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Speed of Change: Journey to Digital Acceleration

By Kelle O'Neal

With remote work, remote learning and digital transformation on the rise, I’m seeing digital acceleration really take hold in several organizations and across industries. While the definition of digital transformation and acceleration may vary from business to business, it’s clear we’re in a state of evolution, with data at the core.

Change can always seem daunting and transformation can take several months (sometimes years) to pay dividends. According to Forbes, 39% of executives believe their companies will get the most value from digital transformation initiatives in three to five years. To enable and support transformation, business agility and “digital dexterity” — anchored by data governance — have become more critical than ever.

More recently, the pandemic has also been driving the pace of digital acceleration. Digital acceleration is more important now because you can use data as an output of the digitization exercise to better understand risk. The pandemic has created more risk than we’ve ever seen in our generation, and many people were completely unprepared. Understanding risk is a data issue. You may have all the data or outputs, but no ability to translate that into risk understanding and effective risk mitigation.

Digital Transformation

I see digital transformation as the concept of digitizing information and processes. In the first wave, the initial digitization process involved buying and selling process (e.g., e-commerce). Then people started recognizing there is a huge opportunity to assess every single process within a company. More recently, there was a lot of focus and discussion around robotic process automation (RPA) to leverage intelligence to automate simple processes that don’t require significant human-decisioning.

This is just the tip of the iceberg on the benefits to be realized when it comes to using digitalization of information in a supply chain to better understand each step in the process, identify ways to make it more efficient and be able to translate those learnings into insights-driven decision-making.

On a similar note, digital acceleration is not just applying or gathering data from a process, but also accelerating growth and impact of your business using data and digital learnings. This includes digital maturity as an indication of the readiness of your organization to leverage digital technologies and insights. Digital transformation readies the organization to take advantage of data; digital acceleration optimizes the capabilities for growth.

Roadblocks to the Digital Journey

Sounds like a win-win right? While many organization and C-suite executives have begun their digital journeys, many are still grappling with the fear of innovation (if we do this, what if it fails or we don’t have proven ROI) to get started — or perhaps have even seen their initiatives stall or fail.

Another hurdle can happen after the change is implemented. While there may be a willingness to innovate, getting people to adopt and sustain the transformation can be a going concern.

That’s why we embed organizational change management into our data programs. Often, there are entrenched processes and beliefs across the organization that can be very hard to change. A common misconception or fear is that the change or transformation might mean their job as a contributor becomes irrelevant. Other times, since a new process takes time to learn and adopt, this can conflict with the incentives and goals of people who need to complete tasks quickly. These rivaling guidelines give people an opportunity to revert to the “old way,” rather than persevering until the new process is just as efficient as the old one.

Overcoming Objections

Wherever you are on your digital journey, it’s nearly impossible to truly digitize without foundational data strategy and governance as the bedrock. If you think about it just as the automation process and don’t think of data as both inputs and outputs of that automation, you will not be successful. Of course you can digitize and automate, but you won’t have the full ability, structure and framework to actualize the full value of your data and insights — or avoid the risks associated with newly created volumes of data.

Remember to also manage resistance by shifting the narrative (or popular assumption). Remember the fear of reducing head count due to someone’s job becoming obsolete? Reinforce the understanding that it’s not that digital transformation is focused on reducing head count. Instead, talk about how these new capabilities will enable your organization to optimize human intervention to leverage people where the automated process needs that additional input to be successful. It may also be important to revisit goals and objectives to ensure that everyone is aligned to support digital acceleration.

It’s looking at decision-making and the impact of the information you have and how people can really use it. Adding more automation to create more data doesn’t always help.

Some key questions to consider: how can you invest in your people to make them more aware of the quality requirements of data? How can you use data in your daily job to make it more efficient? They need to work together to be successful.

Going from Data-Driven to Digital-Driven

Enterprise-wide, having a data-driven mindset means using data in your decision-making process. With several clients, we’ve seen this translated as going from 90% gut to 10% data to a more balanced 50%/50% split, or maybe even a 25%/75% split! Depending on your organizational structure, this ratio can vary.

Regardless, it’s important to incorporate both viewpoints in decision-marking. To be digitally driven or to establish a framework to be “digital by design,” you must be prepared to answer:

  • How can we think about a new project, initiative or goal from a digital-first perspective?
  • It’s not to say everything has to be automated, but how can we use automation to make “X” the most efficient?
  • How can we build it into the new initiative right from the beginning?
  • What data do we need to make this initiative successful?
  • How does it need to be structured?
  • How can we leverage the data produced in this initiative to improve operations or understanding?

Starting the Journey with a Lens on Risk Management

If you haven’t begun your digital transformation journey, enterprise risk is a good place to start in this current economic climate. Understanding how you can use data and digitized processes to reduce risk is a good baseline but not necessarily a long-term sustainable approach. After risk, consider data privacy and compliance as follow-on focus areas, followed by operational and productivity improvement, and finally innovation and growth.

Economic futures are unclear right now but at some point, the world will come back to normal and there will be a tremendous amount of pent-up demand. What are you doing as a company today to understand what you have and how you can adapt it to fulfill demand that will come in the future?

Accelerating the Journey

If you’re already on the path to digitization, understanding what’s worked and what hasn’t can be very beneficial. A self-assessment can surface not only where you go next, but also what to avoid that didn’t work very well that may impede forward momentum.

For the things that did work well, look at how you can expand them to other areas and make them more sustainable and repeatable. Then examine where you can go next with your digital capability, building upon success. The key lies in identifying an analogous process, organization, geography, etc., where you can take all of those great victories and apply vetted insights for similar results.

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