Digital transformation for business

Digital transormation
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At FutureLab we’re still busy during the lockdown. The reason for that is because there is no better time to prepare your business for digital world than right now. I saw this great image shared on social media today and it sums up the current situation.

Sadly, for many businesses, it might be slightly late. A lot of businesses, like ours, are busy right now and the fight for survival has already started. But let me explain, why is it so important at the moment, why you cannot wait anymore and why it will be so important in the future.

What is digital transformation

Digital transformation is the process of using digital technologies to transform your business to meet changing business and market requirements. Sounds really geeky, doesn’t it? Let me put it this way. Digital transformation for me is a way of growing your business with more automated work and less manual work.

A lot of us think that digital transformation starts with a website. And it’s true but only in a small part. Digital solutions are online and the front of a lot of those solutions are websites. These might not be the standard websites that you imagine but more about it later.

When to start digital transformation

Sadly, in March 2020 it’s relatively late, but not too late. If your business hasn’t started yet chances are that you’re suffering major disruption at the moment during New Zealand COVID-19 full lockdown. If you’re a small store in a mall and don’t have an eCommerce website your customers cannot buy from you. If you’re in any other business and you don’t have business processes, culture, customer experience, education materials (etc) in digital version, chances are that most of your employees currently sit at home and do nothing.

Solving problems with digital solutions helps businesses in times like these where pandemic affects everyone. However, it is also the future and you need to start right now. With less time, traffic congestion everywhere and ease of access to the internet – most of your customers/users/employees are online already.

I am speaking with a business for the last 6 months and back then they were considering moving to an online ordering system. They are a wholesale company and they are so busy that they don’t have time to go digital with their ordering system. They know they have to do it but they wanted to plan it for the next six to twelve months.  A week before lockdown they called me to kick off the project as soon as possible. On a day of lockdown, they called me again to put the project on hold until the situation gets better.

There are a few problems with pushing away digital solutions. Firstly – an obvious one: some businesses without a digital presence just don’t exist during the pandemic. Secondly, postponing building a solution causes more problems because now the competition is pushing it hard too. Everyone is trying to survive. Lastly, that business is postponing customers’ adaptation. It’s important to remember that digital transformation doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a process and customers or users have to adapt too. And if there are no options for your users or customers when they need it, they will find another place to do their business.

How to start digital transformation

Quickly. Yes, if you haven’t started yet, you need to start right now. The beginning is easy. When I consult businesses about moving digital, whether they’re doctors, construction companies or farmers, I always ask the same question.

When you come to work, what is the most manual work that you do?

In most cases, everyone can name that one thing, timesheet, accounts, customer email orders, moving the data between systems, there are thousands of possibilities. But pick one, you must get used to it too. You don’t need me or anyone else to start.

Here are a few examples. Let’s say that you are a small company and you do timesheets on the paper. Create a Google Sheets document and share it with your team. Ask them to help you create a good format that you can repeat weekly/monthly and start filling out timesheets online. This way you can search through documents, you can total numbers easily and most importantly – you can’t lose them! And it will be so much easier to move to any timesheet app once you’re already used to using computers.

Another example, say that you are a small shop in New Plymouth selling gifts to tourists. Pretty bad time for you right now right? But today you can roll out very simple Shopify website yourself, for a few dollars a month you can be visible. It might be not the most beautiful website in the country but at least you have something out there. You can create a Facebook page if you don’t have it yet and put your products on the Facebook store. From being nowhere within days you can be somewhere.

If you’re a much bigger organisation, start yourself too. Let me give you a great example – a big farm management company has to store a lot of food safety data and individual farm data. It took us weeks to collect the information about what goes where. Put it this way – we, IT people are very good at solving problems. But we’re really bad at farming (at least most of us, myself included). So you can explain the details of Spray Dairy to us for the next 2-3 hours or you can just spend some time to describe it yourself. Surely there will be follow up questions and some extra time needed but no matter how complex digital solution you’re looking for – a good scope changes your project from “nothing” to “something”.

Examples of digital transformation

If it’s still hard to imagine what a digital transformation might look like, here are a few examples of projects we’ve worked on in the past to improve companies’ performance:

  1. Online reception
    A good example in pandemic times. Many essential services need to put their staff in front of the building to control who’s coming in and what is their purpose of the visit. A simple web app or mobile app with big buttons and simple decision making tree deciding for a visitor what to do saves human contact and in the long term saves you money.
  2. Automated admin system
    Whether you’re a farmer, construction worker or a pilot, there are manual tasks that you need to do every day and there are ways to automate them. It can be as simple as turning your paper reports into digital reports or as complex as a full company management system. As a business turning digital you want to do as little manual work as possible.
  3. Chatbots/AI
    Many businesses are scared of AI and Chatbots saying that they take human interaction from their business and create the risk of losing a customer. However, there are thousands of chatbots around us already. I’m talking about Amazon Alexa for example. This simple device can be programmed for business needs and answer simple tasks for your customers, create voice orders and much more. And your customers might be using Alexa every day already.

These are just very few of simple digital transformation examples. You don’t have to see it as a complicated task. The goal here is to make it easier for you to run your business. Anything that digital solution can help you with long term will bring you money. Whether it’s a simple eCommerce website selling your products or a complex farm management system digital transformation will change your business and ensure your business continuity in harsh times. There is no better time to start than right now. So what are you waiting for?

Author: Ralf Klis

With over 15 years of experience in the digital world, I've seen it all and I'm often happy to share my knowledge. I've been involved in many R&D projects including one of the first TV Apps or mobile websites (back in 2005!). Now I'm passionate about making the digital presence work for businesses.