Investing in digital transformation post-lockdown

Investing in digital transformation can be a challenging journey for any business to embark on, yet in the post-lockdown environment it is imperative. Businesses that fail to navigate digital transformation correctly risk being left behind by their competitors due to today’s fast paced and agile workplace.

Unfortunately, the pressure put on the working environment due to Covid-19 has led to businesses pushing for faster digital transformation, often with a reduced budget in terms of both money and people power.

These challenges mean that, more than ever before, it is crucial to channel the time and money you do have available towards the most effective digital transformation strategy for your business.

What is the grand plan?

Digital transformation is a grand term, but it does not have to be a grand project. Something as simple as swapping out an aged HR system or process for a cloud system can bring instant business improvement by saving time, digitising data and opening up access to documents and processes at an employee level which improves efficiency and engagement.

Before going all-out on a digital spending spree, consider your core objectives when making your digital transformation agenda. For example, do you want to:

  • Increase customer experience or perception of your business.
  • Improve employee efficiency by reducing time spent on mundane tasks.
  • Save money by automating or simplifying processes.
  • Implement a new system to facilitate greater sales.

Pick one or two key objectives and formulate your plan and budget around these objectives.

You can always re-visit the plan once you have successfully implemented the first round of transformation projects but keeping things achievable is key when managing a limited budget.

Which departments should be prioritised for digital transformation?

When undergoing digital transformation, should certain departments within an organisation be prioritised over others? Read here

Make it cloud based unless there is a good reason not to

With the time, money and energy spent on implementing a large IT project such as a new CRM system it makes sense to make the access to the system as flexible as possible.

Opting for a cloud-based SaaS solution, or putting your new platform into a public cloud such as Azure or AWS, should be near the top of your list of considerations when you look at what options are on the table.

I have seen many firms in the last year replacing old in-house systems with newer software, but still opting to host these on-premises rather than taking a leap to the cloud. Perhaps this felt like the right option at the time, but the energy and money spent on implementation will need to be expended again when they then decide to move to the cloud in future years.

While there are — often justifiable — concerns around security and data governance that need to be addressed when looking at a cloud based system, cloud hosted solutions also deliver a huge degree of agility; which has been demonstrably used by those firms who have been steady cloud adopters over the past 5+ years, during the Covid-19 lockdown.

To keep your business aligned with, or ahead of, the competition you need to ensure you have this same level of agility which can be delivered by embracing cloud-based services.

How can businesses speed up digital transformation projects?

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Can you optimise with AI?

AI and machine learning may feel like the IT industry buzzwords of the last few years, but there are some amazing solutions dropping down to the SME/mid-market space now. These can deliver some brilliant efficiency improvements depending on the nature of your business or your challenges.

One great example is the rise of intelligent chat-bots for customer interaction on your web site. Up until recent years, the “AI” here involved scripted workflows and a wooden automated response service — definitely artificial, but not really much intelligence going on!

However, there are now options for natural language chat-bots that can converse with your customers and funnel them to the right humans to deliver the required outcome — whether that’s customer service, sales, or accounts. This takes away 2-3 minutes per customer of a human operative’s time, allowing them to service more customers and with a more focused skill set.

Similar advances are now being implemented on dial-in phone support lines, with some excellent computer voice generation and language recognition allowing you to converse with an automated assistant in a way that feels natural and — most importantly — not annoying.

Machine learning does not have to involve something so futuristic feeling as automated chat robots though. For example, cloud-based accounting packages like Xero and Quickbooks Online have been driving client efficiencies for years with their automated invoice reconciliation services and now both offer services to automate some of your accounts payable processing by scanning and categorising supplier receipts and invoices.

Spending a little more for a solution with some smart AI or machine learning capabilities may deliver a compounding saving in time or salary costs over future years vs. a cheaper solution without these options available, so is worth spending time investigating and evaluating thoroughly.

Engagement is key

Little is gained by investing heavily in new digital systems which do not get used to their full ability due to them being overly complex or are less effective than existing “old” systems.

Engaging staff and key stakeholders in the evaluation of potential solutions is key to getting a buy-in from them, ensuring your investment is not wasted.

Likewise, change is hard for many people to adapt to, so to make sure no staff feel left behind. You should allocate a reasonable budget towards training on the new solution — either directly from the vendor, a recommended consultant, or 3rd party trainers.

Finally, if your digital transformation project involves using customisable software such as Microsoft Dynamics or Salesforce then, alongside the main implementation costs, do not forget to budget for on-going or future consultancy costs towards adaptions, maintenance, and support of the solution.

Written by Craig Atkins, managing director, 1-Fix Limited

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