Operations is an area where the impact of digital transformation can be felt most sharply, and itself has a huge impact on the success of any business change.
For COMPAREX, its own digital transformation journey has fundamentally contributed to its ability to operate globally, says Jason MacKay, General Manager, COMPAREX Canada. The company has used disruptive technologies as the engine to support collaboration, communications and share global processes.
We recently spoke with Marco Furlan, Head of Global Operations for COMPAREX, on the impact digital transformation has had on operations, on the company, and the role of employees and culture in its success.
How has digital transformation affected business operations?
It’s still a journey. And it is the beginning of that journey. There’s not a destination in sight yet, although there are a lot of models. From an operations perspective, it should lead to a workflow system where the manual touch is limited to high level processes. This will lead to speed and cost-efficiency, and the flexibility to address your customers’ needs.
It accelerates the speed at which we can concepts from idea to execution.
So, digital technologies are changing the very speed at which you can innovate?
Yes. The fastest transformations happen in companies that are focused on specific areas or have a lot of investment in this. Companies that are larger and more complex can be slower to react, unless there’s a strong top-down drive towards transformation.
Take Microsoft, for example. Since Satya Nadella took over as CEO, the company transformed from a sales- to a customer-focused approach. It also changed from its focus on Windows and its software portfolio to on providing a platform on which customers and partners can build their own services. This was a big leap, a paradigm shift.
How a change like that cascades throughout the organization — the transformation of systems and processes to enable it — that’s where the challenge is. The one critical element that’s almost never discussed around this is people.
The change of mindset that needs to occur across the enterprise is massive. And there may be a culture that has been in place for years. It needs to change from whatever it focused on to be focused on the customer.
People are important in this. You need to work with your employees to figure out what systems and processes are the best way to satisfy the customers. So, while you’re using technology to enable people to better do their job, those very people are the only ones who can tell you what the job should look like once the digital transformation has reached them.
So even as we talk about automation, it still comes down to people and processes?
Yes. We are not in a situation yet where every system talks to each other, and you still need human sense — common sense — to understand what’s going on. It’s true that automation potentially removes some need for resources in some situations. Instead of spending time inputting data into systems, for instance, people are freed up to use their expertise and customer knowledge to better deliver what the customer wants.
This is the new model. The move to modernization doesn’t exclude people, it transforms them as well. There are all these articles from experts on industry who say that automation will eliminate so many jobs. There’s definitely a job impact coming. But in B2B, particularly in this industry, there is still the critical element of relationships. That requires people.
We are as an industry still figuring out what the relationship will be between people and machines.
What role has operations played in technology evolutions at COMPAREX?
We have invested in new systems to transform processes — a new CRM system, a new ERP system to support end-to-end business. We’ve looked at systems that have a high-degree of flexibility, but also were also simple enough that we could quickly adapt to the market and customer requirements.
As I said, it is the beginning of the journey. My hope, as the head of operations, it that I can work with all the other business functions to put in place systems and support processes that drive quality, efficiency and better service for our customers.
For business transformation to succeed, lines of business need to collaborate. If you think in terms of your own silos, it might be good in the short time, but doesn’t work long term and the service provided to customers might be short lived. All parties must collaborate to attain lasting success.
Operations sees across the organization, because we receive input from all functions from HR to finance. We can act as the glue between functions. Operations needs to always be at the table, because we have a deep knowledge of the organizations’ people and processes. Whatever great idea the organization has, whether its digital transformation, new consumption models or cloud, if operations isn’t involved you risk that your great idea is impractical.
How do you consistently foster that degree of collaboration across the business?
The biggest transformation of all: change the culture. Drive a shift in mindset. I’m in operations, so I love my KPIs. But this is one of those things you cannot really measure or control, because it’s about people. Always make your people part of the journey. That’s the only way to build the right environment to foster transformation.