Transitioning your business operations to digital channels

Yafaa Ahres

Find out how building a digital business platform for your organisation can drive new revenue, reduce costs and enhance customer experience – and how an expert digital consultancy can help you deliver this.

Digital technology has been a mainstay of most businesses for decades, and the majority of business information is now digitised as files, databases, emails and so on. In recent years, the concept of ‘going digital’ has come to refer more generally to technology-enabled business activities – particularly over the internet. For example, most businesses today use digital marketing via websites, email and social media – while many also offer digital sales channels (or e-commerce). 

However, despite these digital developments, most everyday business processes have stayed largely manual. To do their jobs, employees and business customers send and receive emails, make phone calls, update spreadsheets, and perform other manual tasks.

The rise of digital transformation in business

Digital transformation is about changing your fundamental business processes themselves – to harness the full potential of digital channels, platforms and technologies.

While it may start with a single business process, digital transformation encompasses the integration of digital technology into all areas of your organisation. This will fundamentally change your business operations and how you deliver value to customers. 

On a higher level, digital transformation is about driving a cultural change in your organisation – where you constantly challenge the way things are, experiment with new ways of working – and learn valuable insights from your setbacks and successes.

Digitising business processes around user and customer needs

The act of digitising a business process is about more than just ‘going paperless’ or communicating with your team online. It means applying the capabilities of digital technology to every aspect of that process – and how it serves the user or customer.

Customer-centricity and user-focus should be at the heart of how you reimagine your processes for digital. You should rethink how to benefit the customer and then realign the value delivery processes with technology – to answer customer needs in the best possible way.

To get started, you first need to fully understand the process in question – because you can’t transform what is not properly understood. Process mapping is the act of documenting each step in a process, and the flow of information between these steps – and then representing this in a clear visual form, such as a flowchart.

Then you can identify which steps and information flows have not yet been fully digitised. These may still involve paper documents or manual data entry. Converting the entire process to a digital form enables immediate benefits in terms of your ability to accelerate actions and search for information – but the transformation doesn’t stop there. 

Next, with the whole process digitised, you can use technology to automate manual tasks wherever possible – with dramatic improvements to speed and efficiency.

Digital transformation is not a one-time change. Once in a digital form, the process becomes easier to adjust and refine – enabling an iterative cycle of business improvement. When processes are digital, you can use cloud technologies to improve their cost-efficiency, scalability, agility and customer-centricity.

Creating new digital business processes, channels and platforms

Digital transformation is not only about digitising your existing ways of working. You can also completely reinvent business processes – or create entirely new ones that were not previously possible.

You should now think in terms of what the objectives of your processes actually are. With this view, you can create new and better digital processes to achieve these goals – not just attempt to recreate existing manual processes in digital form. For example, you can give users and customers self-service analytics tools to help them gain new insights about how they use your services – or provide smart actionable recommendations using AI to help them meet their needs in quicker and easier ways. 

To identify good candidates for new or transformed processes, check that it can be fully digitised, can be well-defined and is repeatable. Your new process should add business value at each step, and be flexible enough to adapt to future change and ongoing improvement.

Changing business operations to digital

As digital transformation rolls out across your business, you move towards changing all your organisation’s operations to digital processes.

For this level of transformation, your organisation’s leaders must be fully on-board and believe in the benefits of digital. As these changes will affect the fundamental operation and culture of the business, they must be driven from the top of the organisation.

From manual steps to digital algorithms

A key aspect of digital transformation is the ability to start replacing manual steps in your business processes with algorithms –– in other words, to automate the steps, rather than requiring a person to undertake that action.

The algorithm could be relatively simple, such as based on a numerical formula or logical rule. For example, if an invoice is over a certain value, route it to the appropriate person for approval. Or it could be a more complex step that requires some level of machine learning or AI.

Machine learning (ML) has great potential to improve the efficiency of business processes. By automatically analysing and learning from available data, ML systems can identify better ways to achieve the process objectives.

