Three Tips For Equitable Digital Transformation
October 4, 2021
As companies increasingly embrace technology, they're frequently adding new systems and processes on top of existing ones. Attempting to better use the latest technology available is a move in the right direction for any organization, but the technology stack often grows upwards in a couple of areas rather than outwards to touch all parts of the business. That's where problems arise.
Unfortunately, the fastest function among a group of intertwined processes does not act as a rising tide to lift all ships. Rather, the differing pace complicates how various functions mesh together, which in turn creates red tape to ensure that departments can work together given their varying velocity of activity. This makes it critical for enterprises to ensure they're positioning all elements of their business to leverage technology as part of their success instead of allowing technology to grow in some areas and remain stagnant in others. Building up technology infrastructure across the board allows businesses to cut the cumbersome red tape and create a more efficient, truly digitally transformed company.
Product Development And Supply Chain Disparities
I've spent my career facilitating the electronics supply chain and have seen firsthand how the differing speed of various activities within product development can gum up the proverbial machine. Today, ideation and design phases have largely adopted technology as part of their workflows, but once we move to actually building those products, many elements of the process are shockingly manual.
Take new product introduction (NPI) and production phases. Once in this phase of the product journey, businesses need the necessary parts to begin manufacturing. In the electronics industry, however, purchasing and procurement are still largely relationship-based, and deals are done over the phone and via email while being tracked in spreadsheets. The lack of technology and tools given to the people executing these buys not only limits the market intelligence they have access to, but it creates bottlenecks leading to lengthy negotiation periods that trickle down to other teams. This lack of basic, seemingly simple technology creates an uneven playing field that requires other teams to append additional processes to keep everyone working at the same pace at the expense of maximizing potential productivity.
Three Tips For Equitable Digital Transformation
1. Avoid myopia. While you need to start somewhere, it's easy to get caught up in one function, and before you know it, that area is operating in 2025 while those around it are in 2005 — an unsustainable balance that only leads to frustration from all parties. Nobody will be more attuned to which teams are receiving more technological help than the other teams in the workflow that may feel like they're not being given the same resources. Gather feedback from those teams' leaders on how they feel they're fitting into the grand scheme of your digital transformation, and they'll let you know if you're becoming too focused on one group.
2. Measure twice, cut once. Start at the end by considering the result you're hoping to achieve. Mentally run through all the steps and players that will be impacted by what it takes to get there and evaluate the best way to equitably improve each of their workflows. Only when you've looked at it from all angles and gathered criticism and advice from the key stakeholders should you start enacting your plan. Not only does this ease the stress of uneven tech adoption, but it creates more seamless workflows within your organization and puts you in a better place to continue to grow your tech stack.
3. Transformation is a continuous process. Despite best efforts, it's impossible to build up technology across functions at the exact same pace; some will be faster or slower, and some teams will need more or less time to learn and adjust. Instead of trying to be perfect, embrace the process and ongoing effort of transformation. "Red tape" has a negative connotation because it too often becomes permanent. Instead, embrace a "yellow tape" philosophy that says "under construction" or "proceed with caution." In practice, this means letting others know that a given team is working with a new technology or may not have a given tool up and running yet, so build in some leeway and adjust expectations — but know that this isn't forever.
While tech is crucial to business in the modern world, it must be implemented evenly, and the process of doing so must be communicated well. Otherwise, it can have the negative effect of raising parts of the business that have access to it while depressing those that don't. Not only does this create uneven workflows but also inefficiencies and even company culture issues. With planning and care, however, businesses can build a tech stack that creates an operationally unified business.