How digital transformation can create efficiencies and reduce costs

Digital transformation is helping companies automate and integrate connections to their stakeholders, including customers, partners, vendors and employees.

“Historically, when people talked about technology, it was for technology’s sake,” says Mike McClaine, CEO of Aspirant, a partner of MILHEM DTL, led by Ray Milhem. “But at some point, people realized you need to go beyond technology to put processes in place to actually help the business. It starts with a business problem and looking at what you need to do to solve it, using technology to make something easier and more efficient.”

Smart Business spoke with McClaine about how digital transformation can reduce costs, improve engagement and create efficiencies at your business.

How does a company begin digital transformation?

It starts with a business and its leaders working with an expert to identify a company’s individual problem or challenge and then working to craft a custom solution. But the solution is not solely the technology.

Often, it’s more about processes. It’s critical to include leaders with a clear view of strategic direction and ROI into the process to create a roadmap based on true business value. Companies often have the internal understanding of the business and where they want to go but working with an outside expert can help companies better define business and help create a solution to drive your business to success.

Most of the changes we are currently seeing related to implementing technology and processes to allow for remote work during the pandemic, could have happened five to 10 years ago. But until now, many senior leaders have been resistant to remote work, wanting to see people in their seats in the office. The pandemic has changed the view of CEOs as they realize that employees can work at home and be productive, and sometimes even more efficient.

Businesses are also changing views on whether they truly need 30 floors of office space and realizing that letting it go will free up capital. COVID-19 has taken away the resistance to digital transformation in a virtual environment.

How important is setting clearly defined goals in the process?

Digital transformation is a buzzword that people throw around, but it comes back to understanding what the business challenge is and how people use processes and technology to navigate that challenge. An approach that puts technology first simply does not work.

It’s critical to understand your KPIs and have a clear vision of what you are trying to accomplish with technology to hit your goals. Otherwise, you are going to spend a lot of time, effort and money implementing technology without really getting any value, or even ending up with a solution that is worse than you started with.

Then you need to step beyond the technology. With digital transformation, change management is really vital to bringing people on board. Often people, especially at the middle manager level, will be resistant to change, feeling that they’ve always done things one way and it’s worked just fine. They are often not interested in making changes, so you need to talk about the why, explain the bigger pictures and the things that will be gained, such as corporate efficiencies or better customer service.

Why is change management critical?

Change management is the most underappreciated aspect of digital transformation, as it is intangible. People can understand the cost of something and understand wanting to cut expenses, but it’s not easy to convince them to undertake a major initiative that they can’t easily understand.

Helping them understand the transformation through change management is critical. A real practitioner of change management can be critical to your success and help you manage people and teams from initial awareness to the point of active contribution.

Insights Digital Transformation is brought to you by MILHEM DTL

A digital transformation can help drive your company forward

As companies undergo digital transformation, they are becoming more effective, efficient and productive and are delivering an improved user experience.

“Digital transformation creates a roadmap for the evolution of innovation inside a business,” says Jay Srage, managing director of Dubai-based Centrigent, a partner of Pittsburgh’s Milhem DTL, led by Ray Milhem. “That innovation, enabled by advanced technologies, drives efficiencies, optimizes activities, and creates a better consumer and business experience. That directly leads to growth of the top and bottom lines.”

Smart Business spoke with Srage about how implementing advanced technologies like AI, cloud and data science can transform your business, and why trying to go it alone can result in failure.

How does a business start its digital transformation?

Many companies are mandated by their customers, competition, market dynamics, or even by governments, to digitally transform to create the foundational elements of smart cities, smart industries, smart economies and smart governments. For the most part, established legacy companies that have been doing business the same way for a long time don’t have the technical capability to integrate digital solutions into their operations. Establishing a digital business unit has proven to be a risky and costly proposition due to cultural integration issues. An outside expert can help a company understand what transformation is and they can work together on its implementation.

Businesses must understand digital transformation is not a one-time event, such as opening an e-commerce store, or marketing online. Too many companies see it as a single event and, as a result and without expert guidance, 70 percent of attempts end in failure. Too many companies want change to happen overnight. Digital transformation is a gradual evolution of a company’s business model and a journey of continuous self and process improvements.

A manufacturer, for example, might focus on efficiencies. An expert can help you look at the objectives you want to achieve. Do you want to increase the productivity of staff? Reduce costs? Simplify processes? An expert can assess the best action plan one piece at a time, then use the available tools and technologies to achieve those objectives.