Transforming to a technology organisation

The long-term objective of all this is transforming your organisation to become a ‘technology organisation’. This does not mean that your business will change its industry sector – but rather that it embraces the advantages and methods of digital technology at every level.

This organisation-wide transformation has already moved ahead in recent years, partly as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. With a large portion of the workforce continuing to work remotely using digital tools, organisations have realised there is ‘no going back’ on this aspect of digital transformation.

Organisations in all sectors and industries are learning from pioneering tech companies like Amazon and Netflix. One lesson is that old business models can be disrupted and subverted overnight by new customer-centric digital offerings. Another lesson is around the tremendous efficiency, scalability, agility and innovation that tech companies have unlocked.

Through digital transformation, your organisation can also gain these benefits – and be a competitive data-driven business ready for the future.

Real-world example: Creating a digital self-service customer platform

Let’s explore how one established business has started to embrace digital transformation in its operations. Selecta is Europe’s leading provider of self-service beverage and food vending machines to businesses and venues. Headquartered in Switzerland, the business also operates in countries including the UK, France and Sweden, and generates approximately €1.6 billion in annual revenue.

Selecta recently worked with UK-based digital transformation consultancy Elsewhen to create a proof-of-concept (POC), demonstrating the opportunity to grow sales beyond the company’s traditional channels. In just 6 weeks, the consultancy built a minimum viable product (MVP) of a digital self-service channel for the UK market – overcoming challenges from business complexity and legacy technology.

Breaking through legacy tech barriers to self-service

Previously, the majority of Selecta’s business customers were ordering equipment and supplies via phone or email. Some territories had experimented with digital channels, but these projects lacked a unified approach, gave a poor user experience and had not achieved much uptake.

Selecta had developed a growing appetite for a new digital self-service B2B2C (business-to-business-to-consumer) channel. However, the business relies on a complex mixture of legacy technology – while acquisitions and a variety of markets operating independently have added to tech debt.

Delivering quick wins with a digital proof-of-concept

The consultancy created a working prototype platform to build confidence in digital transformation at Selecta. They set an ambitious but achievable goal – to launch a full transactional proof-of-concept digital channel for Selecta’s UK market in just 6 weeks.

The team specified the requirements for a new digital platform enabling business customers to order, configure and manage Selecta products. To ensure a great customer experience aligned with the Selecta brand, they evolved a design that utilised UX best practices and consumer grade design.

After interviewing key Selecta stakeholders, the consultancy considered underlying technologies, proposing and evaluating a range of system architecture options. These considered issues such as cost-effectiveness, resilience, scalability – and how product data would be communicated between Selecta’s ERP and the customer ordering platform. Selecta followed the recommendation of basing the platform on proven SaaS (software-as-a-service) cloud-based technology – ensuring fast development, excellent support and resilient operations.

Combining SaaS benefits with best-in-class UX

In just 6 weeks, the team delivered a working digital platform for the UK market as planned. The benefits of using SaaS included a fast time to market, an easy-to-use API and avoidance of lock-in.

The consultancy trained Selecta staff on how to process online orders and manage catalogue items. Although beyond the initial scope of the POC, they enabled the sales platform to process account orders from existing Selecta business customers as well as card payments. In addition to a daily data export to Selecta’s ERP system, they also enabled the Selecta team to process online orders on the fly, within their existing workflow.

Establishing a map for international rollout

An additional benefit of the POC project was that the consultancy mapped out Selecta’s wider technical real estate – a valuable asset for the future rollout of digital across the business. They worked out a plan of action for this process to scale across the Selecta group. With the fully functioning POC in the UK market, they were able to engage other countries and get them excited about the future of digital at Selecta. 

They also defined next steps for Selecta to move forward – such as expanding the online product catalogue, increasing integration with CRM and ERP, and growing the initial success across Europe.

Explore our case study to learn more

Find out more about how Elsewhen helped Selecta build a digital self-service customer platform. 

Read the case study

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