Users are scared off by a term that suggests massive change and disruption, says Easy Software’s CEO Dieter Weisshaar. That helps no-one, so let’s re-focus on what a great IT project should really be all about instead
I’ve been working in the software industry since the 1990s. And until very recently, if you asked me what I did I would have said helped with the digitisation of business processes. But for some reason, ‘digitisation’ has become a hugely trendy and important term… so maybe I was wrong.
I’m now the CEO of an international software company whose main purpose is to put business models on a digital platform quickly. Thanks to our years of experience, existing processes are directly integrated and optimised through automation, we make digitisation easy. So if I am wrong – then I might be in trouble!
I have been thinking a lot about this issue, and I decided that I needed to go back to basics to work out what was happening here. There is a lot of confusion around the word ‘digitisation’ so I want to propose that the full digitisation of a business process would mean the elimination of any kind of manual intervention, and ending any disconnect between different IT systems by delivering 100% end-to-end process automation. I’d also expect to see a great and intuitive user experience being a major component of such a project.
Is digitisation just a development philosophy?
In fact, at my company, we now define a digitisation project as a ‘digital use case’. What do we mean by that? Well, we always start with asking any customer to describe the business issue they want to solve – almost always, to better serve its customers, partners and employees. Then, based on the outcome of that design thinking workshop, we use a special rapid prototyping approach to build with our software a solution to do just that for them.
Customers like that, as rapid prototyping allows us to work together in a very agile fashion – to design, build, test and redesign based on their immediate feedback. Within hours or days we can deploy a first prototype to the organisation – which, I have to say, is a very welcome change to the 1990s, for all of us.
To be sure, not every business problem may well be suited to this style of working. Organisations very committed to the older waterfall methodology or who want to develop heavy platforms tend to not get into the fast rhythm of design, build, test and redesign. But I now believe that rapid prototyping where you review all your ideas and are always prepared to be brave enough to throw away what has not worked is best.
But – is this digitisation? Maybe it’s just a development philosophy. Is that enough? Then I reflected that maybe digitisation is less about delivery and more about change. And done right, change requires yes, the right technology but the ability to shift your approach really nimbly. If it is – then I think agile is the right way to go to get there – that the route to digitisation success depends on rapid prototyping technology, an agile mindset and taking a truly 360-degree view on what you want to achieve.
The central place of an MVP mindset
But no matter what you do with such a project approach, what you never want to end up with is some standalone, beautiful thing that has nothing to do with what already exists in your environment. Your new digitisation project has to be able to connect to your existing IT infrastructure, without changing it. That both protects your significant existing investments, but also gives you all the value of a modern experience. I always recommend to integrate any digitisation project into your backend systems rather than trying to pick out one and adapt it for your new digitised process basis.
So I have decided that I was right in one way – that IT has always been about digitising processes. What I had missed: it was only doing that in the terms and capabilities it had at the time… and now, we can do so much more, and such a lot quicker – a combination that helps give customer value so much more deeply and sooner.
I’ve also learned that a successful digitisation strategy is a step-by-step one. You need to define one priority use case at a time, then move to deliver a ‘Minimal Viable Product’ to demonstrate its business value in a very short term and improve from there, rather than trying to change everything at once – spending huge budgets and so commissioning too long-running, and therefore very risky, projects.
So I say that to work a digital transformation can only really be successful if the sum of its steps make a difference to your business. And if a customer is struggling to identify where to best start, I always say, take the process where you can use technology to take the biggest amount of manual effort out and so provide the biggest, and most immediately visible, efficiency gain.
The new 80:20 digitisation rule?
As a final note: businesses often fear digitisation, because they think they need to change everything at a time, rather than celebrating recurrent small successes and not disrupting anything at all. But the most surprising thing people get wrong about a successful digitisation project – and are delighted by when they see it! – is that only 20% of the features provide 80% of the value.
Getting that 80% ratio is what you need to be focusing on – not a perfect 100%, as it is what creates most value and will give you the quickest results. Trying to achieve 100% on the first go-round will make your project overly complicated and, basically, designed to fail.
I think that I now know what digitisation is, should look like, and what it can give. And I’d love to see more customers out there getting to the same place I am – as that’s what IT, be it the 1990s or the 2020s, should be all about, surely?
The author is Chief Executive Officer of Easy Software, whose mission is to make everyday life of software users easier and more convenient using professional tools with visual outputs