Doubtless, by now, you’ve seen and heard people frothing at the mouth in their fervor for digital transformation. If it’s not the buzzword of the decade, it’s certainly in the top ten. Automation is another contender for the top spot. But if both revolve around making business operations more efficient, what’s the difference, exactly?
Let’s dive in.
Digital Transformation or Automation – Is There a Difference?
While the terms “automation” and “digital transformation” are often used interchangeably, they have very different meanings. Automation involves applying technology to make processes run themselves, making those processes more efficient and increasing transparency and reporting capabilities. In short, automation is a means to an end, and the desired end is digital transformation.
Gartner argues that digital transformation requires not only making existing processes more efficient, but creating or unlocking new value for customers.
It’s true that customer expectations are constantly evolving apace with emerging technologies, and that businesses are largely adopting digital transformation in an attempt to continue to meet those expectations.
However, this is a somewhat limited view of digital transformation, as it excludes any benefits of digital transformation that don’t directly benefit the customer, such as transforming company culture by giving employees greater job satisfaction by allowing them to focus on more interesting projects than repetitive administrative tasks.
So What Is Digital Transformation?
Digital transformation is the practice of using technology to radically change your business to pursue new revenue streams and business models and to avoid disruption.
Digital transformation involves more than simply moving everything to the cloud and adopting a variety of digital processes. According to George Westerman, author of Leading Digital: Turning Technology Into Business Transformation, digital transformation involves a “radical rethinking of how an organization uses technology, people and processes to fundamentally change business performance.”
Digital transformation is not an isolated IT project. Instead, it’s the combination of numerous projects that transform every aspect of your organization to be digital-first.
Let’s look at some of the ways this can play out:
- Upgrading your underlying technology (renovating or replacing legacy systems)
- Shifting the way you serve your customers (increasingly via mobile or across multiple different channels),
- Automating your processes for greater efficiency, and
- Integrating with third parties to deliver better customer experiences.
True digital transformation is about leveraging all the digital tools at your disposal – including automation and data analytics capabilities – to fundamentally transform how your business operates and makes decisions.
This includes fostering a culture of innovation and continuously iterating your offerings and even business model to deliver the best version of your product possible, not only for your business but for your industry.
Successful digital transformation is proactive instead of responsive: it is the territory of businesses leading the charge in their industry, not simply responding to disruption.
The businesses that are always cited as frontrunners of digital transformation are companies like Netflix and Uber that completely disrupted their industries by using the technology and data available to them to reimagine their products and address customer needs the customers didn’t even know they had.
To stand a chance of doing the same thing in your own industry – even on a smaller scale – you need to have your finger on the pulse of your organization and your customer relationships, for which the insight offered by data analytics is indispensable.
Process Automation is the Key to Digital Transformation
Process automation is a necessary step towards digital transformation. Implementing and socializing automation across the entire business means that entire teams benefit from newly efficient workflow, not just IT.
Automating day-to-day workflows lies at the heart of successful digital transformation. If your organization does not already have a workflow automation platform, it’s advisable to start looking into one now.
Using such a platform, you can digitize forms for employees and customers and automate your routine processes and measure their effectiveness. With this data, you can reduce pain points to drive genuine change and improve business performance in myriad ways.
Without workflow automation, you’re still dealing with manual processes, in which case the threat of being disrupted and becoming irrelevant is a real one.
If your higher education institution is still heavily reliant on paper-based documentation and manual data entry, you can bet some of your competitors have already automated these processes and are offering their customers better value through faster processing times and better communication.
While optimizing the way work is done to improve productivity and efficiency is desirable in itself, for best results, your process automation should align with a broader business strategy.
What are you hoping to achieve through automation? How will automation add value for your customers? Can you take it a step further and deliver value that truly differentiates you from your competitors or changes the parameters of your industry completely?
Here are a few ways automation can help to set you on the path to true digital transformation:
Deliver World Class Customer Service
Over-delivering on customer service is the single most important thing you can do to increase revenue. If you don’t, today’s consumers will quickly move on to the competition.
Today’s customers are accustomed to being able to interact with organizations online at any time. If they need some information from your company and it’s only available during business hours, they’ll be frustrated and feel inconvenienced. Automation ensures that your customers have a smooth experience by enabling them to access information when they need it.
When employees are wasting time performing manual tasks like chasing down internal approvals, they have less time to focus on providing excellent customer service, whereas automated approvals free up their time so it can be invested into what’s important: customers, students and patients.
Increase Efficiency and Accuracy so Employees Can Focus on Work That Matters
Automation can enable you to accelerate operations significantly while also reducing errors by taking over all the repetitive manual tasks previously performed by people. With increased efficiency comes increased capacity, making it easier to scale operations as you grow.
What might the transformed, modern business application look like? It will undoubtedly:
- Automate forms and workflows so there’s no need to print, sign and scan.
- Integrate systems and databases to reduce tedious manual data entry.
- Intelligently route documents to the right person at the right time to ensure that business constraints are satisfied.
