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Digital Transformation: Unleash Your Firm's Hidden Knowledge

In my last post on digital transformation, I talked about how it’s tempting to track your competition in the race to disrupt and transform your industry, but that every business’s DNA mandates an approach specific to your challenges and objectives.

When you start to uncover new insights that are transformational, it’s critical to consider one often overlooked fact: You have a lot of hidden data living in your organization that you ultimately need to tap to digitize your business.

Where does the data reside? In the brains of your business experts, data scientists — even front and back office staff. And of course, on their PCs, tablets, and even sticky notes and business cards. It’s not just knowledge of their jobs, but the specifics about how they get things done; how they deal with people both in and outside of the company (including customers, partners, vendors and suppliers); and even their opinions about what the company should be doing differently.

Advancing your digital transformation requires “cracking the code” of the hidden knowledge in your business. This won’t happen overnight, but in planning and executing the DX process, your business will need to be aligned to ensure that human knowledge is consistently feeding the process — in addition to all your other critical data sources coming from machines, customers and the world at large.

For most businesses, this concept may seem at odds with the startling reality that machines are replacing humans for more and more tasks; as people retire or are replaced, human knowledge capital is vanishing at an alarming pace. In his book Only Humans Need Apply, author Tom Davenport makes the case that instead of smart machines replacing humans in their entirety, the optimal level of operation is augmentation — where humans and machines combine their strengths to achieve the best outcomes. That scenario is less dystopian than scenarios where machines are doing all the work, and where one small snafu stops the entire operation — and no humans are around to fix the problem.

Still, the numbers tell us that businesses are more productive with fewer people and more machines. That does not bode well for the next generation of workers, particularly in automation-intensive areas such as manufacturing. However, new legions of home-based manufacturers are using 3D printing, Kickstarter and Etsy, and even "virtual brick and mortars" such as farmers markets, pop-ups and other venues to both create and hawk their wares. Now, leading manufacturers (like Jabil Circuit, mentioned earlier) are actually taking what individuals are doing and rethinking it on an exponentially larger scale — using DX to make it happen.

Inside the optimally digitized business, employees are largely able to focus on areas where human skills do things machines can’t do, or do without intervention. Of course, you can’t rest on your laurels, and it is incumbent on individuals and the enterprise to consistently keep employee skills at their peak — particularly when DX reinvents the business again, and again, and again. And getting back to the initial point of your people being critically essential to transformation, note that the DX-powered organization isn’t capturing human knowledge before people leave — it’s doing it when they first come on board, until the day they retire, quit or otherwise.

If you’re interested in hearing more about how employee empowerment is helping change business and drive customer engagement, check out this video.

My next post will wrap the blog series by discussing how to embrace the role and evolution of analytics within your transformation journey.

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