One of the things that has fascinated me over the years is that whilst technology has evolved, and excitement for the next big thing has overtaken rational behaviour and common sense, the projects that have been most successful have continued to be those that adopt 4 basic principles –
This is all well and good, but are they still relevant in today’s digital world? To explore this I wanted to examine what underpins these principles; and how better than to look at what they mean to me personally?
A long, long, time ago in a career far, far away…
Many years ago (far more than I care to count) I was performing some voluntary IT consultancy work with some university friends at a charity for homeless young people in Bristol, UK. The issue we had been asked to address was that they had a new computer system but didn’t know how to make best use of it to facilitate their day-to-day work processes.
So, as good consultants, we observed and documented their manual processes, we interviewed the management and staff to understand what their functional requirements were, identified their long-term objectives and prioritised accordingly. We drew ‘as-is’ and ‘to-be’ process flows, mapped out their data model and then defined a specification for deploying their computer system and developing it to fit these requirements and aspirations.
The big day arrived when we were to make our recommendations, and we stood up to deliver the presentation. However, before we began, one of the charity workers asked if he could say a few words. He thanked us for the efforts we had put in with them over the previous few weeks, and said that it had prompted them to think about their processes and computer system. So they had come up with some ideas about how to change their processes and utilise the computer system more effectively themselves.
Intrigued, we sat down and listened as he presented to us these ideas and, as he spoke, we realised that what they had come up with was simpler, quicker to achieve and more efficient, although it didn’t use their computer system as much as we’d planned. We scrapped our presentation and instead we worked with them to see how we could help facilitate the delivery of these ideas. Sure enough, within a few weeks, they were up and running with their new processes and system, with which they were very pleased.
I learned valuable lessons that day which established my first two legacy principles.
The first was that collaboration ensures buy-in.
Whilst it is important to listen to your customer, it is equally important to ensure that you work together when defining process change and technology solutions. Even as we bring our knowledge of best practice, our experience, and our expertise, the customer brings their knowledge of their business, their processes and their way of working. Collaboration ensures buy-in which is more likely to deliver success.
The second was that understanding an effective solution is more than just technology.
Although computers and software are wonderful tools, particularly for complex problems, they are not always the most effective, efficient or cheapest solution. Rather, they should facilitate the delivery of a successful solution through the combination of people, process, strategy, data, and technology. To use an extreme example, a problem with document storage may be better solved with a new filing cabinet rather than a new software implementation, database or cloud storage; or at least it could be implemented as a ‘quick win’.
In applying these principles throughout my career, I have also seen the importance of my third legacy principle – honesty is the best policy.
I was once asked to take over the management of an in-flight project implementing a well-known market leading CRM product for a major bank in Europe. It quickly became apparent to me that what was being proposed to be implemented to support all the defined business process requirements would result in a very high number of screens, taking much longer than planned and at greater cost. Notwithstanding the implementation impact, it was inevitable the training effort, poor user experience, and on-going maintenance costs would potentially have led to an unpopular and expensive CRM system.
When your role is to manage the successful delivery of a major project, this was not a conclusion I was glad to reach, but one I felt had to be conveyed.
So I recommended taking a more pragmatic approach, focusing on automating the functions that would bring most benefit and time-savings, whilst not over-complicating the process. This enabled the solution to be implemented with less complexity, on-time and within budget, user training was delivered efficiently, and the deployment was pleasingly uneventful with high user adoption.
However, this would not have been possible without also having the buy-in and support of the client stakeholders. Making a recommendation was one thing, explaining the rationale behind it and then working on redefining the deliverables accordingly required mutual understanding, cooperation and collaboration. It would have been very easy for the client to have insisted on pursuing the original plan; it took insight and bravery to take an alternative route.
What I saw in this experience was evidence of the first two lessons I had learned and, by being honest with one another, we were able to agree on a way forward.
The first three principles remain essential ethically and logically, but the question is how do they apply to the diversification of traditional channels with the rapid evolution of next generation technologies like robotics and the advancement of digital transformation through social, mobile, analytics and cloud?
