Digitization: 4 tips and tricks

The 4th industrial revolution is upon us, evidenced by an explosion in the evolution of Artificial Intelligence, Big Data, cloud computing, Nanotechnology and 3D printing.

Axiomatic has spent extensive time researching what the employer of the future would look like and how organisations will need to adapt to function optimally in this new environment - http://www.axiomatic.co.za/news/new-agile-organisation-implications-hr/. We have also considered the impact on an organisation operating within a gig economy in the future, where your workforce may not be “your” workforce, but rather an ecosystem of talent - http://www.axiomatic.co.za/news/gig-economy-impact-hr-2/.

With this background, we now discuss how technology will paint the picture. The global market place is continuously being exposed to a myriad amazing new technology advancements which are being ‘sold’ as the solutio, panacea or silver bullet to all your needs. Nanotechnology ensures that we will live forever, Artificial Intelligence will take us to the next economic revolution (or wipe us all out if you listen to Elon Musk), and the HR system will be the key to accessing all your employees’ talent.

However, when embracing technology, it is important to remember a few home truths:

1. Don’t get distracted by the gimmicks

We are regularly bombarded with multiple new solutions, developments and smart phone apps all designed to make our lives easier. These can often lead to a dangerous situation where we are drawn in by “cool” but superfluous features which don’t address the core needs of the business; or in fact, facilitate the achievement of the company’s strategic objectives. The result is that a business may implement systems that are “next generation” but fail to fundamentally address what the business objectives are.

The reality is that the ideal solution is never as clear cut as one would hope. Your desired business model should be built to embrace the new business environment and emerging technologies; this could entail fundamental paradigm shifts in how your business operates. However, before embarking on new system changes, you need to remain objective. At a very high-level, this shift in business modelling requires you to:

  • Survey your environment and the business context:
  • Determine your goals and objectives taking cognisance of the strategic objectives;
  • Consider the goals and objectives you need to achieve and then examine what tools can assist you to achieve these. Rather than pre-concluding by evaluating tools available and then establishing which goals and objectives they would solve;
  • Critically analyse the different solutions/ tools in relation to your total needs.

It is important that you do not work backwards with this approach (pre-conclude), or else, you may end up changing your business model to match the technology platform or solution you have chosen. Systems and technology are nothing more than tools to achieve your goals.

2. Do not fall for the hype-train

In the last 5 years, we have seen Big Data, Artificial Intelligence and now Blockchains being positioned as industry game changers that will force business to evolve. While it is important to note that each of these developments may have an impact on how a business operates, the fundamental decision relates to the question of how the business manages and processes data.

The truth is that most businesses are not addressing these fundamental questions nor are they recognising that implementation of these new developments may require the business to re-address the current internal processes and procedures.

It will be a challenge to balance the dichotomy between being a technological agile organisation and ensuring that you stick to your agreed plan. New technologies and variations of existing solutions will continually enter the market, and while it is important that you monitor these changes, you also need to ensure that you do not fall for the “hype” and become distracted.

3. Think carefully about what you are outsourcing

The rapid evolution of the technology environment has created a perception that you need to be a developer with X number of years’ experience to be part of the development and implementation of any new technology platform. In our experience, this has led to organisations believing that the best way to drive technological change is to outsource much of the function to the “experts” who reside within the business or to external development houses. However, no one knows your business or your processes as well as you do.

You need to invest time to understand the fundamentals of the solution that your business has introduced; failing to do so can create a barrier between business and the technology. This can result in the concepts and visions being muddled because of a lack of common language/understanding between you and the so-called expert. The experts may convolute the development of the solution by introducing barriers that may or may not be legitimate. If you are unable to constructively engage in these discussions, you are unable to objectively assess these barriers. You need to be able to guide and challenge your IT development teams constructively to ensure your vision is being executed successfully. You cannot achieve this if you do not understand how these systems work.

This does not require you to become an expert in the product or technology, but you should spend sufficient time learning about and engaging with the solution. There are a myriad of online courses, forums and YouTube videos that you can access to learn and enrich your understanding.

 4. Consider data validation

Access to reliable structured data is the backbone to many of the initiatives that have emerged in the past few years. The fundamental principle behind Big Data is that you can leverage off the gigabytes of data that flow through your business, allowing your business to make intelligent decisions regarding the likes of customers, suppliers and the workforce. However, the data needs to be accessible and accurate while still complying with data protection laws.

Business will often look to the HR systems or CRM when collecting data on employees and customers. However, how accurate is the data?

One must consider the following elements when assessing this question:

  1. How is the data maintained?
  2. What is the cost of error of the data being incorrect?
  3. How and how frequently is the database validated?

HR systems in many organisations are run as separate platforms that exists outside business-critical processes. The organisation will identify someone within the HR team to update these databases, often manually. The data is generally only validated twice a year or annually during the performance management processes and even then, only a few fields such as job title, grade and reporting manager are interrogated. Most biographical data are largely ignored unless a specific update request is made.

The reasons that this data is not kept up to date is that the cost of error is very low. The impact of holding incorrect marital status is nearly nil and thus the information is treated as superfluous and therefore cannot be viewed as accurate. However, consider the impact this has when you start analysing your data. As an example, you may want to review your benefits offering and correlate it with the marital status of your workforce. Inaccurate marital status data will severely hamper such an exercise.

Consider what data may exist within other parts of your business like your payroll. Your payroll data is validated almost monthly by the employee and the consequence of an error can result in incorrect tax calculations which will have very serious consequences for both the employee and the business. Therefore, often this database is more reliable for certain fields, as these fields are considered critical and are regularly updated.

Data validation and maintenance should guide and inform how you build your business technology solutions. A natural temptation may exist to include as many data fields as possible, but you need to consider who will maintain the fields, how frequently will they be validated and the consequence of holding (and using) incorrect data.

These guidelines certainly do not cover everything that needs to be considered, but in our view they are important fundamentals for any business seeking to digitise in the future.

To learn more about what kind of solutions Axiomatic Consultants can offer in this regard, please contact William Taggart on +27 11 305 1981 or william@axiomatic.co.za