What roadblocks do companies face, and how can they overcome them?

A major roadblock is resistance, especially among middle managers. In general, executive management is eager to show customers and shareholders they are adapting to a changing market and driving shareholder value. Training and coaching are key, working with experts to implement the cultural change necessary to succeed. Cultural change is often difficult to implement and sustain, but when done in gradual steps that do not cause shock to the system, a company can build a strong foundation for a sustainable transformation.

It’s tricky getting middle management to support digital transformation. You may meet resistance among employees who say, let’s not fix what’s not broken. They question the motivation behind the transformation, and whether that threatens their job, power, or size of their teams. It takes substantial coaching, consulting and training to help them understand how this transformation will make their lives better, their jobs more efficient and improve processes.

How can companies benefit by working with experts with international partnerships?

With digital transformation, there are multiple products and solutions, and there must be an ecosystem to bring all of those elements together.
Your expert adviser almost becomes a company co-leader, and when it works with international partners, their cross knowledge better identifies solutions. That allows them to fill in gaps in technology solutions. Because solutions are customized, it’s important your adviser has multiple partners working together to identify the best way to move forward. Digital transformation can seem overwhelming. A third-party adviser with international partners can help you understand your objectives, and work on them over time, on the continuous improvement of the digital transformation solutions being implemented.

Insights Digital Transformation is brought to you by MILHEM DTL

Leadership initiatives can improve morale, retain talent, improve bottom line

You’ve implemented a digital transformation strategy and are looking forward to improvements in your bottom line, your production, your market share and customer morale. But if you haven’t trained your leadership as part of your implementation, you may not see the gains you anticipated, says Ray Milhem, CEO of MILHEM DTL (Digital Transformation & Leadership), a Pittsburgh firm with Fortune 500 clients, as well as private equity firm clients with their portfolio companies.

“Challenging change initiatives like digital transformation require high-performance leadership commitment and execution to truly be successful,” says Milhem. “Enlisting a third party to provide technical and leadership guidance can ensure effective implementation of your digital transformation.”

Smart Business spoke with Milhem about how to ensure leaders have the right skills to succeed.

Why is having the right leadership in the high-tech world so critical?

If there is a bad apple influencing colleagues and direct staff, that can result in the team not meeting goals. And the good ones who don’t speak up may be damaging your company’s reputation online, or they may simply leave.

Leadership in high-tech is complex. Managing engineers, programmers or software developers is more difficult because of their personalities and because they want to move fast, solve problems and push the envelope. They need a leader they can be loyal to but communicate issues to without sugar coating, respecting the team and having open and honest communication.

Too often, engineers or salespeople are promoted because they are great technical people, but that doesn’t mean they have the skills to be a stellar leader. They need to learn to communicate better, to articulate a plan, to think outside the box, hire for diversity and learn conflict resolution. They need coaching on how to work within a team.

Sometimes leadership is aware of the problem but doesn’t know what to do about it. Or they’re doing it in the wrong way, not in a scientific way. Digital Discovery® is Aspirant’s proprietary virtual interview platform that rapidly synthesizes large-scale qualitative input into quantified, actionable output — just the insight needed to facilitate agile, informed, strategic decisions.

By approaching it scientifically, you can identify the issues and their root causes, then identify what needs to happen to resolve the problems.

How can an outside expert help you begin to create better leaders?

An outside expert can assess what you’re looking for and identify challenges. Perhaps the digital transformation is not moving as fast as a company had hoped. People are leaving. An executive is dragging his feet. There may be challenges with an engineer who can’t manage teams, a salesperson who can’t communicate with engineers, or a vice president who doesn’t have a clear business plan or argues with staff.

In other instances, C-suite executives may not be aware there are issues and are initially resistant to recognizing them. An expert can help identify issues and create clear goals. Is one team losing employees? The root cause may be a dictator manager. Is morale low? Is it a lack of excitement? Compensation? More attractive conditions at a competitor? Or maybe a leader isn’t communicating effectively and is ignoring feedback.

Once the problem has been identified, an expert can customize leadership training to fit the business’s needs.

How long does it take to begin to see results?

