What happens when digitisation causes as many problems as it solves – and how to avoid it

Jat Sahi
By , - Enabling Digital

Let’s start with a home truth: the digitisation process is not, despite its intended end result, always going to be a smooth one.

As our Digital Tightrope study shows, the majority of organisations see digitisation as being fundamental to future success, but the extent of change involved in such transformations should not be underestimated.

I spend a lot of time with companies working towards digitisation and have found that many of the organisations embarking on this journey haven’t yet addressed their incumbent structural issues. In short, they are run in silos.

Legacy companies face the greatest challenge here, since they are contending not only with their existing structures but also with new, fast-rising competitors who are already doing a great job of digital.

The key culprit here is the digital project: 65% of these projects are not aligned and the business-wide repercussions of this are not to be underestimated, according to our research.

A problem that can hide in plain sight

Let me paint a picture of how this manifests itself in everyday consumer life. Just last week, unenthused by the prospect of preparing dinner for my family after a long day at work, I opted for a takeaway from a popular chain restaurant.

This restaurant cooks to order, which means if you were to place your order on arrival then you’d need to wait there for your food to be ready.

In a bid to encourage customers to adopt the chain’s digital offering, if you order and pay remotely via the dedicated smartphone app (and time your arrival for collection accordingly) then the restaurant promises there’ll be no queuing involved at all.

The reality in my case was that the kitchen was over-run and we had to join the back of a snakey queue out the door after all. The restaurant staff were less than enthusiastic about the impact of the app.

The app’s a great idea, but in practice the operations team responsible for the restaurants and the team responsible for rolling out the app weren’t working in synch.

Different teams shoot for different goals

These cases are all symptomatic of businesses digitising in siloes. And, in case I’ve not made it obvious already: this doesn’t work.

Different departments have different goals, and these need to be aligned with the digital projects being rolled out.

If you design a Formula One car with a brilliant front wing but that wing causes disruption to the rest of the car, then you’ve not got a good car. And you’ve not really got a good front wing either, since its overall purpose is surely to benefit the car as a whole – not simply meeting a single, siloed objective.

Projects and siloes

The majority of organisations that I speak with are facing this problem.

I would argue that when it comes to successfully developing a culture that is open to digital, it’s important to map out how digital projects will affect different departments and contribute to business-wide goals.

If the marketing department wants to experiment with using digital to generate leads, for example, that shouldn’t be at the expense of delivering a positive customer experience (and leaving the customer service team with a sore ear).

Workshop it – DevOps style

One of the things Fujitsu is now doing to help these companies to realign is a series of intensive two-day workshops.

These workshops bring people from all over the business together, encouraging departments as seemingly unrelated as marketing and IT or buyers and property to mix and collaborate.

The point here is to show people the real range of different things that go on within the business, and to establish an understanding and greater rapport through doing so. Workshop - Milan

The inclusion of IT departments in these sessions is particularly significant. Traditionally, IT has been viewed as a service function rather than a practice driver for businesses. Digitisation is changing this.

What we don’t spend time discussing on the workshops is what the IT department actually does. These sessions are about business, not tech focused.

There’s perhaps a quiet irony in this, given the similarity these workshops have with what many IT professionals will recognise as a DevOps approach, which champions getting developers and operations to work more closely together

It’s important to engage attendees by speaking to them in a way that interests them.

These sessions are there to help attendees pick out the common threads that run throughout the company and support their business’ wider goals. Getting bogged down in discussion of processes is rarely a good way to go about this.

A problem shared…

The two days spent together are foundational in building the trust needed to run these kinds of collaborative programmes. A lot of people in big companies can be wary of appearing to lack vital knowledge around digitisation.

In some cases, this is arguably a reflection of the traditional workplace culture in which it better to avoid failure than to take a risk and learn from what doesn’t go to plan. Creating an environment that removes these fears is key.

Needless to say, however, it doesn’t end here. It’s important to follow up immediately.

Following up for the short and long term

For this, we take a two-speed approach. This incorporates quick fixes which help to maintain momentum and enthusiasm, as well as creating proof points that contribute to and energise the wider programme of change.

This energy and evidence of progress can be maintained by getting the various engaged groups together on a regular basis to keep the conversation going too.

Trying to do digital in siloes just creates problems elsewhere. A poorly planned digital project that doesn’t consider the different goals of the departments affected will ultimately result in finger pointing and the loss of a wider belief in the value of digital.

It then becomes very difficult to build the bridges and generate the holistic digital culture that’s needed to rollout a more inclusive digital strategy further down the line.

Ultimately, it’s down to trust. If your marketing department has spoiled the customer service team’s experience of digital, or a project by the online team has caused problems for the bricks and mortar retail side of the business – or virtually any other example combination – then you face the problem of having to regain that faith.

If you’re interested in hearing more about our workshops then please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

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