It’s about knowing what you don’t know!
Many entrepreneurs have hustled their way into a feasible business, then started growing the business rapidly and subsequently getting into a situation where things are becoming unmanageable.
Getting operations to run smoothly requires a lot of time from the owner and little time is available for thinking about strategy, let alone executing on that strategy.
The business might be doing well in terms of client base and revenue, but costs are difficult to manage as you keep adding resources to fulfil client requirements. It is in this regard that operational efficiency becomes essential, and subsequently business insight.
As a business owner, I realised I need to start working ON the business rather than IN the business albeit easier said than done given that the work still needs to be done. For me this involved knowing what the next steps are for the products and services, sustaining current client relationships, and becoming efficient in operations.
In the beginning, this is easier said than done especially since almost everything needs to go through the owner’s hands. This made me and my partner a bottleneck in the business and in the process it hampered growth. I have seen it: In your personal life you have to be a friend, brother or sister, father or mother and sustain those relationships but in the business, you are CEO, COO, CIO, Sales executive, HR Head and everything else. Especially in the beginning. And there are only 24 hours in a day.
Digitisation initially referred to data on scanned documents to be translated from image to electronic data. Recently, it has taken on a broader meaning.
All the hype around Machine Learning and AI make everyone think that computers will take over the world and machines will turn on humans, but in truth, digitisation can enable business in a way that makes employees focus on work that adds more value to clients. It is in that regard that digitisation becomes an effective enabler, especially in a manual business process environment.
Ever since we built a solution for our first client to turn their manual (paper and spreadsheet-based) process into an online business capability enabler, I have realised that many businesses out there still run operations or at least a part of it in a very manual fashion.
To my surprise, we signed our first corporate client a year later, with the same tool. They experienced the same problem. I was amased at how manual certain of their processes still are. Especially for big corporate business. That’s not mentioning how segregated and siloed capabilities are, all with different enabling solutions.
This is especially true in product-based environments where each business area was product-based, rather than client-based. Digitisation and end-to-end capability enablement need to address this.
The tool we implemented at our first client seemed so simple: It had a “process editor” where you can set up process steps and activities for each step customised to your business, and a “process executer” where one would execute the actual process per client or case.
It was very effective for this client and whilst we were thinking of getting into the corporate space I thought that the solution for corporates would have to be a lot more complex since corporates are a lot more matured in the IT space, but I was wrong. Our first corporate client is a financial service provider with 40,000 employees and 9 million clients and we implemented the exact same tool (with some customisations). The problem was the same.
When your business process is manual and the data segregated over multiple platforms, you have little to no insight into where your business is going in terms of operational efficiency. AI promises great advancements into the world of insight but for AI to work you need data, a lot of data. And if your business information is sitting in spreadsheets and on shared drives you might have the data, but you probably won’t have the insight.
Getting this information centrally and structuring your information becomes essential. And technology needs to enable that. The danger, however, is that you try and implement a complex tool into an environment where people were used to the old way of working and the leap is too big. User buy-in is low in cases like these and as a result, the tool is seen as a burden rather than an enabler.
In that regard, we were fortunate that the solution we built for the first client was simple to use and easy to understand. The client was also based in the UK and our delivery team is based in SA. That implied that the solution needed to be very intuitive and easy to start using since on-site training involved exorbitant costs. Fortunately, that was the case and users started seeing the value.
The data was now central and structured and now we could apply business insights through data visualisations and reporting. I think it served us well to trust in the fact that solutions should be simple. That doesn’t mean it’s easy though. If you are very technical a complex solution is easier than trying to reduce the complexity into something people can understand and use easily.
A year later our client is getting insight into their business they did not have before.
- What needs to be done and by whom?
- Who is waiting for what in order to complete the process?
- How long are things taking?
- What trends to we have in terms of operations and sales?
- All questions that are now answered by data that informs insight.
All questions that are now answered by data that informs insight.
Digitisation and data insight enabled that through getting the business data on a central platform. As Edward Deming said: “In God we trust. All others must bring data”.