At last month’s #EMPOWER2016, the QuickBase user conference held in Nashville, TN, QuickBase senior product marketing manager Mariana St.Germain sat down with three customers to discuss their vision, strategy, and lessons learned for the emerging field of digital operations.
Digital transformation is all about creating business value through new operating models, or innovation enabled by technology. Analyst firm IDC recently found that 64 percent of companies have just begun their digital transformation journeys, while 14 percent are digital transformers and 8 percent are digital disruptors.
We had the opportunity to meet three digital transformation experts addressing this trend through three different lenses. Here’s a recap of Mariana St.Germain’s conversation with Tim Gullett, program manager, OSF Healthcare; Jonathan Heuer, co-founder of HomeSquare; and Leanne Snoeck, information systems strategist, Complex Media.
Tim works in the portfolio management office at OSF Healthcare, a 17,000 employee company that manages hospitals in Illinois and Michigan. Jonathan recently founded a small home maintenance and renovation firm that services New York and Connecticut, while Leanne manages digital operations for Complex, a media company focusing on young male culture.
What is digital transformation like at your organization today? How do you see it evolving?
Jonathan: We were born as a digital company that aims to bring better services and tools to an analogue industry that’s being dragged kicking and screaming into the digital age. Our evolution is one of continuous education, because while home owners may be accustomed to ordering hotels on their phones, they typically don’t do home maintenance that way. We may want to fully embrace digital operations, but we recognize the need to meet customers where they are.
Leanne: We launched a startup 10 years ago and are now moving into adolescence. We are building an ERP system now that involves the whole business and multiple workflows. Our goal is to get everyone on the same platform using the same reliable data, with connected and automated workflows and processes.
Tim: The electronic record system we initiated 10 years ago is mostly mature and we are just beginning the digital transformation journey with performance management. We’ve come a long way from 11 hospitals each having their own systems and documenting everything on a spreadsheet. We continue to strive to collaborate transparently, and eventually want to use digital processes to share all successes, lessons learned, and financial and business data that help our leaders make strategic decisions.
Digital operations, in which companies leverage technology to organize operations in innovative and frictionless ways, from orders to the supply chain, are at the heart of digital transformation. What do digital operations mean for you?
Tim: For us, it’s operating in one seamless environment from the conceptual birth of an idea to tracking that idea’s outcome. We take all of our processes into one shared platform, and can see who has touched what at every stage. We are moving digital operations into other divisions of our company, including business development and marketing. Eventually, they will be fully integrated across the company.
Leanne: It’s impossible to develop something without a process aligned to it, and digital operations helps us pair business needs with the right technology. We can rely on the data in our system to make informed choices about strategy and how to move in the marketplace.
Jonathan: When a business problem comes up, citizen developers become mini product managers and solve it very quickly, often with only 1-2 people. We’ll continue to empower business people to solve their own problems in our business and in the future we will employ next-gen computing, natural language processing and image recognition to do so. We also anticipate a greater use of mobile to push more functionality to the field.
What was your organization like before digital transformation? What risks did you face if you did not start the journey? What benefits have you recognized since?
Leanne: There were few processes in place and we tracked everything in email. As the company grew, we couldn’t manage all the data and reconcile financials every week. People were comfortable doing work the way they wanted to do it, and getting them to conform to a new system was a challenge.
Tim: Our business consisted of a lot of meetings, phone calls, miscommunication, and duplication of work. Healthcare costs a lot of money. We’re a nonprofit trying to reduce costs, and digital transformation allows us to pass on significant savings to patients.
Jonathan: Home ownership can be frustrating. We want to have long-term relationships with both our employees and customers so that when something goes wrong, we’ll be there to answer. Digital transformation provides the tools to address inefficiencies in our industry, deliver better service, and make a profit at the same time.
How do you select technology for digital operations?
Jonathan: I want to know the answer to three questions. 1) What does it integrate with? 2) Does it work on mobile? 3) Will the solution be around for a long time? Just as the Evernote CEO recently said: “I want to create a 100 year company,” I want to put my stuff somewhere and be able to rely on it forever.
Leanne: For us, QuickBase is now the main highway that connects to various systems. If a program can talk to and integrate with QuickBase, it will probably work for Complex. Also, because my issues are not simple, I look for vendors that are focused on enhancing the product set and having great customer service.
Tim: Budget is a big one. The level of required integration is important as well. Finally, I’ll consider the program’s flexibility and if the department in question has the right skills to take it on. I look for simplicity: cool features aren’t always functional. I need something easy to navigate and train people on.
The Holy Grail of digital transformation is process excellence. How do you drive it with digital operations?
Tim: Process excellence has mainly been achieved by taking a bunch of siloed processes and integrating them onto a single platform.
— Alex Forbes (@AlexNForbes) June 9, 2016
Leanne: Digital transformation has allowed us to open up and restructure our business so that my team serves as the central communicator between different groups. We continue to work toward process excellence by meeting with each group and assessing what would make each process better. A continuous feedback loop is essential to determine what’s working and what isn’t.
Jonathan: Process excellence is a work in progress as we continue to have some non-excellent processes. A lot of our employees are construction workers who aren’t particularly tech-savvy. To them, a hammer is a hammer and they see no reason to add a button to that hammer. Their feedback is critical to our process and they don’t always understand that.
— Alex Forbes (@AlexNForbes) May 12, 2016
What best practices would you share?
Jonathan: Recognize that IT is not that stupid and has a lot to teach us. Testing is a good thing. Also, document your application development, writing comments in formula fields about what you’re trying to do and why.
Leanne: Formalize and document ad hoc processes for the benefit of the company as well as the application. Understand what’s happening both inside and outside the system.
Tim: Have the right subject matter experts on hand and understand security issues before you jump in!
How do you get your constituents to adopt a new tool?
Jonathan: Deliver something that solves a pain, build on it iteratively, and solve part of the problem immediately. Take advantage of the viral effects of one employee using it and another saying, “Hey, I want to do that!” Look for low hanging fruit: you don’t always need to do a big, custom-built application to address a problem.
Leanne: Train in groups because people often have great ideas that bounce off each other. Watch users as they play with the tool and work in it, because that’s when the best questions will come up. Pre-emptively schedule follow-up trainings, and be patient!
Tim: Prepare presentations in which you show executives the value of using the new tool and what they are getting in return. Whenever you can demonstrate how great you are at providing positive outcomes for the organization, that’s going to drive adoption.