Transforming a traditional company into a digitally-empowered business

Yafaa Ahres

How can a conventional company – reliant on ‘analogue’ paper forms and documents – rapidly transform into a modern integrated digital business? It’s a challenge facing many established companies, and a question Elsewhen helped answer when working recently with financial services firm Capitalflow.

Photo: Unsplash

Capitalflow’s finance solutions were attractive to SME customers – but its legacy infrastructure and processes were holding it back from the next phase of growth. The business was based on a complex mix of manual processes, requiring phone calls, emails, Word files, paper documents, PDFs and spreadsheets. Receiving a customer lending application, assessing this, making a decision and transferring capital could take weeks.

Similar problems are faced by traditional businesses in all industries and sectors – and digital transformation can provide a solution.

The rise of digitalisation in business

Various factors are driving businesses towards digitalisation.

Firstly and most importantly, customers themselves are transforming – rapidly changing to have more demanding expectations about customer service. Having spent decades using the internet and mobile devices, they increasingly prefer accessing businesses and services digitally. They live in an age of choice, information and easy comparison – and will not hesitate to switch their custom away from your business to a competitor that better meets their needs and preferences.

Photo: Unsplash

A second driving factor is competition – the emergence of strong digitally-enabled rivals to your business. These may be other established businesses like yours, but that have successfully implemented digital transformation – or they may be new digital-native start-ups that can disrupt your market with innovative services, seamless efficiency and business agility.

These digital-native businesses benefit from advanced technological competencies, intelligently designed processes, agile working methods and technology-empowered employees. They view the world through a customer-centric lens, know how to leverage data to build business value, and will experiment and iterate to drive continuous improvement.

The need for traditional companies to transform

Faced with the mega-trend of digitalisation, established ‘analogue’ companies are realising they must embrace digital transformation – or fall by the wayside.

Most of these companies will already have a significant technology capability. They may have implemented software-based systems for ERP, accounting, payroll,     communications, and other everyday business activities. But when it comes to many internal or customer-facing business processes, this will usually have happened in a staggered and disjointed way – with any electronic documents or channels still only forming a part of complex, inefficient manual processes.

Now, however, they are realising that intelligently integrated digital technologies and processes offer great potential – not just for more efficient and cost-effective business operations, but also for building stronger, more profitable relationships with more satisfied customers. They see the capability to serve customers via a rich mix of digital channels, at a time and place that’s convenient for them. 

These companies recognise that digital automation could bring efficiency and acceleration to their business operations. They are waking up to the untapped value in their data and intellectual property – that digital methods can unlock. Most importantly, they understand the urgency to do all this now – before their customers turn away to find a better digital competitor.

Making the move to digital-native business

For traditional businesses, the journey of digitalisation will be unlike any they have undertaken before – and the prospect can seem very daunting. They need to learn lessons from successful digital-native businesses – and work with the right expert partners.

The journey will involve bringing together existing digital systems to work more efficiently together, replacing those that can’t – and adding new digital technologies to seamlessly integrate and automate everything into a modern customer experience (CX).

The business must clearly understand and document its customer-facing processes, and then evaluate how these could be made better if enabled by digital transformation. Can offerings be simplified or consolidated into a more logical and efficient set? Can the steps required to buy or access services be reduced and rationalised? Do you have disconnected or ‘siloed’ areas of functionality or data that need to be connected or consolidated? This is where the advantages of expert product and service design come into action. 

Remember, you may need to change more than your processes. Success may require transforming fundamental aspects of your business – such as strategic focus, operational structure, workforce skillset, and so on.

Making the digital journey more agile

While it’s unrealistic to expect that you will find the ‘perfect’ answer from the start, this holistic examination of your business processes helps you understand what could be better – and which aspects to prioritise for digital change pilots and proofs of concept. 

You may identify candidates for digital platforms, software and providers – but be open to changing your plan as you move ahead. Successful transformation projects use iteration to evolve the optimum solutions – and build incremental business value with every step.

Although the exact journey to digital business will vary depending on your market sector, many principles are the same. Your company is unlikely to find a single all-powerful off-the-shelf solution. You will likely need to manage a range of platforms, work with multiple software vendors, and meet the compatibility challenges of integrating all these – costing you significant time, effort and expense. 

Success will be supported by bringing intelligent digital thinking and agile methods to the change process itself – to enable the most efficient and effective route to your digital transformation goals. The business must have clearly defined and agreed ways of managing, implementing and monitoring the journey.

The digital business must support cross-functional collaboration, with processes enabled to flow seamlessly across departments, and with customers and business partners. This end-to-end nature is vital to deliver the optimum benefits of digitalisation.

Digitalisation in action – real-world benefits

So how has digitalisation transformed a business like our client Capitalflow?

We helped the company move its systems away from the previous disjointed state to a new approach – connecting with customers digitally end-to-end. The business benefits so far include:

  • Acceleration: 50% potential time saved on commercial real estate lending applications.

  • Simplification: 95% average fewer steps in asset finance customer journey.

  • Efficiency: 80% shared processes across lending products.

Explore our case studies to learn more

Elsewhen is a digital product consultancy based in London, UK. As an agency partner to leading global brands, our services include digital transformation, digital strategy and digital product design consulting.

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