Digital transformation starts with people, not tech

Whenever I engage in a discussion about digital transformation with a business owner or top-level manager, nine times out of ten their response will veer exclusively towards technology, investment, and computer systems. Fair enough, I say, digital is all about technology… but surely any successful transformation needs to be understood, accepted, implemented and indeed utilised by people?

Digital transformation is sweeping through various industries, as businesses try to use technological advancements to stay competitive. However, many businesses striving for digital change do not appreciate the holistic nature of the change which digital transformation implies; that it is about a multi-dimensional interaction involving clients, employees, and any other stakeholders involved in their business transactions or operations. Hence many businesses striving for digital change fail to realise that any transformation in that direction also requires considerable investment focused on the people concerned.

The ultimate scope of digital transformation is to harness the power of technology to improve customer experience and enhance the competitiveness of one’s business. However, managing the digital transformation process is vital for success. This is because going down the digital transformation route is a cultural evolution in itself, and any respected business leader will tell you that one cannot dictate or direct culture. Change has to come from within the business, making sure that your people buy into the vision, strategy and the impact which this strategy will have on them as individuals, and their work. They must be convinced that the technology will be there to supplement and support the change process, making tasks simpler, or enabling them to handle the more complex tasks more efficiently and effectively.

Let’s take a step back here, and ask ourselves why we would be going for digital transformation in the first place. Is it to hop on the latest business or technological bandwagon, and to show people that we’re on top of things? Are we trying to use new technology simply to try to replace human activity, rather than as a tool for increased efficiency and improved performance? Are we really committed to making significant changes to long-used legacy systems? What is our strategy?

Quoting Peter F. Drucker, “there is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.” Plugging technology into processes that are not well thought out, designed and explained, will only generate what lean management terminology refers to as muda (waste and uselessness) at more efficient rates; increase mura (irregularities and unevenness) in operations, with uncontrolled variations in performance; and cause muri (overloads and unreasonable expectations) at bottleneck points. The end result – employee absenteeism, physical and mental illness, and breakdowns of machines and systems!

In this regard, I recently came across a scenario where a bank, as part of a pseudo-process of digitalisation, converted a never-ending series of mundane, paper-based forms into kinky-looking e-forms, which only managed to reproduce and automate inefficient manual processes which have been in place for the best part of the last decade! A classic case of digitisation… but certainly not digitalisation!

Someone once remarked to me that in the rush to transform everything to digital we often forget that employees and customers, i.e. human beings, are essentially ‘analogue’ creatures. They have daily variations in their feelings and behaviours. They are prone to personal perceptions, distractions, distortions in what is heard, deletion of large amounts of information received. Amen to that! And it is these very human traits that dictate that everything we do must be communicated effectively, that our employees have to be trained, and that clients and other stakeholders should be supported along the way.

At BEAT we guide you through the thought process leading to an appropriate digitalisation strategy for your organisation. We also assist you in planning the transformation journey which will see you reach your goals, and provide support along the path towards implementation.  In the meantime, our specialists will work with you to help redesign your processes with the right level of technology backing. All of this will lead to a change in your business model, thus enabling new revenue and value-adding opportunities, simplifying effort, and empowering all players in the process.

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by Ing. Joseph Micallef, Chief Operations Officer / Partner at BEAT Limited

The Individual as the Driver of Change

Change remains one of the most topical – and in many ways, still controversial – aspects of organisational management. The tortuous process involved in recognising and acknowledging the need for change certainly remains a central issue in this regard. As does the fact that every business entity has its own, unique ‘persona’ – reflecting the people who lead and work within it, as well as the competitive environment in which it operates. These preliminary considerations should be more than enough to deter thoughts of one-size-fits-all solutions. Simply stated, both the stimuli for change and the way change is perceived and handled, will vary dramatically from company to company.

Of course, the ability of individuals to change will determine the success of change at the organisational level. Organisations don’t change, individuals do. No matter how large a project one is taking on, the success of that project ultimately lies with each employee doing their work differently, multiplied across all of the employees impacted by the change. Effective change management requires an understanding of and appreciation of how one person makes a change successfully. Without an individual perspective, we are left with activities but no idea of the goal or outcome that we are trying to achieve.

We also know that change can scare a lot of people. And in viewing change-related challenges from an organisational perspective, we often tend to overlook the fundamental role of the individual. Are today’s executives open to, and primed to deal with change? Do they understand the pivotal role they have in helping their organisation evolve along the path of long-term, sustainable success?

From a professional standpoint, there is no doubt that, at an individual level, the ability to manage change will determine one’s relevance within the workplace, whatever the role and responsibility. Today, executives at all levels are expected to manage change effectively. Innovation is becoming more than a buzzword. It is making its way into job descriptions and performance reviews. And producing results is simply not enough; one needs to be able to show that one can make the results more sustainable, and profitable.  The new reality is that executives at all levels must be adept at leading and/or coordinating some kind of change at various points in their careers.

