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PHOTO: Erik Aquino on Unsplash

A number of digital transformation trends have become established as we enter the new year. It is clear, for example, that many people will continue to work from home for the foreseeable future, and that a large portion of them will probably work remotely on a permanent basis.

It has also become clear that enterprises that failed to invest in digital transformation are facing significant competitive challenges in 2021. Those companies that still have not seen the writing on the wall need to start planning and implementing soon.

Use Process Intelligence to Plan for Digital Transformation

So does that mean that organizations should just go ahead and invest and install as quickly as possible? There is little doubt that the model of "anywhere operations" is here to stay, and that going digital-first is the only way forward, said Mark McGregor, director of process intelligence at Milpitas, Calif-based ABBYY. However, such strategies must be applied with a human touch and recognize the needs of people, whether they are customers or employees.

“We have seen, through responses to the pandemic, far too many companies diving in headfirst with automation tools that did not deliver the expected outcomes,” he said. A recent survey by ABBYY showed that despite heavy investment in new technology only a third of people say it makes them more efficient, while three quarters suggest it did nothing to improve their productivity, and just a quarter feel it improves productivity.

To better meet new demands, managers and executives need first to know where inefficiencies lie and how they can fix them before considering new automation tools, McGregor said. They also need to understand from people themselves what they need to do their job better. Unless the technology is fully understood and processes are assessed accurately to ensure improved workflow, companies will continue to throw money down the drain.

These conundrums — how to help people be efficient when you can’t see what they are doing, how to apply the right automation in the right way with no data to support a decision, and how to ensure compliance when staff are no longer in the office — are exactly what has sparked a resurgence of interest in process intelligence.

“It is not just about applying technology, it is about understanding where to apply technology, how to monitor the effectiveness of people and technology, and engaging people digitally to understand what they are doing and how best to help," McGregor said. "And these are tasks that process intelligence is very well suited for.”

Related Article: Looking Beyond Digital Transformation

Digital Transformation Requires Continued Evolution

For many though, digital transformation remains in its infancy. Some basic strides have been made but they are immature and reflect an approach that treats transformation as a commodity versus a process of continued reinvention, said Ryan Campbell, chief vision officer at Tulsa, Okla.-based Verinovum. The key to a successful transformation is ensuring the foundation or framework for evolution is effectively set.

“It is difficult for large legacy providers to see a clear path to reinvent themselves foundationally and typically find themselves putting lipstick on a pig for as long as they possibly can,” he said.

Variation remains a significant obstacle and many digital transformation efforts do not even begin to address the layers of complexity involved in the numerous methods of creating and consuming many types of data. Transformation cannot stop with digitizing and transferring data, but rather creating broad-based consistent value across different ecosystems.

The lack of understood or tangible value associated with the overall effort is also a holdup. It is easy to throw money at a problem but the lack of tangible business outcomes remains an ongoing concern. Campbell said the evolution of data and data process are continuous, so the systems supporting these must also maintain the ability to evolve. The legacy systems across almost every industry have been unable to effectively evolve.

“Rip and replace is an expensive undertaking, so it is understandable, but to really reach the other side of a transformation it is often required," Campbell said. "Nobody is too big to fail in these situations. It is just a matter of time. Ask the large retailers who thought they could survive Amazon without foundational changes."

Related Article: Technology Alone Is Never the Answer

Make Speed Part of the Plan

Even though the emphasis has to be on planning and rethinking how existing technology is deployed, the advantages the digital workplaces offers means that speed is important, too. 

“The current crisis is forcing companies to accelerate digital innovation that was inevitable but moving too slowly,” said Scott McCorkle, CEO of MetaCX. “Most visibly, this digital innovation encompasses the customer experience, the way people interact and how work gets done, and business models themselves."

In business relationships, both suppliers and buyers need a common definition of success that establishes the desired business outcomes expected by the buyer, how these outcomes will be measured to show achievement, and the metrics and milestones that show progress along the way.

Related Article: How COVID-19 Has Changed Digital Transformation Strategies

Transformation Is Inevitable

Even without remote work and contactless business dealings, the world was already heading in the direction of being almost solely digital, said Pieter VanIperen of New York City-based PWV Consultants. Businesses were already starting to undergo digital transformation from analog processes pre-COVID, and when the pandemic hit, that only accelerated the process.

That means digitization has a huge role in the future of technology, regardless of what direction we go. Code already runs many aspects of our lives, and there is no reason to think that is going to change. That is why businesses should be focused on digital transformation and cloud migration beyond any other technical evolutions that abstract away physical location.

“This will keep businesses competitive in an ever-expanding array of consumer choices but also ensure that they will handily weather whatever the next COVID-19 is,” he said.

Even with the shift to digital, some believe that physical locations and transactions will still play a major role no matter what transformation strategy has been put in place. As much as people might want things to shift online and all tasks to become digital, there is still a chunk of the audience that want to interact physically, said Cale Loken, CEO at 301 Madison Consulting, a marketing agency based in Minneapolis.

He cites the example of online shopping. While it is possible to shop and pay for almost anything digitally, there is still a large audience who want to touch and feel a product before making a purchase. Moreover, some people still prefer cash on delivery as the mode of payment because they do not consider online payments a safe gateway.

So yes, things may be evolving, digitizing, and everything can be done remotely. But we are not completely shifting to a digital world, or digital workplace for that matter.