COVER STORY OF THE MONTH
REAL TIME BUSINESS WITH DIGITAL
The value of real time business is more compelling today than it has ever been. The digital and mobile revolutions have resulted in customers getting most of their information through social networks that drive decisions that they take. From customer engagement to supply chain to even performance development, everything is getting under the lens to ensure that there better collaboration and engagement as a result of being able to make quick and effective decisions.
Retailers like Walmart and Tesco have developed just in time operations and transformed their supply chain. GE has taken a new approach to performance management in order to cultivate empowered and collaborative teams. According to some reports, rather than a once a year review, managers and their reports apparently hold informal touchpoints with their reports where conversations are meaningful and intended to coach rather than critique. In a one year time-frame, this has led to a five-fold increase in productivity. A simple, contemporary smartphone app, developed internally by one of the company’s top IT teams accepts voice and text inputs, attached documents, even handwritten notes. Twitter is growing as a real time news platform with most of the breaking news appearing on Twitter before any other channel. It is no surprise that Bloomberg has signed a deal with Twitter to offer its customers a live feed of curated tweets, alerts or activities that could signal a spike or other important chatter.
What does it mean to be a real time enterprise? For most enterprises this means not just “instantaneous”, but more about “right timing” – information available at the right time to the right user on the device of their choice, to conduct any business process with ease, accuracy and agility across its ecosystem. This not only means process re-orientation and automation, but also means that information needs to be current and consistent through-out the organization to be able to make quick decisions and predict stakeholder behavior and challenges before they occur. The benefits of a real time enterprise are many and translates across the organization. At the operational level, this means faster financial closings, agile supply chains, more productive employees, inventory minimization, cost reduction, better asset utilization etc. At the management level, this translates to digital dashboards for effective decision making and far more satisfied customers. The real time enterprise is likely to be a world where inventory tells us what and where they are, the machinery in a plant sends alerts for upcoming repairs of its parts, warehouses talk to each other, customer queries and issues are resolved with minimal latency and their requirements are predicted in advance that goes as an input to then product teams.
Real time business has been a reality for several industries including Oil & Gas, Financial Services and Retail, Travel & Transportation etc. and several companies (Shell, GE Energy, Walmart, P&G et al) have made significant strides in this area. Yet, close to two thirds global enterprises have yet to begin work in this area. The prospect of becoming a real time enterprise may seem daunting from the amount of change management that needs to be undertaken not only from a technology but also organization process standpoint.
Like all transformations, the shift to a real time enterprise needs a blueprint that encompasses elements of people, process, technology and change management and a focused leadership team to get it executed. To success in this journey, enterprises typically consider the following:
Defining end goals
What qualifies as real time differs by company and industry. This can only be best defined by the respective enterprise to determine what value they expect to derive vs. investments required. There is no right or wrong answer. Like all programs, it is important to prioritize based on the value that it can bring and its corresponding impact to their business goals. After all, such efforts are typically intended to solve real business problems for either internal or external stakeholders.
For instance when Starbucks rolled out a program to save energy in its stores, they wanted to achieve a goal of 25% reduction in energy and water use in its company owned stores. They wanted to tie this back in with a larger goal of delivering great customer experience that also went hand in hand with environmental performance. Starbucks employees would see real time stats about their store’s energy usage delivered via an online dashboard which in turn would be used to adjust work routines that will reduce the amount of energy.
Defining end goals is the first step and is a really critical one to deliver the blueprint well.
Defining the new process and related technologies that will support
Enterprises will need to re-evaluate their existing processes to eliminate or at least minimize redundancy and latency. This requires a cross section of business process owners in the company to brainstorm and arrive at the new approach. All delays in the process must be mapped and called out separately. As the process mapping takes place, it is important to evaluate technologies that will streamline the process and make it faster. The evaluation needs to be done based on a set of parameters including technical evaluation, understanding its application in live scenarios with multiple customers and its implications from a cost and ROI standpoint.
Handling change management
Like every large transformation, success is dependent on significant planning and meticulous execution. While the impact of the transformation happens across the front lines, it is important that the senior management has 100% commitment and involvement to make the change happen. It is important to clearly communicate goals, ensure buy-in from key executives and assign clear responsibilities to respective stakeholders to ensure that they not only adopt new systems but also new ways of working. It is also important that the enterprise creates a culture where its people are encouraged and feel empowered to take action based on the real time insights received. At the same time, the huge volumes of information can be quite overwhelming for stakeholders. It is therefore important for them to take a balanced view of all the information received and not make hasty decisions. It is important to continue to take cognizance of the pulse of the “market” where the decision maker knows for instance if the market is not yet mature to adopt the new products that they may propose.
The steps to becoming a real time enterprise is not a one shot, exclusive exercise that works in a linear manner. Like all major transformations, it will take multiple iterations and a series of steps, typically delivering small, incremental value before delivering the larger return over a period of time. Putting the building blocks together and continuously nurturing it over a period of time is essential to stay focused on this path. Clearly defining goals and success metrics, defining the new process and related technologies to support and managing the change well is critical in this journey to reach the eventual destination. Like a famous quote goes “The secret of getting ahead is getting started”. To be in the moment, it is time to challenge the older ways of doing things, and keep focused on delivering results by continuously innovating.