In the wake of COVID-19 comes a shower of government-led incentives to accelerate digital transformation in the business world, including the highly anticipated Distance Business Programme with funding worth HK$500 million. While the epidemic as a driving force is a most unfortunate and costly one, it does urge decision makers, especially of small- and medium-sized enterprises (SME), to reset their agenda in 2020, capitalise on the timely stimulus and transform their operations for good.
As managers across the board contemplate which of their current processes could be enhanced with subsidy, cloud services and automation are two major technologies sufficiently mature in the market for swift adoption. Most people are familiar with the cloud in one form or another, the simplest examples being cloud storage for file sharing, such as Google Drive, Dropbox or Microsoft OneDrive. To move entire teams to the cloud (think cloud accounting), or to actually implement automation for repetitive tasks, however, is another question of how to let technology and data help teams facilitate and grow the business.
Technology is a way of doing things, a process or style of working, but data are the substance people deal with on a daily basis at work, whether or not their positions entitle them to, or whether or not they like it. This distinction is important and precisely the reason why this article is about building data-literate, not tech-savvy teams. It is the way people (not just leaders but also employees) come to make sense of and treat data that will inform business decisions in the long run and fundamentally make a difference in an organisation’s prospect.
1. Know your niche
Before devising the digital transformation strategy for your organisation, you should first know your business nature, positioning and offering inside out.
- What costs the most and is best to experiment with automation?
- How are your competitors doing in terms of technology adoption?
- What is your value proposition that cannot be replaced by or reduced to technological solutions?
It is crucial to identify in which part(s) of your current operations human input must remain, and your strategy should be designed to streamline and facilitate other processes to maximise the return on human input.
2. Hybrid solutions
While searching for suitable technological product(s) to make life easier, it is tempting to try to look for one ultimate, all-encompassing tool that has all the functions everyone needs, and in full compatibility. The reality is that, sadly, there is hardly any. You are in luck if you do find one, but in most cases, you will find yourself adopting a mix of hybrid solutions, each of which addresses a relatively specific pain point.
This is totally fine. It may even work better to optimise working efficiency, since every tool you use is developed by experts of that application. The next question is integration.
- Can these multiple solutions speak to each other?
- What insights do they collectively bring?
- How do you make them work for you, not one after another?
The best strategist is one who can enable these applications to function laterally and simultaneously, synthesise cross-sectional intelligence, and evaluate overall performance and effectiveness. One must also beware of and mitigate potential data leaks and cybersecurity risks apparent or latent in integration, both on organisational and individual levels, such as by installing protective software on company devices and training teams to enhance security measures.
3. Data work is shared
The digital movement has revolutionised the classic job of a data entry clerk. Gone are the days when a typist sits all day long in front of manuscripts, spreadsheets and databases, duplicating the work on a different machine. Today, data pass by everyone’s fingertips. All of us not only input data, but we also manipulate, export and translate data.
Therefore, teams need to understand that digital tools are deployed for the use of everyone, so that they can take charge of their own project cycles from start to end. Data work is no longer just centralised around a person or a team, but is now shared. It serves no purpose to assign someone to generate templates from a system, when the system now allows everyone to do so easily.
To envision the best use of digital tools for optimal efficiency, one must thoroughly consider how operational workflows will be structured, and redefine job scopes as some of the duties will be either shared or eliminated.
The threshold for migrating to use digital systems and technological solutions is dropping (though it may still remain high for more traditional industries), but building a data-literate work culture takes more time. With some trial and error, such applications can bring us tremendous convenience, and we should take note not to let them reinforce our old, specialised ways of working, and instead embrace the greater transparency and autonomy they entail.