Go for it – Implementing digitization without bells and whistles

Big farmer or fast breeder - which digitization type are you?

Many companies are wrestling with the challenges of digitization – are you? How do you go about it: comprehensive strategy for the big solution? It’s a time-consuming path that brings late action. The quick fix, where you introduce a new digital tool, often falls short. The middle way does the trick, the way that comes from practical experience and has proven itself: in a few, clearly defined, manageable steps, you work with your team on concrete improvements. You gain experience that no one can take away from you – and implement digitization.

Everyday pressure, Corona measures and still one tool – little room for you to approach digitization systematically? Many decision-makers feel that way. What’s more, until digitization brings benefits, it involves effort.

What works?

Big is not so beautiful

I have observed two variants of this approach in companies – one is designed for the long term, the other for speed. But for many, digital success lies in the middle.

Variant one of digitization is thought big: in workshops, decision-makers assess trends and draw long-term scenarios; often a project with many participants, committees, meetings. All of this creates complexity, unfortunately with the result that no one knows how to get started. In addition, greater investment also means risk, the consequence: more hedging tendencies, less action.

Of course, we need an entrepreneurial perspective on how digitalization changes value creation – especially with regard to customers. However, starting with a large-scale project has a disadvantage: a lot of effort without the company actually gaining experience with digitization.
Many executives rightly ask themselves: what does this mean for my area now?

In variant two, it’s straight to the point; the decision-maker of a division introduces a new digital tool. The manufacturer’s arguments and test access to the software have convinced him. Besides, no one person can get to know all potentially relevant software solutions in the necessary depth, the division manager thinks – and there’s something to that. But the quick fix falls short.

Digitization that works

There is an alternative path that comes from practice and has proven itself there. The trick is to start with concrete improvements and gain experience.

Step one: the inventory

Start with a workshop for your area; it can be short and to the point. Start with the basic question: what are your activities and results (as a department, not as an individual)? Get to the point: the recruiting department brings hiring processes to fruition, financial accounting prepares financial statements, for example, and sales lead to purchase or non-purchase decisions.
What are your core deliverables?

Step two: Your core processes

In the next step, sketch out your most important processes at a high level, not meticulously in long Excel spreadsheets. Do not work out more than fits on a clear metaplan wall – or the digital equivalent. The rule of thumb here is EVA: Input at the beginning, processing in the process, result. You can describe any productive process in this way.

Now take a step back and look at your processes. Which processes are particularly significant? Where are things not going well, where are pain points? Where do you do a lot of manual work or push documents back and forth? Where do mistakes happen because no one can see through them? This is not a matter of assigning blame, but rather of taking stock intelligently.

Step three: Focus

Focus with your team on a process you would like to improve. Describe the alternative process: how would it be better? What should this process look like then? Digitized or automated?

Then follow up with research; often there is someone on the team who has already done preliminary work out of interest. How do other professionals in your field solve the problem? Are there benchmark processes, new technical solutions? Does predictive maintenance in production help prevent breakdowns? Does augmented reality make it easier to repair equipment at customer sites? Is a digitized recruiting process faster and, thanks to process standardization, clearer than mailing around applicant folders? Is the digitization of accounting the impetus for digital accounting that many stakeholders in the company want?

If you need input, this is where consulting on digital processes with expertise in your area makes more sense than a solution provider.

Now compare your desired process with your current software solution. Can it be extended, adapted, upgraded? At this point at the latest, you should also call in the IT expert at your company who supported the previous software solution (if there was one). He or she knows where the system gets its information from, what transactions are running and what dependencies exist.

Step four: Your better process self

Now you decide: do you want to continue working with your current solution or replace the application? Will you develop a new solution yourself in collaboration with your IT or external experts, which can make perfect sense? Or will you look around specifically for an application based on your sample process?

Conclusion: the pragmatic way – Big is not so beautiful

Work a little like a start-up in the company on a process, certainly one that is not immediately business-critical. Form your agile core of digitization with your specialist team, a good moderator and the core team of IT specialists. For you, this means: at low risk, you gain experience for yourself and the company that no one can take away from you.

The bottom line: the big mile of digitization runs via deliberate, individual steps. Because the economic costs of doing nothing are usually much higher in digitization than a step-by-step approach. Don’t wait for management’s all-consuming guidelines. Instead, start a bottom-up process for your area and get serious about digitization.

Digitalisierung – jetzt starten statt warten. Dafür setzt sich Regina Bergdolt ein, Expertin für Digitalisierung in Human Ressources und für KI-Anwendungen. Sie engagiert sich mit anderen IT-Unternehmern für den Wissenstransfer im Förderverein Forschungszentrum Informatik Karlsruhe; für den informierten Umgang mit künstlicher Intelligenz arbeitet sie mit führenden Wissenschaftlern zusammen. Sie betreibt mit ihrem Co-Founder eine HR-Software.

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