‘Digital transformation strategy’ is a broad term and can mean very different things to different people.
Defining your digital transformation strategy has many challenges: technical challenges, process challenges, and even cultural challenges. One of the biggest challenges is also one of its biggest promises—communicating the insights generated by all that data. How do you get the right information in the right place and time to the right people. All in a format they can actually use? In other words, how do you turn insight to action?
First, what are ‘insight’ and ‘meaningful use’?
First, let’s define what we mean by “insight”. Merriam-Webster defines insight as “the power or act of seeing into a situation”. The promise of a solid digital transformation strategy is using data analytics to uncover insights and create forecasts and recommendations. Unlike traditional business intelligence, data analytics hopes to tell us not just what will happen, but why it will happen. For instance, a traditional analysis might suggest that a Wednesday in July will have an average temperature of 85 degrees. With this insight, we could make predictions about energy use. But data analytics will take this a step further. Data might tell us that on cooler days, energy use goes up as people do more housework.
Those of you in health care will be familiar with the term “meaningful use”. In that industry, “meaningful use” measures how data and electronic health records are improving outcomes. Better health, better safety, increased efficiency. It’s not enough to just capture and digitize data—it’s what you do with it that matters.
So as you begin to implement your digital transformation strategy, ask yourself what “meaningful use” looks like in your organization. If you’re trying to improve operational efficiency, look at which operations and what levers mangers can pull to affect change. If you want to sell insights to your customers, you must understand what information they need and in which format. After you have a vision for what people will do with insights once they receive them, you can design your communication systems.
The right information
Too many systems are designed from the “here’s what I have to say” rather than the “here’s what you need to know” perspective. To get insight communication right, consider the action that’s going to take place. Ask yourself, “What information would I need to make a good decision?”
For instance a fitness tracker that tells me I’ve taken 6,000 steps today is operating the “what I have to say” standpoint. But a fitness tracker that knows that I usually take 8,000 steps in a day but am trying to take 10,000, and knows that it’s 4pm and I have a break I could use to take a walk is telling me “what I need to know.” That’s designing the insight with the action in mind.
Of course, some users don’t want to be told what to do. They may want an interface that allows them to explore data themselves and form their own insights. The challenge there is building an interface that ensures users see meaningful combinations of data in the right context, so that their conclusions aren’t misleading or unhelpful. Data visualization tools that allow users to change inputs, filters, and outputs can be fascinating, but they can also be difficult to use and can leave users overwhelmed with information and underwhelmed with insight. Going back to the fitness tracker example, showing me months of step counts might reassure me that I’m staying active, but without the context of medical advice and testing, that might be false reassurance.
The right place and time
The second part of a great insight communication system is sharing insights at the right place and time. Relying on anyone to remember an insight out of context or to pass along a crucial piece of information is asking for a system failure. For example, a fleet management report on a large construction site shouldn’t be presented in a home office staff meeting if the foreman and job leads aren’t there to see it. Instead, it needs to be made available to the entire team at the jobsite.
The same goes for timing. It’s essential to give teams information at the right intervals so that they have an up-to-date, relevant understanding of the state of things without feeling overwhelmed.
The right person
Obviously it’s important to give insights to the right people—the ones who will drive the action. But sometimes it can be hard to tell exactly who those people are. This is particularly true when you’re dealing with complex team structures and organizational politics. Job titles or an org chart might not reveal who will advocate for data-driven change or who really makes the decisions. These complications can make it tempting to democratize all information. It’s easy to just make that dashboard available to everyone or email this week’s numbers to the whole team, right? And while there’s nothing wrong with striving for transparency, remember that when everyone is responsible, no one is. To drive action through insight, you need to make it clear that even if everyone receives the report, one person or a small group of people is accountable not just for reading it, but for taking action.
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The right format
I recently heard about a client whose business was implementing a radical digital transformation strategy. They were moving from exclusively selling enormous machines to selling data and insights to their customers. And as part of this transformation, they reimagined their sales team and process. The client’s sales manager—who was an evangelist for the transformation—now spends several hours a day taking dashboard and report screenshots, adding his own commentary, and emailing them to his sales team. He’s moving the needle with his team, but knows that this process isn’t efficient or sustainable. Team members can directly access the dashboards and reports themselves, but they often choose not to.
While there may be a deeper cultural issue at play here, it’s a good story to keep in mind when designing your system. Do your teams need charts and graphs to review, or would they rather receive reports containing insights? Do they want to log in to a dashboard, get a text, or see the latest numbers in a report? Understanding these preferences and your company’s workflow up front can save you frustration and heartache down the line.
“Digital transformation strategy” is a broad term and can mean very different things to different people. But its cornerstone is change in behavior and organizations caused by adopting technologies and using data to work smarter. Whether you’re building your data analytic and reporting system from scratch, using one off the shelf, or tailoring a system to better suit your needs, think about the information, place and time, people, and format you’ll use to communicate your insights. It’s this consideration that will decide whether your digital transformation strategy will have a truly transformational impact on your business.
Learn more about communication challenges in “Analyzing the Communication Challenge”