When is it too late to embrace digital?
When is it too late to move from using paper-based systems or old-fashioned unconnected databases or spreadsheets, to something much more modern?
This is something I was asked on a call this week and the short answer is: Never. You can always benefit from making this transition, provided the time required to digitalise (which, these days, should be extremely low) is less than the remaining life of the asset or business, or duration of the project.
You can stop reading right there if that’s all you wanted to know.
However, if you have the time and the inclination, I can give you a little more insight. Let me take you on a little bit of a detour; the “scenic route” to the answer, if you will. It will involve some anecdotes and asking you to imagine you own a lemonade stand, so you know, don’t let anyone say I just stick to the dry stuff here folks.
Don’t be scared
If there’s one thing, I hate it’s fear-based-anything.
Many, many years ago, when I was a young manager early on in my career at a large engineering company, we were subject to regular audits. The way I used to set the scene with my team was to emphasise that this was an opportunity for us to demonstrate our strengths, but more importantly to understand areas where we could improve ahead of the next audit.
As you might imagine when audit time came my team quite enjoyed it. It was a way to benchmark how we were doing and highlight any way we could improve for the future.
Meanwhile there was another team whose stress levels were noticeably high around the office, with their distress palpable for all.
It wasn’t until afterwards I found out why: It turns out their manager took a different approach to prepare the team for the audit. Instead of reassuring, they stressed to their team that any areas of weakness were a major failing, that they would be held individually responsible, and that anything less than perfection would result in repercussions.
The latter is an example of fear-based leadership (and I did my best to confront it wherever I saw it, as I still do), but there’s fear-based sales too. You know the type “If you don’t do this now….” Etc etc and it really turns me off.
With that in mind, let me set out a few principles:
- You don’t HAVE to digitalise (but you probably should, and I’ll explain why…)
- If you can digitalise early, you should, as you’ll achieve more value over the life of the project, asset, or business. However, if you’ve left it late you’ve got the opportunity to transform the way you work, so don’t panic!
- Whatever progress you’ve made towards improving your processes and procedures already will make things easier and whatever parts are unoptimized can be examined and improved as part of your digitalisation journey. Be proud of the capacity to improve that you’ve already shown and use that as encouragement for the future.
Hopefully that’s reassured you a little, and you’re not throwing up in the bathroom. Now let’s walk through some scenarios that correspond to those principles above.
Scenario 1: Keeping it old-fashioned!
Could there be a scenario where there’s really no point in updating to a more modern way of working? The answer is yes, but you should be aware that the scope for that to be a viable way to do business is decreasing every day.
Let’s imagine a very simple business model that would likely see little to no benefit from embracing interconnected systems and automated digital workflows: A lemonade stand!
Imagine a street with two lemonade stands on it: Old-Fashioned Lemonade and Lemons.biz, and let’s assume that both serve a product that is equally as good as the other, and both can buy their ingredients at the same price.
As you might guess from the names, the proprietor of Old-Fashioned keeps things traditional. They buy a whole bunch of lemons from the store. They take cash for each glass of juice they sell and write down the receipts. At the end of the day, they check if they have enough left for tomorrow, and go buy more if they need to.
On the other hand, Lemons.biz has a contactless phone-friendly EFTPOS (Electronic funds transfer at point of sale; it’s the thing you tap/insert your credit or debit card into when you’re paying for something) connected to their inventory management system which interfaces with their SaaS (software as a service) accounting solution and their lemon vendors ordering system. Every sale automatically updates their account and depletes their inventory. And if the inventory is too low it places a next-day delivery order for the vendor.
Lemons.biz definitely has a slicker operation, but does Old-Fashioned need to embrace this kind of digitalised workflow in order to remain in business? I’d say no, with one exception: Accepting contactless card and phone payments (or at least card payments in general) is pretty critical these days.
Aside from that, I can’t see a reason why Old-Fashioned couldn’t continue to operate successfully without changing much else, provided costs and tastes don’t change. I mean we’re talking about a lemonade stand after all.
The problem is, even when we scale up just a little bit, we would expect to see problems occur. Imagine a small corner store with no automated stock management and only hand accounting. Those places do exist, but there’s no doubt they could operate more efficiently, with fewer headaches and less chance of a shortage of goods if they modernised the way they operated.
