The paradigm shift of digital transformation


By Jonathan Nally
Monday, 29 June, 2015


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Old business models and methods are tumbling as digital transformation changes the world.

The term ‘digital transformation’ has been coined to describe the move towards the provision of services via digital means. It’s a term that means different things to different people. For some, it means going paperless; for others it means new ways of gathering information; and for still others it means new ways of communicating.

And it’s being taken seriously by entities of all shapes and sizes. The Australian federal government is establishing a Digital Transformation Office that “will be responsible for digital service delivery across government” and “transform government services, making services available digitally from start to finish”.

In 2009, the federal Department of Human Services - which has more than a third of federal expenditure under its management - and the CSIRO formed the Human Services Delivery Research Alliance to “inform digital transformation with hard evidence and multidisciplinary research”, with the aim of improving “the customer experience and at the same time improve efficiency and service levels”. The results of a three-year study by the collaboration are available on the CSIRO Productivity Flagship website (csiro.au/en/Research/DPF).

Digital in the built environment

If there’s anyone who should have an intimate knowledge of digital transformation and where it is heading, it’s Greg Stone, leader of digital services at building and engineering firm Arup. Until recently, Stone was chief technology officer for Microsoft Australia, and he reminds us of the distinction between digitising information and digitalising it.

“A lot of people have understood the benefits of digitising something,” he said. “So you see that manifested in people taking offline forms and then digitising them so that they’re PDFs online, and people can then download them or fill in a web form. But actually not a lot changes - it’s just a more efficient way of doing what they did before.”

And then there’s digitalisation, where swathes of information from, for example, mobile devices, can be collected and saved in the cloud, and “taken up and be used in many, many different ways, other than just a replication of a form collection”, Stone said. “All of a sudden now with digital, we have an ability to create new business models and new forms of engagement that transcend devices or locations or communication types, because once it’s in digital form it can be repurposed… to further aid personalisation in a way that’s not possible with simply digitising something.”

For the built environment, which is Arup’s main focus, Stone gives the example of looking for cracks inside tunnels. “In the old days they’d send someone out who’d look at the thing they’re surveying, they’d come back and they’d have a paper-based system,” he said. “But now we have the ability to send a drone up and down the tunnel with a multisensor camera… and then we can use big data and artificial intelligence and machine learning to start understanding what the changes are in that data.

“That kind of example is emblematic of what kind of advantages you can get when you go digital in the right way,” said Stone.

Keeping in touch

A very different kind of business is Feros Care, a not-for-profit organisation that provides healthcare and monitoring services for thousands of people nationwide, using technology that helps them stay safe in their own homes for longer. Feros Care is implementing Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online and Office 365 throughout its network of villages, at-home services, allied health and wellness programs and tele-healthcare.

Previously, Feros Care was using a few different systems. “We were trying to manipulate a client management system to do a lot of customer relationship management, so there were a lot of spreadsheets,” said Glenn Payne, CIO. “We’ve moved from a very manually intensive operation to a cloud-based, access-anywhere system.

“From a collaboration standpoint especially, we’re seeing that Yammer has cut down on email traffic. I think that was quite surprising,” said Payne. “It has enabled us from an IT perspective to give people real-time information and updates on things that are going on in the company… and cut down on our need for so many staff meetings.

“Our whole idea was to create a remote workforce that felt that even though they are working from home, they’re part of the business,” he added. “Office 365 and all the collaboration tools have really brought that to life. It has enabled us to have a remote workforce that feels connected to the central office.

“Our CEO has a real drive for technology, she understands it, she wants it,” said Payne. “So from my point of view of being a CIO, having a CEO who understands and really embraces and wants to use technology makes it a much easier job for me.”

Going paperless

MacKenzie Strategic is a South Australian-based chartered accounting firm, which also operates a wealth management consultancy and an investment administration support business. With 30 staff working in its Adelaide hub and five others across several offices around South Australia, it is a small-to-medium firm with clients all over Australia.

As you would expect, the company needs to transfer lots of legal documents to and from its clients, and traditionally this had been done on paper. Documents would be mailed, signatures added and then mailed back. But that required quite a lot of effort, and lots of phone calls to chase documents that had not been finalised. MacKenzie Strategic had tried using Adobe document management software, but found that staff and clients didn’t really take to it. So they switched to an Australian-developed document management solution, Nitro.

With Nitro, “clients don’t need any special software - they just get an email from us that says ‘Here’s a link, we’d like you to sign or view these documents’”, said Amanda Kennan, MacKenzie Strategic’s Strategy and Development Management Consultant. “They click the link and it tells them they’re going to Nitro Cloud, and then it’s literally just follow the bouncing ball.”

“From a business perspective, we’re not having to print when we need authorisations, we’re not having to check and see where things are at, because we can see on Nitro where the documents are sitting,” said Kennan. “I can set a workflow [for different people to sight or sign the document] and it literally moves that document around so that the manager can review it, the director can sign it, it can go to the client for signature, it then goes back to our admin team for completion and for lodging, and then the client can get an email to say, ‘All good, all done.’

“I had one example two weeks ago where I had a business sale contract that came through to us, 20 pages in a PDF, and I knew the amendments that needed to be made,” said Kennan. “The lawyers were all looking at me saying, ‘I’ll get a secretary to retype it.’ And I said ‘No,’ and I literally OCRed it straight into Word, had the amendments done and it was back to me within 20 minutes and I had a contract out and ready to go. And then I ‘Nitro Clouded’ it so that the vendor could sign, and I had the signature back and I had moneys transferred literally within two-and-a-half hours. It would have taken days previously.”

“In a world that’s going ever-more paperless, it just makes paperless easier,” said Kennan. “You just don’t worry about it. So we’re not [even] keeping a mail register anymore.”

The cloud’s silver lining

Ben Hutt is CEO of The Search Party, a business that began in 2011 and developed The Marketplace, which is a way of delivering for the recruitment industry what Uber delivers for transportation. The Search Party now represents more than 15 million candidates connected to about 200 recruitment agencies in 25 countries.

Recruitment via traditional methods takes an average of 81 days, costs a lot of money and most of the time doesn’t work out. The Search Party says that its talent pool and data science techniques, plus the role of intermediary recruitment agencies, reduces the average time-to-hire to less than two weeks.

“That’s only possible because of the vision we have always had around scale and leveraging data science and the benefits of cloud to really extract genius information from raw data, and make it accurate and insightful to the time-poor hiring manager,” said Hutt.

It’s also fair to say that without the cloud, The Search Party’s business model simply wouldn’t work.

“We’re a massive fan of the right tool for the right job… [for instance our] anonymisation engine uses a machine learning algorithm… and it’s doing around 80 or 90 trillion effective comparisons over a span of about 20 hours. It certainly would not be possible without cloud architecture,” said Hutt.

“It’s not just a minor improvement, it’s a paradigm shift for everyone involved.”

Image courtesy AltimeterGroup under CC

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