In my professional experience, I find that an increasing number of top executives embrace the significance of change management – the tools and structure meant to control the change effort – and understand the concept of change leadership, which is concerned with optimising the effects of the change effort. However, many still tend to seriously underestimate the importance of selling effectively the importance of change within their organisations, and empowering their people to deliver change.

Corporate leaders and executives at all levels need to be aware of this issue and tackle it head-on. They need to promote the idea – the reality, as it is – that change is one of the most powerful professional development tools available to individuals, and ultimately to the organisation. And they need to pursue this objective through a formal, dedicated training programme.

Our executives must be trained to think of themselves as individual agents of change. Among others, they need to be aware of their company’s business realities, in order to recognise that there is indeed a need for change. They need to have a concept of timing – knowing when the time is ripe to recommend and push for change, with minimal disruption. They need to know how to package and promote sustainable actions towards change, with attainable objectives. And they need to be prepared to have the overwhelming desire, and the mental toughness, to withstand and overcome resistance.

At an organisational level, on the other hand, we need to evaluate what tools we have to help individuals make changes successfully. While change happens one person at a time, there are processes and tools that can help facilitate this change across groups and organisations. All this has to be done within a strategic perspective, encapsulating the essential components of successful change management.

At the end of the day, as a result of this focused, structured approach, the organisation will be gaining a crop of executives who will not only embrace the idea of change but who will also turn out to be credible, reliable and enduring leaders. This will also ensure that change within your organisation will be part of an evolutionary process, and not merely short-term, piecemeal substitution.

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Original article published on The Malta Chamber of Commerce website.

by Ing. Joseph Micallef, Chief Operations Officer / Partner at BEAT Limited. 

AI is no longer a futuristic notion, it’s here right now

Software that senses what we need, supply chains that “think” in real time, and robots that respond to changes in their environment. The essence of the AI paradigm shift is the transformation of all business processes within an organisation. It is changing all the rules of how companies operate

There’s no doubt that the manufacturing sector is leading the way in the application of artificial intelligence technology. From significant cuts in unplanned downtime to better-designed products, manufacturers are applying AI-powered analytics to data to improve efficiency, product quality, and the safety of employees.

Today, humans and robots collaborate to produce breakthroughs, thanks to the “marriage” of advanced manufacturing techniques with information technology, and data and analytics.

Let’s have a look at key revolutions AI brings to the manufacturing industry:

Computer vision

Computer vision is used to optimise production lines and digitise processes and workers. In manufacturing, the application of ‘machine vision’, which automates image analysis and directs the robot workforce on the shop floor, is a growth area. On the production line, the most prominent use cases are for inspecting parts and products, controlling processes and equipment, and flagging ‘events’ and inconsistencies.

The trick is to take what would seem like the next logical step—sending those images to a person to make judgments and corrections—and hand that over to the machine as well.

Generative design

Artificial intelligence is also changing the way we design products. One method is to enter a detailed brief defined by designers and engineers as input into an AI algorithm or “generative design software”. The brief can include data describing restrictions and various parameters such as material types, available production methods, budget limitations and time constraints.

The algorithm explores every possible configuration, before homing in on a set of the best solutions. The proposed solutions can then be tested using machine learning, offering additional insight as to which designs work best. The process can be repeated until an optimal design solution is reached.

Digital twins

Although digital twins have been around for several decades, it’s only been since the rapid rise of IoT that they’ve become more widely considered as a tool of the future.  At its simplest, a digital twin is a virtual replica of a physical product, process, or system allowing it to be understood, analysed, manipulated, or optimised. Digital twins act as a bridge between the physical and digital worlds by using sensors to collect real-time data about a physical item.

Digital twins are getting attention because they also integrate things like artificial intelligence and machine learning to bring data, algorithms, and context together, enabling organisations to test new ideas, uncover problems before they happen, get new answers to new questions, and monitor items remotely.

Predictive maintenance

In manufacturing, ongoing maintenance of production line machinery and equipment have a crucial impact on the bottom line of any asset-reliant production operation. Studies show that unplanned downtime costs manufacturers an estimated US$50 billion annually and that asset failure is the cause of 42 per cent of this unplanned downtime.

Predictive maintenance—as opposed to preventive maintenance—eliminates the guesswork as the machines report their conditions on an up-to-the-minute basis. It also saves businesses valuable time and resources, including labour costs, while guaranteeing optimal manufacturing performance. As with digital twins, sensors and advanced analytics embedded in manufacturing equipment make it possible. They enable predictive maintenance by responding to alerts and resolving machine issues.

You’re still on time, but the clock is ticking…

Missing the AI wave in manufacturing could mean getting stranded.  If you’re stuck to the traditional way and don’t digitalise manufacturing processes, your costs are going to rise, your products are going to be late to the market, and your ability to provide distinctive value-add to customers will decline.

Yet it’s not too late to adopt the changes already taking place in the manufacturing sector, and run your business like a digital leader.

Learn more about our digital transformation services

by Ing. Joseph Micallef, Chief Operations Officer / Partner at BEAT Limited. 

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