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The constant demand for leaner, faster and more efficient operations combined with the technology available in today’s digital market, have pushed a drive towards digitization in all economic sectors. With that in mind, companies now face the challenge of either choosing to actively adapt to the digital wave, or passively keep their fingers crossed and hope that their competitors will not adapt before them. You should not wait. In this article, I will argue in favor of five tangible and relatively affordable steps to digitize your business -starting from now- so that you can reach the efficiency you need to succeed in today’s challenging ecosystems!

by
DIEGO MALDONADO ROSAS

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  1. Adoption of a CRM (customer relationship management system). 

A Customer Relationship Management (CRM) is a software for managing all the interactions between your business and its real or potential clients. The main objective of using a CRM system is to organize operations towards reaching higher profitability from clients.

The main benefit of a CRM is to be a one-stop-shop for all the information regarding your clients. As such, it reduces operational waste and prevents informational chaos.

Based on my experience working with different CRM software, I can say that a CRM is the ideal first step in an integrated digitization strategy because it organizes the company towards serving the client and it gives the tools to measure the success of it; it helps your sales teams to structure and execute a sales pipeline. It assists your post-sales support team in monitoring the history and quality of services provided to each client. Behind the scenes, it helps your marketing department to understand the impact and success of their different campaigns.

Most CRM systems include tools and methods for automating certain communication processes like auto-responses for inbound client emails, alerts for clients reaching certain milestones, and auto scheduling tasks that coordinate the customer facing teams. When in place, these tools help achieve high working efficiency and ensure a rapid response to your client´s needs.

A very well-structured CRM tool will help you plan the use of the company resources. It provides your managers with indicators on the expected cash flow generated by sales. Consequently, it informs your operations departments of the production demands and inventory requirements that will need to be satisfied in the near future.

The market offers a wide range of CRM alternatives. From easy-to-use sales pipeline managers such as Pipedrive or Hubspot, affordable systems such as Zoho CRM or SugarCRM, to complete ecosystem suites like the ones offered by Salesforce, SAP and Oracle.

Once a company starts using one CRM environment, it is not easy to migrate later to another one. It is very relevant to choose an option that can suit your current needs but remain flexible enough to scale further with the business development. At the same time, decisions taken when setting up your CRM might have unsuspected consequences a few quarters later. That is why is highly recommended to have professional assistance from an experienced CRM consultant that can help your business choose the ideal CRM system that suits your needs over time. 

2. The long path to get rid of paper-based processes.

Besides those documents that in their legal nature need to be kept as originals, I challenge anybody to give me any good reason to print and store documents.

Hand filled paper forms can turn digital with relative ease by replacing the paper with online forms. If handwriting is truly necessary, you can still recycle the paper and store its information by having Optical Character Recognition (OCR) software convert the handwritten words into digitally readable characters.

Data input processes which require signatures, identity verification or other legally enforceable mechanisms can become digital by using either in-house electronic signature mechanisms or third party services that allow you to save signatures or identities digitally. Signature services like Docusign or AdobeSign allow companies to collect legally binding signatures remotely. The same applies for services like IDnow, Jumio or IDCheck, which are currently used by financial institutions to verify the identity of borrowers when granting online loans.

To turn your business into a paperless company, a good starting point is to draft the central process flows for each department and then identify which are the offline activities of the process which can add more value if turned digital.

As in every project that involves changing the way of doing certain things, it is recommended to consider a gradual implementation, avoiding introducing several changes at the same time and always involving the key members of the operating teams. A participative implementation approach will help prevent suspensions of your services when facing technical hiccups and will prevent your teams circumventing the new features because of being used to “the way they always did these things”. 

3. Real-time business intelligence

Creating periodical (monthly, quarterly, yearly) reports requires a considerable amount of effort from your quantitative departments (finance, controlling, business intelligence). Gathering data, standardizing, and then processing information in spreadsheets must be repeated every quarter and once the report is out, the data starts losing relevance each day.

A different approach is to report and measure the company’s activity via real-time Business Intelligence (BI) Systems. A real-time BI approach allows your management to steer the company by always having relevant information and KPI’s at hand. Because you will require projects need to show measurable results, it encourages a data-driven culture.

Implementation of this strategy requires a set of very well implemented processes; A consistent method for gathering data in real time and storing the data in structured databases. A method for modeling the information in the right data sets, and a system of dashboards where to display the key metrics that need to be communicated or supervised. For this purpose, the market offers a nice range of products like Microsoft’s PowerBI, Tableau, Looker and Sisense which are made to transform abstract data into visually appealing information.

The challenge to successfully implement BI dashboards is to build dashboards that show the right amount of information to meet the company goals, not more, not less. Without a BI system, management risks steering in darkness, but having an excess of useless dashboards and charts will overload the reader and dilute any useful information in a sea of noisy data. 

4. Wikis and Knowledge Management Systems.

Developing the solution to an industry problem consumes resources. If later such company allows that know-how to be forgotten, its value will be inevitably lost and will only be recuperated by investing additional resources. So, how can you leverage on the learning curve to improve your organization’s productivity?

I propose that you invest in developing and keeping a Knowledge Management Systems (KMS) that can centralize your company’s collective knowledge. This way it is possible to share the experience of old employees, onboard new team members in less time, inform of feature releases and their technical backgrounds and, in general, increase the lifetime value of the hours invested in solving past complex problems.

It sounds easy, but it is not exempt of challenges. To install a KMS requires a collective effort of making centralized documentation storage a part of your company’s habits, management commitment, and employee empowerment. It demands a clean structure to organize the file’s information. It needs to be open enough but also private enough to prevent the uncontrolled spreading of company secrets.

The market offers a multitude of Wiki systems, from open source projects to full suites like Tallium, Confluence, Salesforce Knowledge. However, the value of a Wiki is only given by the adoption of it.

A recommended approach to increase adoption is to integrate Knowledge Management Systems with team collaboration tools like Slack, Asana, Trello or Atlassian. This can help reduce the friction required for making information available. 

5. Actionable client feedback.

The things your clients tell you, might not be necessarily what they really think or what they later share with their circles. The only thing that is clear to your business is that your long-term revenue depends on keeping clients and keeping them satisfied. Once inside the organization, it is hard for management to look at their services through a client’s eyes. That is something that can be solved by having customer success as a business goal.

Feedback collected in a structured way can fundament the projects that fix procedures, introduces new products or services, and improves client’s pain points.

A very solid and actionable method for gathering and working over customer feedback is the Net Promoting System developed by Bain & Company. It is a system built after the numeric answers provided to the question “How likely are you to recommend {this product or this company} to a friend or colleague?

Implementing this method is not absent of challenges. It requires management commitment for the provision of technical resources in its installation and for paying a consistent attention to the feedback received.

Diego Maldonado Rosas

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