Digital Transformation; easy to say but what does it really mean?

Digital Transformation; easy to say but what does it really mean?

Businesses are being told they need to be more “digital” and the HR function is being put under increased pressure to “digitally transform”. But knowing where to start can be a daunting prospect.

I read an article in HR Magazine that quoted research by Cherwell Software which found that more than half (57%) of employees don’t know the correct meaning of “digital transformation” and that a further 20% couldn’t guess its meaning.

I can well believe these statistics and I think a lot of HR Directors would too. The default solution is often to implement a new system costing millions of pounds and resulting in a transformed HR function that is fully digitised, right? Unfortunately, often not what you get in reality.

Digital transformation is only going to work if you look at it as an overall operating model and consider the people and processes as part of this. The same survey revealed that just 6% of businesses’ data and processes are very well-integrated across all departments and that 42% have not integrated inter-departmental data and processes. This tallies with our own findings that under half of organisations feel their processes are even mapped at all.

This is where I have been pleasantly surprised by Robotic Process Automation (RPA). I was hugely sceptical of the principles surrounding the use of robotic software but, having spent a lot of time investigating and seeing it in action, I was really surprised at how effective it is, if integrated in the right way.

Naively I had always assumed that RPA was about replacing people with robots! In fact, it is the complete opposite. It enables businesses to remove very manual, labour-intensive processes but also to provide better integration between systems, functions and ultimately people. In the businesses where I have seen it successfully implemented it has resulted in significantly improved integration but, more importantly, it has resulted in better job satisfaction from the teams, as well as a quicker, and often better, level of service to the end user.

All of a sudden people now have time to really focus on what they should be doing. For example, in one organisation I was working with, it enabled the Business Partners to actually undertake their role effectively without spending all of their time completing very manual, mundane administrative tasks that can now be completed almost 90% quicker by a piece of robotic technology.

Obviously, RPA technology has its own challenges and, in fact, where RPA projects have failed it’s because businesses assume that any processes can be automated, that teams will automatically buy-in to the principles and that existing processes will just “fit” with those automated.

And this is why it is so important that when businesses are looking to digitally transform, they take a more holistic view. They identify the real pain points, establish the root causes and then find the most effective solution; this could be a system, it could be RPA technology or, in fact, it could just be a change in process. This upfront business readiness work is the key to de-risking any change, not just digital transformation.

So, I guess the moral of the story is that people shouldn’t be afraid to put up their hand and say that they don’t understand what digital transformation means for their organisation or how to go about it. The key is to recognise that it’s less about the technology itself and more about how the right solution is identified and then deployed, integrated and embedded into a business.

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