The human side of The human side of automation: making real change through digital transformation

This article on the human side of accounts payable automation was originally published in November 2019. All relevant statistics and copy have been updated as of November 2021. 

Within the next 3 years, digital transformation investments are projected to top $2.8 trillion.

That’s a whole lot of money.

Around the globe, enterprises are understanding and embracing the need for more advanced technologies. Supply chains are becoming more and more complex, and as trade crosses international borders, companies want to be certain that their digital processes support collaboration and transparent transaction tracking. 

But, the thing many businesses still struggle to understand is that simply investing in digital tools and implementing the new technologies isn’t enough. 

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 enables them to drive change.

The need for human-powered automation

All businesses harness 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 goal. There’s nothing wrong with this—in fact, cost savings should be a baseline objective of every automation project, but cost savings shouldn’t be your sole focus. 

When companies approach digital transformation focused-in on reductions and cost savings, they often create blindspots to the real opportunities it creates. Instead of just looking at the bottom line, you need to ask what the real business problems are you hope to solve and how you’ll achieve these outcomes. 

Take this example: 

A company focused on cost savings may look into ap automation to 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. 

Rather than simply focusing on reducing headcount, organizations should aim to simplify their process. In return, they’ll find a more agile business built to deliver value across their entire chain. 

Bilingual business

Implementing technology to solve real business problems and drive innovative outcomes requires a diverse set of skills. To get real results, you need to include people with a detailed understanding of the technology across the organization. These people need to be blended within your business to help support your teams and drive change. 

Often, it’s unlikely that one individual or team within an organization will have all the skills needed. It will take a collaborative effort to achieve the goals you set. 

Remember that it’s not just a matter of getting these people in a room together. You need to get your team on the same page to use a cohesive strategy and approach. This means that your technology experts need to understand the business problems, while your business people need at least a basic understanding of emerging technologies and how they work. 

When you can put all these elements together, you can drive real change. 

And that change doesn’t come just because it means your teams are armed with the knowledge to find innovative solutions to business problems. At a more fundamental level, it enables your employees to trust the new technology and its changing processes. 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. 

Every organization will find success with varying approaches. Some companies find great success in using influencer models that provide training to your leadership group across all subjects. They then pass this knowledge on to their teams. Here’s an example of this model in action:

You and your team are looking at improving your forecasting process. You give your leadership a crash course in statistical analysis. Then, you trust your leadership group to share what they’ve learned with their own teams. 

People have had success with this approach in the past since there is an element of trust when someone is told something by their own colleagues. It comes down to speaking the same language again, which is how you can start to educate at scale. 

Other companies have found success in different approaches to educating at scale. One strong approach is utilizing a resource library or education platform to house educational materials and training technologies. This platform gives your team the space to learn new technologies, continue their education, and further develop their skills. 

It’s crucial to deliver this content in bite-sized chunks so that employees stay engaged and energized in their learning journey. The benefit of this approach is that your 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. 

For more information on the need for digital solutions to support your business operations or to see how Tradeshift can help, reach out to our experts for a demo. Let’s get started and make shift happen in your workplace

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