It takes time; you can’t just take managers and turn them into better people overnight. Once you start assessing and have a plan, it takes six months to a year to start seeing small results like better productivity, lower costs, optimization of your business and attracting and retaining talent. It’s a very complex environment, and leadership training initiatives can show people the need to be a team, work together, communicate and respect the team.

A third party has the expertise and resources to help your company in the leadership aspect of digital transformation to identify the root causes of leadership issues to improve productivity and efficiency.

INSIGHTS Digital Transformation is brought to you by MILHEM DTL.

Straight-through processing meets consumers’ need for speed

While immediacy has long been high among consumer demands, the pandemic has created a heightened expectation of speed to market. This has opened the door to increased automation, with options such as straight-through processing helping to facilitate the immediacy and ease consumers want while providing the data and decreased labor outlay companies are seeking.

Smart Business spoke with Mike Fieseler, vice president of business development at EOX Vantage, about how automated tools such as straight-through processing are helping companies satisfy consumers’ need for speed of purchasing.

How has COVID affected automation’s role in consumer purchasing?

The pandemic has led some consumers to adopt different attitudes, and has given others different expectations, toward web-based purchasing. It’s also altered daily rhythms and habits. For example, many people faced obstacles shopping at stores during the pandemic. The circumstances sent many of those people online, where they could browse, buy and then pick up their item at curbside or have it delivered to their doorstep. That’s likely changed buying habits because, absent a walk through the store, consumers might not do as much impulse buying as they once had. That could affect how retailers market certain products that rely on impulse buys.

How can automation help companies roll out new programs and services?

With automated solutions, companies can start to gather a lot of data. That helps them make business decisions faster and roll out the changes faster. It can help companies better understand where their customers are or where requests for services are coming from. It can also be used to gather demographic data to better understand a company’s customer base. And then from that data, stronger, more effective marketing programs can be assembled that are better tailored to certain segments of people in certain areas with specific solutions.

Mobile apps, which can be tied to a suite of automation services, offer companies a lot of advantages. Apps can provide companies with a lot more data on consumers than can be gleaned from a traditional website, enabling companies to develop and modify solutions to better fit the user experience.

What is straight-through processing and what benefits does it offer?

Straight-through processing is a method used most of all by insurance, financial services and other similar companies to speed up and achieve better quality client interactions by automating processes — in effect, sending a transaction ‘straight through’ a system instead of having to manually manipulate it at various points. Among its advantages are consistency of decision making and less human intervention. Both of these can improve the customer experience, in part because they speed up what might otherwise be a lengthier process. Modern transactions conducted through smartphone apps and the web can be completed in minutes.

This speed and consistency have proven particularly beneficial to the insurance industry. For example, customers don’t want to apply for a policy and then be forced to wait 30 days for a review of their application and a response. They want it immediately. Companies that can do that are not only more likely to win business, but they’re also likely to retain it. In the past, before web-based applications and innovations like straight-through processing, an insurance applicant may have applied for a policy with one insurance agency, then shopped around for policies at other agencies while they waited for a response. It’s likely that in some instances, the customer would choose to go with the agency that could get them approved the fastest, and not necessarily with the first place they applied.

With straight-through processing drastically reducing customer wait times, applicants are much more likely to stick with the first place they apply because the process is easy, and acceptance comes quickly. Straight-through processing keeps customers happier and leads to a higher percentage of retention than there had been through the previous methods. It’s also a cost saver, reducing the labor that would otherwise be required to accept applications.

INSIGHTS Digital Transformation is brought to you by EOX Vantage

Signs that it’s time to update your legacy systems

Legacy systems are relied upon to perform an organization’s day-to-day work. But, in many cases, technology has improved drastically since companies first implemented those systems, leading to a point at which the tasks those systems perform could strain those systems beyond what they can handle. This opens the door to failure, user frustration and more.

“When your system no longer supports scalability, you lose the competitive advantage in the market,” says Nishan Kumar, project manager at EOX Vantage.

Smart Business spoke with Kumar about how to recognize when it’s time to address the problems caused by older legacy systems, and how upgrades can improve workflows.

What are some of the signs that a legacy system is not working well?

One of the signs that a legacy system should be tuned up or augmented is the maintenance cost. Fixes to a legacy system often require the use of older technologies, which means a specific skill set is required to maintain the system. That typically comes from an in-house team member or long-time outside vendor. But sometimes the person who installed it or who has the expertise to fix it is no longer with the company, or the vendor stops providing the specific support the legacy system requires. That can leave a company with a system that can’t be fixed, which puts it in a risky spot where a failure of any sort could happen.

