Historically, businesses that resist digital transformation pay a steep price. For example, Blockbuster at one point had the opportunity to purchase Netflix. It was eventually outpaced by the streaming service and was forced to shutter its stores. And Sears’ failed shift to digital sales caused the company to fall behind competitors that invested in e-commerce.
Now the same trend is hitting architecture and engineering (A&E) firms. A recent Deltek survey of A&E firm professionals found that a mere 1% of respondents currently consider their firms “advanced” in digital transformation maturity. Although 60% of respondents said they’re in the exploratory stage of digital transformation, they’ll have to play catch-up fast.
Client retention is always crucial, but in the COVID-19 economy it’s mission-critical. In this environment, efficient internal processes mean smoother operations, which in turn keep clients satisfied. By improving internal processes through digital transformation, you can improve your firms’ ability to compete, both now and over the long term. Here’s how to make your digital transformation a little more manageable.
Five Steps to Digital Transformation
- Take an honest look at your business.
If you’re like most A&E firms – in the exploratory stage of digital transformation – you need to start by examining your current working practices. Don’t hesitate to challenge accepted practices if they could be improved. Changes in technology may require changes in what you do today.
How does your company leverage technology to complete projects and run the business? Where does that technology fall short or leave gaps? Do you have internal resources to lead transformative change, and understand what technology can do for your business, or do you need to outsource?
By answering these questions, you can create a plan and increase the likelihood of long-term success.
- Start small and scale up.
Many professionals surveyed said key business practices still depend on manual data entry — particularly accounting and finance (76% reliant on manual data entry), procurement (75%) and sales (74%).
Prioritize your opportunities and identify quick wins, such as pinpointing repetitive and needlessly time-consuming manual processes. Manual processes also introduce opportunities for errors, with experts estimating that manual inventory processes are only 60% accurate compared to the 99.5% accuracy rate of automated data collection.
With technology like robotic process automation (RPA) and natural language processing (NLP), your firm can minimize reliance on manual processes like data entry. This frees up time for people to focus on more important project tasks.
- Improve cross-functional cooperation between departments.
It’s often said that technology implementations within an organization are 20% technology and 80% people and change management. In many A&E firms, we’ve seen interdepartmental disconnect negatively affect operational capabilities. Deltek data supports that “little cross-functional cooperation” is a top barrier to success.
This barrier is often the result of misaligned process and platforms. For example, a firm’s finance team might use a digital financial management solution meant to keep processes paperless. Yet, because another department relies on paper receipts and manual approvals, there will still be end-to-end process delays.
In this instance, technology can improve the cross-functionality between departments by moving the workflow to the finance team’s automated financial management platform. This same shared platform philosophy can be applied on a broader level with other departmental teams to eliminate process bottlenecks.
By putting your users at the heart of the process and selling these benefits before you train, you’ll win over hearts and minds so that resistance doesn’t derail your journey. The goal should be twofold: improve company performance and the employee experience.
- Consider how you use data.
Data can do much more than support your firm’s day-to-day operations. Companies are just starting to fully leverage data discovery platforms that can help them visualize their data and see patterns more easily. Beyond that, AI and machine learning can help make the next step toward being predictive and removing human bias from decision making. These technologies give insights into company performance that can help us make more informed decisions before problems occur.
Deltek’s survey shows only 1% of firms are likely to be leveraging AI for predictive decision making, so the question usually is: Where do I start?
First, it’s important to take stock of your company’s overall data strategy and understand if you have the right skillset to create one. Data Science continues to mature as a discipline and has a vast array of best practices, applications, and tools at its disposal. Getting the right expertise in the business to develop a long-term data strategy is the first step on that journey. It won’t happen overnight, but like many difficult tasks, the most important thing is to begin.
- Don’t tackle digital transformation alone.
Digital Transformation is a major change management project for your business – it’s not driven by a single person or small group, but will benefit from executive sponsorship and a clear commitment to change. Celebrate accomplishments along the way to keep people motivated and involve everyone, for easier change management and more diversity of ideas that will drive success. Remember the dual goal: improve the business and the employee experience!
It never hurts to get help. Often times your technology partners can provide education and help along the way. Every organization needs to have the humility to recognize they will never have all the expertise they need in-house and it’s OK to outsource where you have a skills or knowledge gap.
When it comes to digital transformation, preparing your firm for the future can help you adapt and unlock process improvements to better engage employees. While the goal is to improve key business KPI’s like cash flow, profit, and growth, you’ll find the path to success will be smoother when there is something in it for everyone.
There is no repeatable blueprint for digital transformation. It’s a journey — and the most important task is to begin!