Digital Supply Chains: Part Eight – Getting Started

This blog post by ChainLink Research Chief Research Officer Bill McBeath is excerpted from the report “Getting Real with Workflow-Enabled Digital Supply Chains,” available for download here.

This article concludes our series on digital supply chains by describing how to tackle change management and a few tips on getting started.

Getting Started and Driving Adoption

Minimum Viable Process Change

An agile approach is the opposite of a ‘big bang’ ‘boil the ocean’ approach. It is good to have a grand vision, but start small. Just as agile software engineers seek to put out a Minimum Viable Product quickly, digital supply chain visionaries can start with a ‘Minimum Viable Process Change.

In practice, this means not necessarily starting with the largest ROI, but rather where there are the highest chances of rapid success. It is important to take a fresh look at processes and imagine what is possible, but then take it in small steps.

Change Management—Turning Resistance into Enthusiasm

Unless the people using the system buy-in, it’s not going to work. How do we take people that have been doing something one way manually for decades and help them embrace new technology? Most people and organizations struggle when too many dimensions of changes are introduced simultaneously.

Often the best first step is to take some portion of a painful, or error prone, or time-consuming process and put that on a workflow platform, without trying to change the process too much. Once people see how that is improving their lives, then they will be willing to take steps to bigger and bolder process improvements.

Some implementations stumble when a workflow is implemented that adds data entry work for the line workers, simply for the sake of giving visibility for managers and executives. It is critical to look for ways to make it win-win for the frontline workers using the system as well, saving them time and reducing their data entry burden, while at the same time providing the data for dashboard visibility for managers to gauge performance improvement progress and spot opportunities.

That is why it is critical to talk through these changes with the people actually doing the work, try it out with them in a prototyping approach, and get them to become the champions of the system. It’s Change Management 101, but is so important.

A Simple Approach to Prioritizing Digital Strategy Elements

Hawkes Bay Regional Council developed a simple yet useful prioritization strategy. Initially, they simply implemented a couple of corporate forms, like lease application, catering request, and invoice advice. By starting with corporate forms, people started using and understanding what the Nintex Platform can and can’t do. The team consciously chose to imple­ment forms that were used by many people across the organiza­tion, providing broad exposure and the opportunity in the next phase to say, ‘this is just like that form you already use.

Once management realized how much potential there was in digitizing these workflows, they decided to create a digital strategy.

They asked all departments to identify paper-based forms and manual processes that might be automat­ed. The team asked three simple questions about each process:

  1. Frequency of use (how many times it is executed per year)
  2. Current time spent each time they execute the process (minutes per process iteration)
  3. Estimated savings if the process is digitized (minutes per process iteration)

Then they asked the IT department three ques­tions for each proposed process change”

  1. How much time will it take to do the business analysis for this process
  2. How much time will it take to develop the form and workflow
  3. Amount of ongoing support time you estimate will be needed

From those six answers (three from users, three from IT), they did simple ROI calculations, purely based on the value of estimated FTE efficiency gains vs. IT costs. They prioritized all their forms and workflows based on the highest ROI first. One group proposed about eight forms and processes for a specific service that had been all done together, so that became a special case where all those processes had to be lumped into one project. The rest of the processes could be done one at a time. They took the ROI calculations to the executive team for approval and began digitizing the processes in highest-ROI-first sequence.

“The great thing about Nintex, we can design and customize it to meet the needs of the business – we don’t have to tell them to do it this way or that way. Then once they have adopted, we can make more efficiencies and improvements. Other systems force people to change the way they do things.” – Anthony Gouder, Digital Transformation Team Lead, Hawkes Bay Regional Council

Beginning the Journey Now

The good news about using a workflow platform to drive digital supply chain initiatives is that you can start small, with low risk and low capital investment.

Here are some ideas on how to get started:

  • Identify one or two pain points amenable to improvement via digitization and automation. Look for processes or tasks that:
    • Are highly repetitive and time-consuming, wasting hours of your skilled people’s time
    • Have redundant data entry where time is wasted and errors are introduced
    • Where too much time is spent on following-up, checking status, and chasing people down
    • Where things slip through the crack or the process drags on way too long
    • Where there are compliance and auditability requirements
    • Where compressing time-to-completion will be highly valuable
    • Where visibility into the process is sorely needed
  • Start simple—identify the Minimum Viable Process Change (MVPC) that you can implement first.
  • Select a workflow platform meeting the agility criteria outlined above.
  • Start with a monthly subscription to lower risk.
  • Work closely with the end users throughout these steps. If possible, find an end user who can author and maintain the workflow.
  • Implement your first MVPC and test it with a few friendly users. When ready, roll it out more broadly.
  • Spread the word and build on that success, in incremental pieces.

Once you’ve gotten a few of these done and people are clamoring for more, you may get executives’ attention and be able to define a more holistic digital supply chain strategy and roadmap, with resources to push it forward.

There is no reason to wait, and plenty of reasons to start now rather than delay. Any business that is looking to survive and thrive in this fast-changing world should consider starting workflow-based digital supply chain transformation now.

 

Read the previous installments of this blog series:

  1. Digital Supply Chains: Part One – The Digital Supply Chain Imperative
  2. Digital Supply Chains: Part Two – Supplier Management, Field Service
  3. Digital Supply Chains: Part Three – Delivery Management, Contract Management, Procure-to-Pay
  4. Digital Supply Chains: Part Four – Quality, Product Info, Item Onboarding
  5. Digital Supply Chains: Part Five – Automating Quote-to-Cash, Source-to-Settle
  6. Digital Supply Chains: Part Six – Automating Concept-to-EOL, Incident-to-Resolution
  7. Digital Supply Chains: Part Seven – The Role of Workflow

 

Bill McBeath

Bill McBeath leads ChainLink's research efforts, as well as the procurement, strategic sourcing, design collaboration, and online marketplaces practices. With more than 20 years of experience in a variety of roles as a business and technology researcher and consultant, high tech executive, and software architect, Bill is recognized as a leading expert in extended-enterprise business models. Learn more about his research at http://www.chainlinkresearch.com.