Digitisation, great! But… get the basics right first.

Klis Castle, Croatia was used for the Game of Thrones TV series via digitally changing its base that has been there for centuries.

What we are learning about Digital working…

In these days of forced confinement, many of us are using digital tools to keep our lives going. That is true for our private lives (we now have regular virtual dinner parties with friends and family; a practice we will surely continue once the confinements have bene lifted) and of course -where possible- our work lives. Working From Home, “WFH”, has become a global phenomenon, out of a necessity that many never had foreseen. Companies that had proper tools available have had to suffer significantly less productivity loss that those that did not. 

Often people refer to easy to use solutions like Zoom for their collaborative efforts. Zoom, though, although attractive and easy to use, has many security disadvantages that have been widely reported, for instance in the Washington Post or CNET that issued some guidance on security risks.So, there is a distinct advantage for companies that already used more secure collaboration tools like Microsoft Teams or Skype for Business available, over businesses that were scrambling to put that infrastructure in place.

Also, our interactions along our supply chains are changing, with salespeople and procurements departments not being able to effectively connect in person. Similarly, designing and developing projects with our suppliers and partners is much more difficult.

Again, digital tools can help, but are they in place?

Can we, for example, share our architectural or engineering drawings online and collaboratively discuss and improve them?

Many businesses are scrambling to put the infrastructure in place to continue their operations. An infrastructure that may not be optimal at all, but at least enables the business processes to continue.

This all fundamentally changes our ways of working. That much most people agree on.

… and what we should be doing next?

The question is asked many times already which of those digital elements of the business processes will continue post-Corona crisis and which processes will simply be turned back to what they were, even if they don’t have to.

After all, we may well have discovered the advantages (as well as the disadvantages) or remote working and the associated digitisation of required information.

It seems to me that starting up our companies properly again, now in many European countries ever so slowly (but ever so surely) economic activity returns, is a real opportunity to address how digital tools can optimise the way we work. Not just inside our own companies, but across the entire supply chain.

But do it is a way that is considered, coherent and built on good practice rather than a quick fix to (rightly!) address the acute issue.

An interesting point what we are picking up is that in order to properly digitise (part of) our key business processes, we need to have a solid base.

Data on our people, their capabilities and roles, data about our products and their place in the supply chain, our interfaces with internal and external customers and so on. These need to be reliable and of sufficient quality to avoid misunderstanding and rework.

Often, they prove not be fit-for-purpose now. In one European client, the HR teams had to work tremendous overtime to find the right data on their people that may or may not had to be furloughed, for instance.

In this business, their US operations had a basic -but mature- Work Force Management solution in place, ensuring hey had accurate personnel and scheduling data and tools available. This enabled them to scale down the business when the crisis hit much quicker than its other international operations where such a solution had not yet been deployed. The same will be true when restarting the business. This can save literally millions.

The conclusion, surely, should be to think now (not in 5 years time) what our journey to digitisation should be, what the basic processes are we need to scale up in our business and what therefore the basic data processes ought to be to enable those processes to run.

It´s a journey

In order to achieve that we must not forget that the same business principles apply as always in good business: get the basics right first.

Big Data may well be the fashion of the day, but its success starts at the very bottom. Our basic data infrastructure needs to be of sound quality before we can start building on that sound basis to have any hope of progressing. Rubbish in, is rubbish out, right?

One business I am working with wants to possible benefits of a global productivity improvement programme as soon as possible. But it found out, similar as those mentioned above, that the basic data on its people was so unreliable that many hours of manual work was required to even know who was working where under what contract. So, this clearly is not the right basis to start digitising these operational processes. In normal times our (human!) experience manages any discrepancy well enough. In times of crises, there is simply just too much of it going on to manage it in the required timeframes. It is not surprising that the US subsidiary above, with proper data in place, could handle this in a fraction of the time. Without whole departments reaching high levels of very unhealthy, and unsustainable, stress.

If we want to digitise our processes, and use artificial to augment human intelligence, the data must be of optimal standard.

So, my recommendation is to sit back from today´s stress. Take time to evaluate where our digital work worked well and where it didn´t. Create a list of actions we need to take to remediate the issues we identified, but use a “maturity approach” to addressing them.

Start with the basics. Take time to get them right. Perhaps not via the traditional large scale systems programmes, but where possible with fit-for-purpose small steps that first build the basics and then, once we are comfortable we have the right data, decide what the next step to the next stable place can be.

And do that again and again and again.

What would be the right place to start to get the basics right in your business?