Over the past few years, the word ‘digital’ has risen to become an industry standard for so much of what we talk about in the world of innovative technology.
But there’s a problem with this, since digital has come to mean many different things to many different people.
The result is that discussions about how to deliver IT systems to people in the best way possible can become derailed by misunderstanding.
We need to be more prescriptive about the way we talk about digital technologies and how they can improve the way things work.
To me, digital solutions are defined by applications – and the success of a digital solution, therefore, is dependent on the quality of the apps deployed.
Apps are there to make things easier, and the most successful apps make processes look simple. I talk about this in terms of making a process frictionless.
Why might I shop with, for instance, Amazon over one of its many competitors? Because in a couple of clicks I can order what I want and collect it from my doorstep without so much as a moment’s ponder.
Like water in a river, my user journey will seek the path of least resistance. The easiest option – provided it doesn’t require a reciprocal compromise in quality of service.
We should be adopting a similar approach when it comes to digital transformation in organisations.
Smoothing the process
Removing steps from a process has typically been viewed as corner cutting, but I’m inclined to disagree with that as a blanket assessment.
Completing a task in fewer steps can also mean that a) it’s completed more quickly and b) it’s more likely to be completed correctly, on account of the fact that there are fewer points at which a mistake can be made.
This is the value that IoT offers. It makes processes frictionless through the automation of data collection and analysis.
Of course these actions are taking place in the digital sphere, but referring to them simply as ‘digital’ is confusing and reductive. It makes people think of digitalisation, when in fact you’re not necessarily seeking to radically alter a business model or way of doing things – the goal hasn’t changed, you’re just getting there with greater speed, ease and accuracy.
(There is of course a conversation to be had about the additional, side-effect benefits of that improved speed, ease and accuracy, but that’s a topic for another blog post.)
Ultimately, you’re refining processes: making it easier to get things done, and done properly. And in doing so, by removing steps (and opportunities for missteps) you’re making the process more secure too.
Learning from first-hand experience
So how do you go about applying this theory to the real world?
It might sound obvious, idealistic even, but the best place to start is in your customer’s shoes.
When working with a customer like British Gas, for instance, I’ve found the most effective way to understand how their engineers want to work is to go and spend a day with them to see what the problems they face are, and to try and gain a greater understanding of the challenges they face on a day-to-day basis.
There’s no value in retrofitting solutions to existing problems, especially when it’s so easy to go and discover the problems for yourself before designing a custom-fit solution.
This is a key part of making things frictionless.
It’s all about working out what can be done to make that engineer’s life easier – finding out what information they need to access to do their job, and devising the simplest, quickest and most accurate way to help them do that.
This could be something as simple as using sensors, QR codes or RFID tags on assets, allowing engineers to find out the real-time status of a piece of infrastructure via their mobile device.
In time, voice controls will allow a further smoothing of the checks and repairs process – enabling pressure readings to be dictated verbally, and so on.
What’s more, the technology required for solutions such as these is readily available. It’s how we think about deploying it – to create a frictionless process – that needs to change.
Work made easier
In this way, it’s not simply about using technology, it’s more about re-engineering processes – with technology – to make streamline them and make them more accurate.
By making a job easier to do the right thing, it follows that you also increase the ease of doing that job correctly.
Ultimately, this is what I see as the goal of digital transformation: removing friction from how we get things done.
In order to move forward with this, we need to re-frame how we think about digital and take these practical steps towards making effective transformation a reality. A frictionless reality.
If you want to learn more about frictionless data analytics, come and see us at Utility Week Live 22nd-23rd May.
Graeme has a first degree in Computing Science and a Masters in Business Administration. He has successfully used his experience and knowledge of both business and technology to deliver IT enabled change for many organisations. Outside of work, Graeme has completed a project to build his own house and plays regularly in a band.