There’s always going to be a benefit to digitalisation. It’s true that the earlier you do it, the more overall benefit you’ll see (it’s a bit like compound interest in that regard, the longer you save for the more growth you’ll see) but that doesn’t mean you should right off doing it later, and in fact the impact might be more profound.
Scenario 2: Leaving it late.
Imagine if you lived in a supremely cluttered room, piled high with boxes, with a broken window that’s been boarded up, a single, dusty light bulb omitting a dull glow over the only furniture that’ll fit: A folding chair
Now imagine one day you decide enough is enough. A moving company has come in and removed all those boxes so there’s space to move around (there’s even some cupboards that you didn’t know were there!), the whole place has been cleaned, the furniture replaced with top of the line ergonomic equipment designed for your comfort, and the broken window has been fixed allowing natural light to illuminate the whole place. You can see clearly and work comfortably, and with all that space, you can organise so much better!
Feels good, right? That’s what digitalisation can do for you.
Suddenly you have light to see, and room to rearrange and manoeuvre. You’re happier, more productive, and more agile.
Imagine that was the way you worked – more time and more mental bandwidth to think creatively. Less time spent on searching for and collating information.
Of course, moving some boxes and fixing a window is pretty small-scale stuff but here’s the thing: Digitalising the way you work doesn’t have to be hard either! It can seem overwhelming, and you might not be sure where to start, or worried that you might end up stuck with software that’s hard to use and even harder to understand, but none of that must be the case.
These days there are solutions (such as our very own AssetHive Intelligent Data Hub) that take all the hard work out of the whole process. You just drop it in, configure it (and we can help with that if it’s easier) and away you go: Send, receive, convert and organise information from your existing sources (whether they’re databases, spreadsheets, documents, data lakes, hardware sensors, smart devices or pretty much anything else you can think of), set up automatic actions, notifications and reports to work the way you want, with the processes you use and the tools you’re familiar with.
And it works for scenarios from small business up to global heavy industry, with a price to match.
Scenario 3: Keeping the baby and some of the bathwater
I’m always conscious when I write these articles (and I’ve written a lot over the years) about using phrases that are common in English but might be unfamiliar for those who aren’t native speakers. There’s a saying “Throwing the baby out with the bathwater” which basically means throwing away everything (good and bad) when making a change. It’s pretty appropriate when it comes to digitalisation, but it should be avoided at all costs.
If you are working in a mature business, project or asset, it’s likely you’ve got established ways of doing things, and over time you’ve improved those. That’s good! Don’t sacrifice those on the alter of technology just so you can say you’re doing things in a more modern way. Find software and partners that support the strength and individuality in what you offer, and how you offer it.
But at the same time keep an open mind – as you look to make the transition to newer ways of working, examine how you do business and where there might be opportunities to change not just the tools or processes you use, but the sequence that events occur in, and the people involved at each stage.
Use this as an opportunity to bring together people from across your organisation (whether you’re a small team or a multi-national) at all levels and discuss what works well and what doesn’t! Maybe you’ll find some unexpected insights, or alternatively be reassured that you already had a good grasp of what was going well and not so well!
Either way you’ll be armed with a list of where your strengths and opportunities for improvement lie, and you can work through this within your organisation and with any partners or providers that will help you to take your business to a new level of success.
Don’t fear digitalisation.
It’s never too late to update the way you work to embrace innovative technologies, and it provides an opportunity to revisit how you work at present and how you’d like to work in future. Look at where your strengths lie, and the improvements you’ve already made. Take pride in those and don’t work with people or organisations that insist on change for the sake of change (or the sake of their bank account instead of yours!)
Digitalisation doesn’t have to be hard.
At Silverhorse we work with companies of all sizes, and at all stages of their own journeys, every day. We support them in making the transition to a more efficient future, and we do it by understanding how they work and how we can help them seamlessly move to a digital future, without disrupting their existing strengths, or requiring they change the existing tools and process that have supported their success so far.
Our clients have made the change (and their results speak for themselves), your organisation can too!