Digital Transformation—Industry Buzz Word or Real Possibility

We have been bombarded with a lot of Business Process buzzwords over the last few years! Terms like Operational Excellence and Process Automation lead the list — with the latest, of course, being Digital Transformation!

And there should be no complaining. There has never been a better time or opportunity for BPM Software Platforms, Architects, and Implementers to stand in the spotlight and showcase what we’ve known for years! I actually encourage the embedding of these buzz words in every executive level conversation, development plan, corporate retreat, and company plan when possible. It’s our time to shine! But what do all these buzz words really mean outside the confines of polished oak boardroom tables? What does Digital Transformation actually involve? Weren’t we being “digitally transformative” when we began to create content on ancient PCs with rudimentary word processing software? Wasn’t that supposed to usher in the new era of “The Paperless Office?”

I’ve been working in this industry for close to 20 years, in nearly every role across the spectrum— and the “original digital transformation” of the Paperless Office is as far away now as it was then. Print volume is steady, and in some cases on the rise. The hope of a younger generation interacting with data and information electronically has occurred partially, but the tactile allure of printing reports and spreadsheets has increased. I can’t tell you how many meetings I have attended in the past few years where the presentation slide deck—and readily available online reports—have been printed and distributed to every person in attendance. I have witnessed entire departments in Fortune 500 companies print every single email received— only to then turn around and scan them back into digital format!

If you agree that we have the technical capability to truly transform processes, tasks, and operational efficiency, perhaps what we have neglected is the human transformation that needs to occur. True business transformation of any kind cannot succeed without the acceptance and acknowledgment of that transformation by its users.

Much has been written about change management— and driving user adoption through training and education. That is largely based on the premise that we humans are change averse. And in many ways, that is true. I am personally averse to change when it comes to airlines charging me more to sit in a seat that is smaller and less comfortable than previously. But is this entirely applicable in a business application?

We are creatures of habit to be sure, however we have made remarkable advances as a species— advances that have been accepted and embraced. It often takes a little time for our comfort and trust levels to catch up, but we are adept at change. When it comes to change management and user adoption, we, myself included, tend to apply the same coat of reason to every deployment. We believe that users are simply “set in their ways”, “stubborn”, “negative” or just need to find something to criticize. It’s true— there are people like that. I’ve done enough demonstrations and training sessions to be able to immediately identify one or two in every group. But I believe the most common user acceptance challenges are more about fear. And trust. And loss of control.

Fear tends to stem from a concern that the adoption of any transformative solution likely means a loss of employment. Then there is the issue of trust. Whether in process mapping, task analysis, or job shadowing, I have seen end users start by being suspicious, guarded, defensive and sometimes hostile. They suspect that any information they divulge will be used against them ultimately, when the “transformative solution” replaces them. The knowledge they possess, the experience they have, or even their unique, if inefficient way of performing their job, represents the only power they have to be considered useful to their companies. Applying this mindset to Digital Transformation, is it any wonder that an Administrative Assistant or Project Manager prints slide decks for all attendees at a meeting? Or LOB Managers print spreadsheets and reports for meetings? The information contained on those pages represents ownership! They prepared that report. They developed the slide decks. The subtle need for recognition and security is displayed by distributing that information to others.

So how does one design and deploy a truly transformative solution? It may actually be more straightforward than you think:

  • Take the time to understand your audience. Customers, end users, managers, executives all have a different interpretation of “Transformation,” and the success or failure of it truly depends on them buying in. It is incumbent on us to show them how this is going to make their lives better. Simply having top down support for a solution isn’t enough.
  • Build relationships at the end user level. It’s almost as much about selling the upcoming solution to people using it, as it is about designing or implementing it. Design and development is the easy part.
  • Recognize that transformation drives change — and organizations must change to remain relevant. Making the transition as human-centric and palatable as possible goes a long way to taking the fear out of the transition and building trust into it. As for loss of control, I would argue that this transition may enables us to ‘lose control’ of the more mundane and to focus on areas where we can, and do, add value.

Stuart Janzen

Stuart Janzen is the Lead Solutions Architect for BP Logix, an award-winning solutions provider. Over the past 18 years, he has held a number of positions that involved process analysis, solution design, implementation, sales, and management for Fortune 500 and mid-range organizations. One of the transformative solutions Janzen built was short listed at the 2017 OPEX Week Awards in the "Best Transformation Process" category. Stuart is a speaker at BPM-related conferences, most recently presenting at Business Transformation and Operational Excellence Summit 2017 and KMWorld 2017.

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