Integration is one of the most critical aspects of modern-day technology. This is the ability of systems to talk to each other, for example through third-party APIs for user authentication and data sharing. When a legacy system is isolated from other systems, it increases the costs of operations because of the maintenance of these multiple systems, as well as degradation in accuracy and execution of tasks such as the publication of work and ability to perform repetitive tasks. All of this collectively increases the time necessary for completion or turnaround of an activity.

Compliance and security issues can also arise with legacy systems. Some companies operate under heavily regulated standards. Non-compliance with these policies can lead to significant penalties. It can also make any updates or changes very expensive because the often-outdated technology is not supported, or there is limited expertise to implement the required change. Legacy systems are also vulnerable to cyber attacks as the outdated technology or the software no longer gets patched, creating security gaps.

What issues are created when there are multiple systems attempting to work together?

A business ecosystem comprises multiple components, each performing a specific function. Given this, there are multiple systems designated and dedicated to execute them independently. The problem with having multiple systems is that you have no visibility or control over these disparate data sources. There may be compatibility issues with the system that can lead to nightmares when you’re compiling a report. There may be issues with multiple logins, for which multiple user credentials need to be maintained. Limited maintenance and support options also add to the problems.

How might organizations address issues with legacy systems?

Problems with legacy systems can be diagnosed by a knowledgeable vendor, in part by mapping critical business processes through the system to find gaps and inefficiencies that impact the overall turnaround times of important or regularly performed tasks.

Solutions can be found, depending on the type of business and who interacts with the system, that streamline individual components or systems. There are ways to automate manual, repetitive tasks and free the human resources to focus on more critical tasks, allowing the system to take care of the rest. Automation workflows and unification of critical components of the system can improve turnaround time and reduce costs.

Find an outside provider, preferably one that has experience within the organization’s industry as well as experience addressing issues with legacy systems. It’s best to find a provider that has cross-platform experience and can come at it from a consultative standpoint, not one that’s predisposed to a solution that comes from a single product.

Insights Digital Transformation is brought to you by EOX Vantage

How having a strategy can transform your business

If your company doesn’t have a digital transformation strategy, you’re missing out on a huge opportunity to grow your bottom line, better meet customer expectations and effectively analyze data — and you’re falling behind your competition.

“Having a clear digital transformation strategy is critical for any business,” says Ray Milhem, CEO of MILHEM DTL (Digital Transformation & Leadership), a Pittsburgh firm with Fortune 500 clients, as well as private equity firm clients with their portfolio companies. “Failing to have a strategy affects your bottom line, your production, your market share, the morale of your customers and, if you’re a public company, your stock.”

Smart Business spoke with Milhem about how a digital transformation strategy can help propel your business forward.

What is digital transformation?

Digital transformation enhances a company’s digital capabilities to improve the efficiency of its processes and optimize data to gain better insight into customer information, allowing it to provide a more consistent customer experience. It makes a company more accessible and valuable to its customers, improves security and helps grow the bottom line. Digital transformation means moving from manual processes to digital ones, or replacing outdated technology and hardware with more current technology.

Nearly all companies have automation that enables them to be more productive, gives them control over expenses and allows them to maximize their return on investment. However, many haven’t upgraded their technology and aren’t working as efficiently and effectively as they could be.

How has the pandemic hastened digital transformation?

With COVID, digital transformation became very powerful. The pandemic changed the buying habits of consumers, as they don’t want to go into a store or meet with a salesperson. If you don’t have your products online, you are missing out on sales.

Too many businesses haven’t even thought of selling online, but doing so can optimize sales and complement direct sales. Many business owners have been resistant to creating an ecommerce option, but anything your customer can buy in your physical store or through a salesperson, they can — and want to — buy online. And if they can’t do it with you, they’ll do so with your competition. Pre-pandemic, many businesses were already undergoing a transformation, but those that did not have a clear digital transformation strategy that included ecommerce, as well as front-end and back-end IT systems, struggled.

Allowing consumers and other businesses to buy from their home or office creates a seamless customer experience, increasing sales both locally and globally and making those who otherwise may not have known about your business aware of it. Businesses are realizing they cannot defeat the market; they need a site with an online store that is attractive to their target audience.

