5 of the Best Practices for Digitizing Business Processes

In today’s digital world, customers want it all. Conditioned by the innovations delivered by digitally disruptive startups, today’s consumers have come to expect every company they interact with to be able to offer them a quick, seamless and, above all, immediate digital experience, whether that’s seeing a real-time online report of their electricity consumption from their utilities provider or getting pre-approved for a bank loan in just a few clicks.

computer techFor most traditional organizations, revamping operations to meet these customer expectations doesn’t simply involve automating businesses processes, it involves reinventing them. Forward-thinking organizations are not just leveraging new technologies to perform existing business processes more efficiently, they are also challenging all assumptions about those existing processes and rebuilding them from the ground up with cutting-edge digital tools.

It’s not an easy task, but companies struggling with digital transformation can learn some valuable lessons from the way other organizations have successfully approached business process digitization. As outlined by McKinsey & Company, some of these best practices include the following:

  1. Working backwards

It might seem counterintuitive, but the end state is often the best place to start when it comes to reconfiguring and digitizing business processes. This is especially true for incumbents with long-established and firmly entrenched business processes; in such cases, it can be extremely difficult to imagine alternatives without becoming overwhelmed by the constraints that stand in the way of radical change.

However, by describing the desired future state first (without regard for current constraints, as if it were already accomplished), then working backwards, it becomes easier to visualize how one might complete each step. This method also helps encourage organizations to challenge existing constraints; some are certainly real and important, but others turn out to be less of an obstacle and more of a corporate myth that can be overcome fairly easily through discussions with regulators or customers.

  1. Tackling the customer experience end-to-end

customers shoppingSome organizations approach business process digitization gradually—testing the waters, as it were, by working on one particular stage of the customer experience at a time. However, while this can certainly boost efficiency in key areas and address some of the most urgent customer issues, this kind of segmented digitization will never be able to deliver the truly seamless experience that today’s customers demand.

Instead, it’s best for companies to approach these processes holistically, making a concerted effort to tackle them and see them through from end-to-end. Many organizations that have done this successfully have leveraged the support of startup-style, cross-functional units that bring diverse colleagues from different departments together to shake up the status quo and re-envision a process from all angles.

  1. Growing capabilities

Few traditional organizations are sufficiently equipped to handle the demands of large-scale digitization. With critical digital skills in short supply in today’s competitive marketplace, successful companies are pursuing two talent-development avenues simultaneously.

One is launching programs that emphasize building in-house capabilities, seeking out and providing additional training to existing employees, in any department, demonstrating a flair for working with digital processes. Another is adding to the current in-house skill set by recruiting new talent externally, particularly for key roles like data scientists or user-experience designers.

Even when process digitization is urgently needed, companies must not overlook the critical step of taking the time to assemble the right people to both oversee and execute the digitization of business processes. Companies that embark on digitization efforts without the right team in place will simply be wasting resources and likely causing damage to their processes (and consequently their reputations) from which it may be difficult to recover.

  1. Moving quickly

The days of traditional IT-intensive programs, where returns were delivered only at the very end of the project, sometimes years after it launches, are over. Rapid delivery is the new name of the game when it comes to digitization efforts. Fortunately, when organizations tackle end-to-end processes cohesively in an appropriate sequence, improved performance can result within just a few months.

One of the keys here is for organizations to recognize what obstacles are holding up process digitization; often, delays result not from IT-related issues, but from the typically slow pace of business decision-making. Part of moving quickly, therefore, involves garnering strong board- and executive-level buy-in to be able to delegate key decisions directly to the project team.

  1. Rolling in (not rolling out)

Traditional deployment involves progressively rolling out new solutions to existing sites and user teams. But when business processes, as well as the supporting organization, have been radically changed by digitization, a new approach is often needed.

Rather than spending time and energy on changing old habits and behaviors, many companies with newly digitized business processes simply roll in a new organizational unit altogether to handle the requirements of the new digital process. Existing employees can then be gradually transitioned into this unit as the volumes it handles likewise increase. Thus, by the time the new unit is handling all process volume, all legacy unit employees will have been absorbed.

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