Digitalisation is an endless journey
Tomasz Pirc, User Experience (UX) specialist and partner at Innovatif, explains when it is sensible to digitalise a process and where to start. Together, we discussed why it is so difficult to predict trends in a digital world, we searched for a comparison in the fashion world, and contemplated how important it is to build collaborations based on trust.
In recent years, all companies underwent a digital upgrade, regardless of whether they wanted that or not. What were the most common challenges our clients faced?
Most of them wanted to make up for what they had been postponing for so long before in a very short time; but even when something was technologically achievable, many did not realise that a digital makeover often stretches deep into the basic processes. You set up a web shop and realize that you do not have an appropriately equipped warehouse to process orders. For instance, the stock is not appropriately recorded or the shipping process is still very analogue. I think that for many, this was the moment of truth when they acknowledged that a digital transformation means primarily to change the company culture and its operation.
Some were more prepared for changes than others and were perhaps able to make up for certain things in a year and a half, so that they are no longer completely behind. How would one now set up a digital infrastructure that will function in the long term?
Before we start thinking about digitalisation we have to ask ourselves a few basic questions, since it is not sensible to digitalise every process or even business. In my opinion, three criteria are key to determine suitability. The first is what percentage of the business you will still have to carry out physically regardless of all the modernisation. The second is the size of the team which is performing a certain set of processes. When you only have three people in human resources for more than a hundred employees, digitalising their processes makes sense. For instance, every new employee who gets a user account automatically receives a welcome package and links to important materials on how the business operates. The third criterion is definitely whether the investment is sensible financially. If we want to digitalise the whole process in a shop with ten employees, that could be quite expensive. It is therefore worth asking yourself whether this team is capable of creating enough of a difference in added value with the transformation so that the investment is reasonable.
What is the solution then?
Basically any team in a company can think about how they would optimise their work with digital technology. For example, how to create content that can be used on different channels or how to simplify data collection so that everyone in the company who needs this data can always access it. This sort of thinking seems much more realistic than carrying out the project of digitalising the entire company. It is also necessary to separate things into smaller projects due to the rapid advancement of technology.
It is common for clients to only account for the investment into outside service providers when they opt for a project, but they forget the internal cost and resources. How can a project be comprehensively evaluated and how to avoid surprises along the way?
Such projects cannot even be carried out without internal resources. The client often chooses the cheapest service provider while disregarding the cost of the entire project. For instance, one person can build a website for you that will require two full-time editors, while someone else can build a more complex system for which one editor will need two hours a day at the most. Although the basic project cost will be higher, it will be cheaper in the long run. This is what I call sincere project cost evaluation. Unfortunately, the service provider cannot prepare this evaluation, only the client himself can. We can only provide help with that.
I find it crucial that the client understands that this is a process, not a project. But above all, it is necessary to accept that this journey has no end; it is a process of constant innovating and changing.
Digitalisation is usually a marathon. How do you design the work process in order to keep the team motivated and make sure their work produces results?
I find it crucial that the client understands that this is a process, not a project. But above all, it is necessary to accept that this journey has no end; it is a process of constant innovation and change. You set up something, but technology keeps developing. We can see how this development affects other areas of our lives as well. We no longer have one job for the rest of our lives. We no longer build houses for four generations. If digitalisation is planned as some sort of a big project, it will also have to be upgraded as one big whole in a few years. This already sounds a bit frightening. This is why I am a big proponent of digitalising modularly. For that, it is good to have an experienced partner who can advise you on how to divide a system into smaller units which can function independently and connect with one other. You can then also update such units individually.
This is what keeps the team motivated, right?
Of course, since everyone needs small victories along the way. That is why I find the principle of “low-hanging fruit” very useful at least at the start of the process of digital transformation; first you take on tasks that have the biggest effect with the smallest input. As with a marathon, you do not just simply attempt one all of a sudden. First you run around your apartment building, then around the neighbourhood, then 5 kilometres to the shop and so on until the finish line.
It is, however, true that we as an agency often do not pull all the strings, because various service providers can be involved, especially with big projects. That is when it is important that the client has someone who is able to see the big picture.
I like to use a comparison to building a city. It is the easiest if you arrive to an empty meadow and start building from scratch. It is more difficult to arrive somewhere where a building already stands and you are not permitted to tear it down because it is protected as heritage - or the pipes and electric lines are installed in a way that cannot be changed. A heap of limitations awaits you, to put it short. This is precisely why you need a seasoned expert who is able to tell you what to keep, what to demolish and what to rebuild. Collectives, companies or organisations that have nothing digitalised yet are very rare. We spend a lot more time renovating and reconstructing than building everything from the start.
The fast pace of the development of both the digital world and the world in general constantly bombards us with trends and predictions of what the “next big thing” will be. Some of these quickly fall into oblivion, while others become popular buzzwords that no one really knows how to implement. How should we consider trends and predictions and choose those suitable for us?
I think it is suitable to draw a comparison with the fashion world here. I personally take conferences where they predict trends more as fashion shows. They serve the purpose of stirring your imagination. It is not easy to mix and match those avant-garde pieces. Of course some people are good at it and are therefore noticed more, which is why these types of approaches are completely legitimate. But for most people, it would not hurt to include some timeless pieces that definitely work in their wardrobe. There might not be a wow effect, but such pieces can produce excellent results if used skilfully.
If I continue your comparison to fashion – there are people, nevertheless, who want something more than just a basic wardrobe. Is that the time to go to a stylist?
You can opt for a stylist who will come look at your wardrobe and get rid of out-of-date and useless pieces; then they will go shopping with you and will teach you how to choose or mix clothing. You cannot just learn that overnight; you simply need a professional who can give you advice and guide you. If I come back to our role as digital advisors – of course it is difficult to predict trends today, but we have so much experience under our belt that we can assess whether something works in the long term. In my opinion, this is our key role; to be able to assess whether something will last or whether it is just a fleeting trend.
What is your experience with partners’ trust?
I find that people are generally very mistrusting. I have noticed that when people hire someone to lay tiles, more and more of them spend hours on the internet researching how to do it and what can go wrong. We simply do not know how to trust expertise. Doctors especially complain over this sort of approach. We obviously base this on the assumption that the service provider either does not provide a good service or that they are trying to scam you.
How can you then know who to trust?
There is no guarantee. You can truly rely only on references and recommendations. A good example are competitions: if I were to make the decision, I would not be interested at all in what the applicants would propose, because you can see their range already based on their portfolio. You can see what someone is capable of producing. I would be more interested in how much experience someone has and how honest they are as a service provider. I find the latter to be especially significant.
I personally take conferences where they predict trends more as fashion shows. They serve the purpose of stirring your imagination.