- Automatically support all mobile devices and speed up the approval process by providing 24/7 access from anywhere.
More Rewarding Work, Better Workplace Culture
Automation frees your people to perform more challenging or creative tasks, which is ultimately more rewarding and makes for more satisfied and engaged employees. When your staff is engaged, they care more about the work they do, which translates into business success.
You can also make your developers’ lives easier by using a workflow automation solution with a visual and low-code approach, allowing you to provide business functionality in web-apps and spread that development out among more people – the “citizen developers” in your organization. This, in turn, eases pressure on IT teams, freeing them up to focus on more important business needs.
Facilitate Teamwork by Breaking Down Silos
Integrated automated workflows can bridge gaps and break down silos to promote collaboration between different teams and parts of the business, facilitating cross-functional cooperation.
By exposing your employees to different functions, you allow them to get greater insight into the business as a whole, creating a climate favorable to innovation.
With a process automation solution with the right integration capabilities, you can automate workflows between diverse functions such as marketing, customer relationship management, sales, support, and finance.
Improve Transparency and Strategic Oversight
When you automate business processes, you gain access to an abundance of data that you didn’t necessarily track before. This offers increased visibility into which processes are successful and which ones could be further optimized.
Analyzing all this data also allows for better strategic positioning and risk assessment, allowing you to get ahead of the curve and develop value propositions that live up to the promise of digital transformation.
Boost Security and Compliance
Automation can contribute to security and compliance in a number of ways. In a recent RedHat survey, 47% of businesses said that improving security and compliance were primary drivers for implementing automation tools.
Automation makes it easier to identify vulnerabilities and roll out fixes, empowering businesses to be proactive and address vulnerabilities before breaches occur. Intelligent software can also learn what constitutes normal usage and automatically detect risks such as security policy violations.
Automation can help you to trim the fat, so to speak. By digitalizing and automating processes like data entry, document management, finance processes, and approval workflows, you not only save hundreds of hours, you also save money by reducing waste – including but not limited to hundreds or thousands of reams of paper and ink cartridges saved by going paperless.
While automation in itself does not equate to digital transformation, it’s a pivotal part of the process.
Meet Your Customers at their Preferred Channel
In response, 84 percent of companies that identify as “customer-centric” are now focusing on the mobile customer experience. Moreover, businesses have ramped up investment in omnichannel experiences, with the number of companies making this shift jumping from 20 percent to 80 percent, according to a 2020 PWC report.
Mobile apps are no longer the answer. Aside from being expensive and time-consuming to build, consumers no longer want an app for everything. In fact, 61 percent of consumers will not download an app to communicate with a business.
It’s crucial that customers can reach your business via mobile regardless of the mobile browser they use. Luckily, it’s increasingly easy to make your website mobile responsive, and workflow automation systems like frevvo allow you to create forms that are already optimized for mobile display.
Make Your Business More Agile
Automation empowers your organization to react rapidly to changing business conditions. Consider two key capabilities:
Enable employees to do the right thing at the right time. This means reducing business complexity (stop wasting time on paperwork, errors, missing signatures, etc.), improving employee efficiency (let them work any time, anywhere and using any device), and promoting collaboration (access to people and information from anywhere, as needed).
Faster rollout of new business initiatives as business conditions change, e.g. introduce a new product offering or modify internal processes to quickly satisfy changed customer demands – even something as simple as enabling customers to confirm their identity by taking a selfie while holding an identity document.
Both of these capabilities offer a significant competitive advantage, which is, after all, the ultimate aim of digital transformation.
Key Business Workflows to Automate for Digital Transformation Success
As we’ve seen, automation can play a key role in your digital transformation journey by streamlining and optimizing operations, promoting collaboration, granting greater oversight and generally helping to create a climate conducive to innovation.
Let’s look at a few key processes you should consider automating to set your business up for digital transformation:
Whether you’re onboarding a single new employee, a new customer, or a class of students, automating your onboarding processes can have a profound impact on the ease and speed with which you’re able to bring them into the fold, which plays an important role in making a good first impression.
Automating key finance processes such as accounts payable and receivable can improve your cash flow, but more importantly, it frees up your finance team’s time to allow them to do the analytical work you hired them to do. Finance professionals can play a vital role in business transformation, so it’s really in your company’s best interest to improve your finance processes and let them do their thing.
Streamlining HR procedures with workflow automation tools such as dynamic forms and document management software not only makes HR’s job easier but also saves time, which they can use to attract and retain world class talent. Not only that, but automation can also ensure compliance with regulation and improve data privacy and security, which is essential when dealing with sensitive information. Moreover, with interdepartmental workflow integration, orchestrating tasks like training and certification becomes much easier.
Processes that involve multiple approval stages can be made far simpler by automating the routing to ensure that nobody needs to run around chasing down supervisors for signatures. Automated reminders can reduce bottlenecks and notifications help to keep various parties in the loop about the status of the request, while responsive forms make it easy for supervisors to respond to requests on the go.
frevvo’s business process automation tools are the first step on your journey to digital transformation.