In fact, on reflection, there was a further legacy principle in evidence, a common thread throughout each of the experiences related above, which collaboration, understanding, and honesty underpin.
There is a real danger of automating something because you can rather than because you should, both in terms of the cost of implementation and the ROI. Furthermore, if you lose sight of the user experience, then you could implement something non-intuitive when something much simpler would suffice.
In other words, and my final legacy principle – the law of diminishing returns.
In an increasingly digital world, with tech-savvy customers who expect a simple and effective omni-channel journey as they follow a process to complete their chosen transaction, it is important not to lose sight of the underlying principle of the law of diminishing returns; born out of economics but applicable to other fields as well.
Rather than addressing every possible variant of a problem with a technology solution, the question should first be asked if the solution is simple and intuitive for the end-users, meets the strategic business goals, and whether the resulting benefits outweigh the cost of implementation. Otherwise your return on investment will diminish equivalently.
My wife and I love internet shopping. It is far more relaxing sitting back with a glass of vino and ordering deliveries online rather than wading our way through the crowds on a Saturday morning trailing uncooperative children in our wake. When internet shopping goes well, you take it for granted. However, when it doesn’t, then you have even higher expectations for customer service to resolve your issue.
Recently a laptop we had purchased had a motherboard failure. No problem, it was under warranty, so I went onto the manufacturer’s website and registered the issue quickly with the help of a virtual assistant and received an automated email saying they’d be in touch.
A couple of days later I received a text from a courier saying they’d visited my house and no-one was home. I thought this was odd as I hadn’t ordered anything. This happened three days in a row, but there was no number to call back to query it. I was at home on the fourth day, and it was a courier to collect a laptop for fixing, but he had no paperwork to show for it. Also, as I hadn’t heard anything from the manufacturer I had taken the laptop to the store. Quite frankly, I wouldn’t have just handed over a laptop to a courier without some form of formal documentation and audit trail either.
The customer service process for dealing with a fault had been designed to be so slick and cost effective that they had lost sight of the customer experience. There was no communication, no means for me to talk to someone, and no expectations were set. I would have preferred a call from a service centre to make arrangements for collection, but this step had been removed, perhaps to save money.
In this case, I was the end-user, and I did not find the process either helpful or intuitive. Rather, it had taken time and money to implement and resulted in a confused customer and an unfulfilled customer journey. Had this process been assessed to ascertain its effectiveness?
Collaboration in this instance would have required customer trials to confirm the process met expectations. Had the end-to-end process been considered in order to identify and understand any gaps between the technology solution and service fulfilment? Had customer feedback like CSAT surveys, designed to elicit both positive and negative responses, been sought to honestly assess the solution and improve it? Maybe they had, but there was no evidence of it.
It is essential to recognise that with customer-facing digital systems, customers, partners, and employees are all end-users. An omni-channel customer journey should now be supported seamlessly regardless of the channel, device or technology used. This is where traditional views of IT solution delivery have evolved significantly and rapidly over the last decade, hence the need to reassess how we plan and view the success of a digital project.
There is always the danger that by using digital technology innovations to make the lives of our customers or employees simpler we go too far and, rather than achieve increasingly intuitive experiences, we over-automate, frustrate the end-user and do this at great cost.
Legacy Principles in a Digital World
It perhaps seems a little counter-intuitive to limit digital transformation when so much is now possible. However, by recognising there will always be constraints like a budget to consider, and that change can still have unforeseen outcomes, then the changes most likely to provide the greater customer and employee satisfaction, cost benefit, and ROI should be targeted.
The four legacy principles are as fundamental in today’s digitally innovative world as they were 25 years ago, it is just how we apply them that is changing. Ultimately, working with clients to implement a digital solution that solves their problem simply and cost effectively, and deliver end-customers a solution that fulfils their expectations for an intuitive customer experience, provides the opportunity to build a long-term mutually beneficial relationship based upon trust for all involved. This is no less true now in today’s digital world than it was when I started out my career all those many years ago!