President and CEO,
Qualitest Group

Digital transformation means something different to everyone, depending on a company’s industry. For example, a retail company may be primarily interested in digital transformation to help them personalize and improve customer experience, while a manager at a product manufacturer may say it’s all about streamlining production lines and logistics. For utilities, the focus of digital transformation will likely be on asset management, since these organizations have millions of assets they need to monitor and manage.

No matter the industry, the primary focus of a digital transformation should be on actions that will provide the biggest bang for the organization’s buck, particularly actions that will give a company an advantage over its competitors. To achieve these high-value changes, companies are turning to automation.

A recent report from Gartner says the market for hyper automation-enabling technologies is set to grow by nearly 24% between 2020-2022, as organizations accelerating their digital transformation plans require more automation for their IT and business processes. While automation has historically been looked at  through the lens of making things more efficient, that has changed. There are very few things in the workplace that can’t be automated, and the decision about what to prioritize comes down to which automations would provide the best ROI. As companies decide which automations to implement, they should focus on the following best practices.

Determine the purpose for the digital transformation first

Before thinking about what technology will be needed, a company should consider what it is trying to achieve by undergoing digital transformation. Particularly as IT will be tasked with focusing on both the quick wins and the biggest impacts, it’s important to first determine why the company is automating a process and what the goal is for the effort. Once the goal for the effort is established, then IT can worry about the tools that will support what they are trying to achieve.

For example, if the goal is to improve the customer online experience, then a company will look at using AI driven features such as chat bots to improve customer engagement. Or, if a company’s goal is to streamline repetitive processes, then they should consider using robotic process automation (RPA) technology.

Verify that a tool is “fit for purpose” and not just “fit for use”

Once a company selects a tool or technology to support the automation of a particular process — such as RPA or chat bots  — it must be tested. However, it’s a mistake to think that testing whether or not something is usable is sufficient. The tool doesn’t only have to be functional, it must also be assessed to determine if it is delivering the efficiency or the benefit the business was looking for. This also applies to small changes. If people are told that the changes the company is undergoing will improve their jobs in some way, this must be verified through testing.

Testing a solution to determine if it’s “fit for purpose” involves constantly evaluating against the business requirements and value criteria. Companies can approach this by shifting left with static testing, evaluating the requirements against design through Requirements Traceability Matrixes, filtering this traceability through the SDLC lifecycle, always asking “is this effort meeting the requirements and resulting in business value”. This ideology can be expanded by defining KPIs early and including those measures as success criteria through the project gates.

Make sure all the systems can talk to each other seamlessly

One of the biggest challenges in automating processes is the communication of data. A single process in a sales department may require interaction between systems used by various departments from finance to procurement, such as SAP or Oracle. There can be dozens of systems to interact with within a single company, and the data flow is really hard to get right the first time. It’s crucial to spend time to ensure these systems can talk to each other.

The best way a company can ensure that systems are able to seamlessly interact is to identify and prioritize the business critical integrations, evaluating a business risk score along with a technical risk score to know what to test first and what is most important to the business. An ecommerce site’s transaction log integration containing purchasing data is more business critical than a marketing integration tracking java tag feedback. Another often overlooked element as we move into more federated landscapes is having the application teams interact and understand the mapping between the two applications. Ask about what you are sending and what you will be expecting to receive.

Consider moving to a subscription model for services or products

Digital transformation can enable companies to transition to subscription-type models, which makes a big impact on customers and gives companies a reason to communicate with them every day, every week or every month. The reality is that people think about having a subscription to Amazon Prime, not about paying for next-day delivery.

The move to subscription models paves the way for companies to automate and personalize all types of customer communications, as well as the delivery of products and services. This ultimately increases efficiency and benefits the customer experience.

Digital transformation necessitates a continuous evolution

Digital transformation modernizes an entire business, and any organization that does not plan to evolve will fail. Companies always need to be thinking about how they can provide a better service — whether “better” translates to higher quality or lower cost (or both) will depend on the organization and its industry.

As customer expectations evolve and new business models trend upward, companies need to be tailoring the services they are providing, even when the service is delivering a physical product. Digital transformation is not a “one and done” deal. It is a continuous evolution that progresses hand-in-hand with technological developments and changes in customer expectations. Companies can ultimately thrive with a two-pronged approach that implements the quick and easy fixes, while working on the issues that will give the company the most value for money, improving both the company’s bottom line and its customers’ experiences at the same time.