Digital Transformation Implications for Process Design
Reed Deshler | January 17, 2018
Digital technologies—not just hardware, but data, artificial intelligence, networks, social platforms, and other digital applications—are rapidly and profoundly changing the way we do business. More and more companies of all sizes and in all industries are engaging in digital transformation as a way to more seamlessly and intuitively design customer experiences, enable business processes, deliver value, and achieve strategic differentiation.
In our Rubik’s cube organizational model, the sides of the cube represent the different aspects of organization alignment. The use of digital technologies and ways of working have profound implications for every side of the cube—including the side representing work processes. Let’s take a deeper look into how adopting a digital mindset changes the way we think about work processes and process design.
How Digital Transformation Affects Process Design
Process design is all about determining how to convert something from one state into another state to create value for someone. Take a sales transaction, for example. If someone has a sales order, what are the steps that need to happen in order to fulfill the order? In a traditional approach, we start by defining the beginning and end of the process. Then, we map out the ideal steps to achieve or accomplish the desired outcome. In many cases, this has always involved asking ourselves what tools might be used. In manufacturing, for instance, we might insert a machine at a certain point, utilize a tool, or lay out the facility floor plan differently.
This is sound practice, which is not fundamentally changed by digital technologies. Rather, a digital approach demands that we ask ourselves similar questions, but to do it in a way that essentially rethinks how work might be done (the customer or worker experience) while utilizing intelligent and intuitive technologies and tools that weren’t available in the past. In a sense, digital transformation introduces a sort of refinement of the process. Once we’ve mapped out the basic process, we ask the question, “is there a fundamentally different or better way for us to now do this work?”
It’s still essential to understand the job to be done, and how the process creates value for the customer. However, the digital approach requires us to really drill into the ways of doing the work in light of any digital capabilities that might make the process more intuitive, user friendly, automated, or efficient.
In the sales transaction scenario, for example, we might ask ourselves how we can use data to expedite the process. This might lead us to realize that, instead of requiring the customer to fill out order information, we can tap into our organization’s existing database to automatically pre-fill that information out. In so doing, we can create a faster and easier experience for the customer, while at the same time avoiding unnecessary work or setbacks that might result from incorrectly entered or inconsistent data. This is one way that digital transformation intersects with organization alignment.
Applying a Digital Mindset to Process Design
Coming up with digital solutions in process design requires a shift. The following prompts can be useful in applying a digital mindset to process design:
- Software: Is there any software that can be leveraged or developed to perform or enable some of the tasks in the process?
- Hardware: Is there a tool or device that can be inserted into the process to allow the work to be done more effectively or more efficiently? For example, a couple of years ago the airlines began equipping their flight attendants with mobile devices. These not only allow them to help passengers on the spot by performing tasks like checking the status of a flight, but also function as mini credit card readers to enable them to run transactions.
- Data: Is there some repository of data that can be brought to bear in the process to provide insight or make something in the process easier or more meaningful?
- Artificial Intelligence: Taking data a step further requires the application of machine learning–the ability for a machine or computer to take a vast amount of information around preferences, buying patterns, shipping history, etc. and draw conclusions from it that change the way we approach a process. For instance, behavioral targeting in advertising that ensures that online ad offers are relevant to the individual shopper.
All in all, digital transformation in process design is about taking process design to the next level. It takes us beyond simply understanding and mapping the ideal process to deliver value for a customer or to get work done. The strategic application of software, hardware, data, and artificial intelligence allow us to make the experience around the process easier, more efficient, more secure, and/or more intuitive than it would be using only traditional ways of working.