How can a company begin to create a digital transformation strategy?

Having a clear digital strategy is critical to survival, and an experienced expert can help you identify areas where transformation can improve processes and security. A strategic advisory firm can help you develop a strategy or, upgrade your current one.

It starts with a high-level conversation about what digital transformation is and why it’s important. A strategic adviser will ask detailed questions about your systems, access to them, security, hardware, software, use of the cloud, etc., then uncover your pain points and budget constraints and make recommendations. And if you decide to move forward, the advisory firm’s partners will work with you on the installation and deployment of the recommended assets.

But it’s not just the hardware and software. Leadership training is a critical component, as middle managers are often resistant to change. They need training on how new technology benefits them, how it impacts the bottom line, differentiates the business from the competition and expands sales. Getting that buy-in is vital to the success of a digital transformation strategy.

Digital transformation is an ongoing process, and your strategy needs to be continuously updated. You can’t stand still. Companies need to be very dynamic and be thought leaders in their industries.

Insights Digital Transformation is brought to you by MILHEM DTL

How data collection automation can lead to better decision making

The typical data collection process within companies is often fraught with challenges. Just the magnitude of it can create issues when it comes to formatting, reading and interpreting data. And data can also quickly become dated, either because of issues with the consistency of collection or where visibility relies on manual entry.

“Companies often make real-time decisions based upon reports comprised of old, ‘stale’ data,” says Mike Fieseler, vice president of business development at EOX Vantage. “That’s akin to managing in the rearview mirror.”

Fortunately, there are now a variety of ways to automate gathering and consolidating that data.

Smart Business spoke with Fieseler about how automating data collection leads to better quality data and improved decision making.

What does the typical data collection process look like?

Companies have two types of data that they’re bringing together: internal and external data. The key is merging the data in a fashion that makes it usable information.

External data can come from many sources, including vendors. Data collection will increase exponentially once businesses start to incorporate more data from Internet of Things-enabled devices. All of these come in a variety of formats. Many times it requires manual data entry to be combined with internal data.

Internal data comes from standard systems, like an ERP or CRM. Each of these systems typically has a reporting module that enables companies to visualize the data and export it. The challenge, though, is that many of these systems don’t talk to each other. So, companies end up with data exported onto Excel data sheets that are siloed, requiring someone to merge them. This can lead to data that quickly becomes dated.

What are the benefits of automating data collection?

People don’t typically like manual data entry. It’s boring, and that can lead to a lack of attention, which often leads to mistakes.

Application programming interfaces (APIs) are automated data collection solutions that can help with this process, as can file transfer protocols (FTPs) that bring in cells and Excel formulas together to create data summaries.

The payoff of automation includes cost savings through reduced labor. It’s also likely to be a faster turnaround, better quality and expanded data to use for analytics, which leads to a better customer experience and perhaps more sales. Automation also enables companies to redeploy their workforce into more challenging roles, which keeps them motivated and should help reduce the turnover companies might otherwise see.

How can this lead to better business decisions?

Companies today are combining internal and external data to produce remarkable insights, in real time, enabling much faster responses to real-time demands. Traditional approaches often only capture events that have already happened, sometimes months in the past. That can slow reaction times. Digitally driven consumers, however, might not be patient, and could flee to businesses that can offer a better customer experience informed by up-to-the-minute data.

What challenges can accompany automated data collection?

The initial challenge is targeting the right projects. To do that, companies should step back and identify the areas where the business is experiencing backlogs. That process can be informed by feedback from clients — understanding their needs and expectations. They should also look to their staff, those who are the subject experts, to understand, at a service-based level, what those customers want and how to address their issues.

Companies also need to select a toolset that will enable them to put solutions in place that address those issues. Those tools should be flexible — able to be used not only for one specific solution but also for future tasks.

It’s also a good idea to have people who are familiar with that toolset Make sure your employees have adequate training. That could mean bringing in experts from the outside, whether hiring them full time or using consultants, to help with implementation.

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How APIs improve connectivity, visibility in data

Businesses should use data they collect to validate decisions, measure performance and find areas of improvement. To do that, data should be visible, consistently formatted and shareable. But it’s typically not.

“Business data often needs to be formed into a better, more consumable shape,” says Mehul Kenia, a product architect at EOX Vantage. “That’s usually because it’s stored in discrete systems, even when companies take a cloud-based approach to storage. That makes data hard to link for a clear, holistic picture.”

