How to digitalize your firm

Matthew Li

Matthew Li FCPA (practising), Co-founder of NOVA CPA Limited, on how firms can successfully plan and kickstart their digitalization journey

“Information is the oil of the 21st century, and analytics is the combustion engine,” said Peter Sondergaard, former executive vice president of Gartner.

Data is the “fuel” for analytics, but just like oil, it needs to be refined. Artificial intelligence (AI) and cloud-based digital technologies can unlock and transform data into valuable business information and opportunities.

Cloud is the backbone of digital data and analytics. A cloud architecture built out of cloud-based services and automation enables firms to access digital insights in the fast-moving digital market. Cloud also offers benefits such as protecting stored data by saving multiple backups in a distributed system, while also allowing different teams to work and access the same data, hence increasing productivity and streamlining business processes.

AI is one of the main enablers of a successful digital transformation. AI provides real-time data visualization and analytics, which highlights the most critical business insights, patterns and anomalies across multiple data sources, facilitating better and faster decision-making. In the work environment, AI also allows us to work more efficiently, reduce human errors and automate processes such as repetitive work, create chatbots that can simulate human conversations, answer questions or even personalize the customer experience.

The starting point of a digital journey

Incorporating a design thinking philosophy, or a human-centred problem-solving approach, in strategy and risk analysis is fundamental to building a successful digital business model. It is a thought process that uses “sensibility and methods to match people’s needs with what is technologically feasible and what a viable business strategy can convert into customer value and market opportunity,” according to Tim Brown, Chair of IDEO, a design and consulting company. You can start by putting together a template or “canvas” to identify what needs to be done. The following can help business owners and management to better visualize the design thinking process:

  • A context map canvas: Analyse external factors such as trends, uncertainties and competition that could shape your business now or in the future.
  • A business model canvas: Identify your existing business model in a straightforward, structured way. It can also be used to understand the business model of your competitors.
  • A bold steps vision canvas: Come up with a new vision based on the design thinking method discussed above and the steps to achieve that vision. Additionally, you can identify the resources that support or challenge your vision.

Identify digital solutions that best fits your business needs

Companies must keep in mind that there are no perfect solutions or one-size-fits-all approaches to technology adoption. However, effective adoption processes can improve time-to-competency, thereby increasing agility in the digital market. The following steps will help you develop a plan that best fits your scenario:

  • Identify the areas of improvement in each business unit;
  • Select three of the most relevant solutions to compare (filter by functionality and pricing);
  • Research user reviews online;
  • Run initial free trials of the proposed solutions and review their compatibility with the existing or future ecosystems;
  • Conduct user acceptance testing with real case data; and
  • Hold a feedback meeting with management and front-end teams to go over the results from the tests.

Because digital integration provides organized data collection a single source of truth that aggregates data from multiple systems to a single location, businesses that are considering building a cloud ecosystem should also factor in how well the solution can be integrated into their systems.

Overcome resistance and effectively implement change

To address any concerns among employees about the possibility of being replaced by technology, it is crucial to get all levels of staff involved in the early planning stages of a digital transformation journey. Letting managers at all levels be open about the transition can help employees understand and be involved in the cultural and organizational changes that digital transformation requires. Management should outline and lead the company through its digital strategy, and actively participate in discussions to provide feedback and ensure the goals and vision of the company are transparent. All in all, time, effort and motivation will reinforce the acceptance of change and emphasize each employee’s value throughout this transition.

Additionally, companies may consider seeking external consultants to speed up their digital journey. Experienced consultancies can not only provide insights based on their expertise in different industries, but also put forward the industry latest solutions that may fit your business needs and eliminate the trial and error process.

Maintain momentum for future-readiness and grow

People should be at the centre of any digital transformation strategy. They will always be the greatest asset of your company, therefore it is crucial to nurture them through regular training. For example, you can encourage them to acquire online certifications to update their digital skill set, support them by sponsoring their education and attainment of professional qualifications, and also arrange for industry professionals to share insights through talks.

Culture is another driving force of a company. Speed matters in the digital world, and the lack of a trial and error culture is the greatest obstacle when it comes to innovation. The trial and error culture, which a lot of tech giants incorporate, is when a company is willing to take risks, learn from failures, request and give feedback in order to react faster to the market. Such culture calls for an environment that is tech-savvy, open minded, and hierarchy free with decentralized decision-making.

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