The human side of automation: how to make a success of digital transformation

November 15, 2019 James Hayward

Businesses will invest $1.18 trillion in digital transformation projects by the end of the year. And many of these projects will fail to live up to expectations. A key reason: business leaders believe the successful implementation of new technology is all that’s needed for  transformation.  

But it isn’t. Digital transformation isn’t about just using technology to digitize a process, it’s about empowering people. People are the real changemakers in a business and technology is the enabler for them to drive change.

At our Innovation Summit, Tiger Tyagarajan, CEO at Genpact, and Pavan Pamidimarri, VP of Global Business Services at Levi Strauss & Co., joined Tradeshift’s SVP & GM Enterprise Platform, Melissa Gordon, to discuss how businesses can leverage the power of tomorrow’s technology to empower the humans using it.

Human-powered automation

All businesses are harnessing technology to automate processes, it’s a key pillar of every digital transformation project. And many are doing so with cost savings as their primary aim. There’s nothing wrong with this—in fact, cost savings should be a baseline objective of every automation project, but this mustn’t be the sole focus.

According to Genpact’s Tiger, when companies approach digital transformation with a laser focus on headcount reductions and cost savings, they’re often blind to the real opportunities it creates. “Instead, they must ask what are the business problems they want to solve and what are the outcomes they want to achieve,” he said.

For example, a company focused on cost savings may look to automate accounts payable so it can reduce headcount by 50%. While this one-time saving may look good in the short-term, it doesn’t come close to measuring the long-term value created by a company focused on outcomes. They’ll automate accounts payable with the objective of paying their suppliers on time, enabling procurement to renegotiate terms with suppliers and create much more value than a reduction in headcount.

This is how Pavan makes decisions at Levi’s too. “It’s all about simplifying,” he explains, “making the business more agile, and delivering value to the business units,” And this rarely means reducing headcount, it means using technology to enable people to do their jobs better.

Bilingual business 

Applying technology to solve real business problems and drive innovative outcomes requires a diverse set of skills. As Tiger explains, to get real results you need to blend those people within the businesses that have a detailed understanding of the technology with those that have knowledge around the problems the company faces and how to drive change in a complex organization. And it’s unlikely that one individual or team within an organization will have all these skills. 

It’s not just a matter of getting these people in a room together, adds Tiger, that’s the easy part. They need to speak the same language to deliver results. So, the technology folks need to understand the business problems, while those business folks need at least an elementary understanding of emerging technologies and how they work. “When you put it all together you can solve problems and drive change,” he said.

Pavan has applied this methodology at Levi’s and it’s fundamental to the success of his team. And not just because it means his teams are armed with the knowledge to find innovative solutions to business problems. At a more fundamental level, it’s so his people can trust the new technology and the processes it is changing. This is crucial since asking people to change is never easy, but it is a lot easier when people trust the change they’re asked to make.

Constant education 

But how do businesses go about arming their people with the skills required to thrive in a digital ecosystem? That’s the big question many business leaders are wrestling with right now. 

At Levi’s, Pavan uses an influencer model within his department by providing training to his leadership group in all manner of subjects. For example, when his FP&A team were looking at improving their forecasting process, he gave his leadership a crash course in statistical analysis. He trusts his leadership group to share what they’ve learned with their team. 

Pavan says he’s had success with this approach because there is an element of trust when somebody is told something by their own functional colleagues. It comes down to speaking the same language again, he says, this is how you educate at scale. 

Genpact has taken a different approach to educate at scale. The company has built its own education platform for its staff to enable them to understand emerging technologies and the intricacies of the companies and processes they support.

The platform contains internal and external learning materials about subjects such as distributed ledger technology all the way to the supply chain processes in the retail industry. These are all delivered in bite-size chunks, which Tiger says is crucial to driving engagement. It also means Genpact’s people can get the level of knowledge they need to apply the concepts they learn to their everyday work, without getting bogged down in the details. 

Empowering the changemakers

Digitizing a process isn’t true digital transformation, and eliminating the need for a human to complete a task doesn’t eliminate the human. People will always be the drivers of business, no matter how much technology is implemented. The job now for every business is figuring out how to maximize the skills of their workforce by using technology.

You can watch the full panel discussion or learn more about how to use technology in your digital transformation journey by downloading our latest e-books for finance and accounts payable

 

About the Author

James Hayward

James is Tradeshift's Editorial Manager and a Content Writer obsessed with storytelling and providing finance professionals with insights and advice on how to take their finance function to the next level.

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