Enter Application Programming Interfaces (APIs). This data management solution can add value to data, offer real-time data and generally make things more efficient.

“At their core, APIs are really about getting apps and systems talking to each other and sharing data effectively,” Kenia says.

Smart Business spoke with Kenia about APIs — what they are, how they’re used and why companies should implement them in their organizations to improve how information is shared and utilized.

Catch the full conversation on APIs with Kenia on the Smart Business Insights Podcast!


What are APIs and how can they help a company more effectively use its data?

APIs are not new, but they’ve grown in popularity and use since at least the early 2000s. At its core, API is a software layer that acts as a bridge to help various software programs and systems exchange data with each other in a structured format.

Typically, organizations use different lists for inventory, orders, addresses, contacts and other business information. Some of these are stored in a CRM, some in isolated databases, some on paper and others on spreadsheets. Having data locked away in disparate sources where it can’t be easily accessed and shared is an especially bad way to do business.

APIs easily connect with disparate apps and databases to create a customer application cluster ecosystem with a centralized data source. It means, in part, real-time access to data, enabling companies to publish accurate reports and updates.

How are APIs implemented?

Companies that use APIs can utilize other data services without building their own, and they have a low implementation expense for integration. For example, companies that are building an application that has a mapping function don’t need to store location data or try to capture satellite or street images. Instead, they could utilize Google’s mapping service to do that.

It’s not necessary to understand all the technical and business aspects of the domain, or know the details of how they are coded, to effectively use APIs. With real-time data access and updates, any change can be automatically pushed out even if the applications are in different formats or use different coding.

Why is this something companies should do now?

APIs are in use within many companies and their prevalence is growing in almost every industry. Many companies struggle to establish connected networks of systems or actionable data. API integration and personalization enable companies to gain otherwise unseen insights into users and how they interact with a company’s apps and systems. They are a great solution toward creating integration and visibility, and they help companies leverage data and expand their customer base.

APIs help streamline operations by minimizing issues that require technical skills and leveraging the power of connectivity. As more employees work remote, APIs can improve data security and validation, which is important because storing shared information in multiple places can create exposures.

Companies that are building a new application should build an API-based architecture. User interfaces are evolving every day with all the new devices coming out. Having the business logic behind the API gives companies flexibility to support multiple user interfaces and quickly create or change a user interface.

Those companies that aren’t already using APIs should connect with a service provider that can help them achieve operational efficiencies by tapping into the benefits of cutting-edge software. Creating a business workplace with improved technology can help any company stay ahead of the curve and focus on growth instead of concerns over sustainability.

Insights Digital Transformation is brought to you by EOX Vantage

How to introduce workflow automation in your business

Workflow automation, a key element of the solution strategies known as “digital transformation,” enables companies to automate various business processes. This can have a big impact not just on efficiency and accuracy, but on motivation and morale, as well.

“Where automation is used to reduce routine and redundant tasks, people can focus on added-value activities, which leads to greater job satisfaction and reduced turnover,” says Mike Fieseler, vice president of business development at EOX Vantage.

Automation can also stabilize processes and provide consistent results, decreased turnaround times and higher quality data and decisions. That efficiency often results in greater client satisfaction, which builds loyalty and return use. It also enables companies to gain greater visibility into their business processes and operations so they can quickly get out in front of changes in the marketplace.

Smart Business spoke with Fieseler about workflow automation and the benefits it can offer companies.

How accessible is workflow automation today?

Automation isn’t necessarily about complex processes such as predictive decision making; it can be as simple as an Excel macro or a few lines of code. The evolution of automation tools is making it affordable to businesses of all sizes.

Most companies are good candidates for automation. To determine where and how automation could be applied, executives should examine the challenges they’re facing and identify areas where they would benefit from improved accuracy, faster turnaround or quickly addressing workload peaks and valleys. You might also want to redeploy people to more important tasks. Email routing and document indexing, for example, are basic automation processes that will save the company money right up front. There are also keystroke automation and optical character recognition techniques to read data off documents that companies could deploy easily and get noticeable results. These can run 24/7, which expands your capacity beyond being a one-shift shop.

Complex automation may include giving team members ‘hints’ on the next step to take in a sales or service process, or the next question to ask based on a client/prospect profile.

