’ compared to 71% in the South) enterprises in the North of England say that a lack of specialist skills caused by the mass migration of talent to London is a huge barrier to success. “Lack of specialist skills is cited as the biggest barrier to digital transformation with 40% in the region saying this is the case. The majority in the North (69%) say location is a barrier to accessing talent compared to 51% in the South. Just under half (49%) in the North say they require niche skill sets that are not currently available, compared to just 35% in the South,” notes the report.
However, Michie also revealed that the North “has the biggest appetite for digital transformation which has been spurred on by the pandemic, but businesses in the region are struggling to keep up with the rest of the country. Various barriers are putting transformation efforts at risk and businesses in the region will need to focus on identifying where external skills, support and expertise are required to help them future-proof and reach their digital potential.”