There are many easy-to-use, self-service solutions available today that don’t require much in the way of IT support. Many times, they’re called ’low-code/no-code’ solutions. Companies could also find a vendor to help them that knows automation but also has some experience in their industry.

What benefit can workflow automation offer companies that are disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic?

COVID-19 has spurred many companies to look at how automation can help them. The new challenges facing businesses have led to implementing new processes to address their new realities. For many companies, automation is an answer to the question, ‘What can we do to better service our clients?’ That has brought a lot of attention to automation in the past few months from companies that probably would have taken years to get to that stage. In some cases, the companies that are the fastest to automate tasks are those that are going to be positioned to gain a significant advantage when the market normalizes.

How should companies go about exploring automation as a solution for their operation?

Companies that lack the internal technical knowledge to deploy a workforce automation solution should find an outside provider, preferably one that has industry experience and expertise to tackle the task that’s been identified as a good candidate for automation. It’s best to find a provider that has cross-platform experience and can come at it from a consultative standpoint, not one that’s predisposed to a solution that comes from a single product.

Implementing automation involves a cultural change that can be significant. Companies need to have an operational change management in place, as some employees are going to struggle to make the link between automation and their job, as well as how both of those fit into achieving the company’s strategic goals. These are important considerations to make to ensure the transition is successful.

Insights Digital Transformation is brought to you by EOX Vantage

How to remain efficient and productive when working remotely

Many companies understand the importance, or at least the utility, of cloud platforms and have migrated a great deal of their systems and applications there. Some have digitized processes as a way to save time and money and help move staff to more productive tasks. In these cases, employees are comfortable working and accessing information on the cloud.

“That’s really helped them minimize the loss in productivity or efficiency that companies with only on-premise systems likely experienced when, suddenly, their workforce was compelled to work remote,” says Sudhir Achar, CEO of EOX Vantage.

Still, there have been snags making the transition to an almost entirely remote working situation, some of which could have been avoided by the implementation of a tested business continuity or disaster recovery plan.

Smart Business spoke with Achar about the tools companies can use to stay productive and efficient as they switch almost entirely to a remote work environment.

How do business continuity and disaster recovery plans play into the move to a remote work environment?
The beauty of having a business continuity plan or business disaster recovery plan is you’ve already simulated what your processes and the roles of essential people look like if business is disrupted by some type of disaster.

That positions a company to be at least 75 to 80 percent prepared to cope with a disaster, at least in terms of moving their operations to a remote work environment. Testing validates whether the continuity plan that is in place, as well as its contingency plans — plan B and plan C within the business continuity plan — is effective or it needs a tweak . That level of preparedness is really valuable.

What the pandemic has revealed about these plans is that companies, if they have a plan at all, often put it together and never battle test it. This pandemic is showing many that they have a plan in name, but not a plan in practice.

How do companies determine what tools and remote support should be in place to facilitate remote work?
Ideally all employees will be working from dedicated company laptops. There are also endpoint solutions that will filter out all malware and ransomware from all the incoming and outgoing traffic. There should also be remote desktop connection software installed on all laptops in case any technical support is needed. And IT personnel should be available by phone, email and chat tools that instantly connect employees with IT support to resolve simple issues. For many companies, a lot of this security software and IT support is already in place, which means the transition in this time of disruption has been fairly seamless.

What benefits does an enterprise operating system offer remote teams? 
An enterprise operating system is a collaboration tool that gives teams visibility in terms of all the data coming in and out, as well as transparency in terms of the quality and timeliness of deliverables. It keeps projects in front of everyone’s eyes so they can see both progress and changes, and that helps people stay on track.

Enterprise operating systems also offer integration with other applications such as chat, video conferencing, project management or just basic timesheet features. All of those combined in one platform can be a really powerful business continuity tool. Working remotely means you can’t just pop your head over the cubicle wall to talk to someone.

Enterprise operating systems give visibility into what people are working on and how things are progressing. You can see what tasks are being assigned, their timeline and progress, and have a way to give real-time feedback. CRMs, similarly, offer a way to monitor client contacts and how things are moving through the sales funnel.

With so many people working from home, it’s important to have the tools that can make remote work easier while keeping productivity and efficiency as high as it was in the office. Businesses that find themselves struggling to transition to a remote work environment are hopefully more willing now to explore ways to digitize processes and adopt software that can keep everyone, regardless of where they are physically, in the loop.

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