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Digital Transformation Series: The Benefits of Improving Workflows with Collaboration

There are a number of technological trends poised to have a profound impact across entire businesses, and right now, digital transformation is the most important one. Understanding the technology aspects of digital transformation is essential, but the focus of this series is on the equally important business-level benefits.

My first post in this series addressed customer experience and the external impact of digital transformation. Today’s topic on improving workflows is primarily internal facing and speaks to the everyday operations of your business.

Workflows can be improved in a variety of ways, but few can deliver better results than a collaboration solution—not just to make IT’s job more manageable but to help all end users work more productively. To understand why, one must first consider how work modes are evolving in the digital world, and how that is creating new demands that cannot be met by existing tools.

Understanding the shift from analog to digital modes of working

The starting point for connecting the dots between digital transformation and workflow is to recognize the shift from discrete to continuous work modes. In the analog world, most tasks were completed in a serial fashion. Based on existing technologies at the time, multitasking capabilities were limited, so tasks or projects were managed one at a time. Most tasks had a clear beginning and end, much like the nine-to-five workday.

Fewer tasks today follow this format. Projects tend to flow into one another. Enabled by digital technologies and the always-on web, work has become a 24/7 activity, demanding continuous engagement on many levels. As the speed of business keeps increasing, multitasking has become the norm, requiring workers to manage multiple streams of work simultaneously. From this, the value of real-time communications is significant, along with having the right tools to collaborate on a continuous basis.

That said, a collaboration platform isn’t enough to improve workflows in a digital workplace. Decision makers must also understand how people, especially Millennials, work differently. Being both mobile and web-centric, Millennials expect to be able to work at any time from any location on their device of choice. With digital technologies, time or place should not impinge on workflows, and IT can deliver on this promise with appropriate planning.

Learnings from the Santa Clara County Fire Department (SCCFD)

For example, businesses are increasingly operating in a distributed manner, and to support that, workers need digital endpoints or devices. Our research indicates that it’s often not enough to just deploy a collaboration solution. Consider the case of the Santa Clara County Fire Department. Our research included an interview with Eric Prosser, their Information Technology Officer, and he explained that their district serves a broad population base, going well beyond the local fire department.

Their starting point for digital transformation began with a network upgrade to fiber, which provided the bandwidth needed to support digital applications across all their locations, including those used for collaboration. What they found was that their existing PCs and tablets were too old or slow, so upgrades were needed there as well.

Prior to those upgrades, firefighters relied on personal smartphones connected to mobile networks for things like accessing current GIS databases to find the fastest routes to a fire based on a 911 call. While this solves a specific communications need, it’s a standalone application rather than one that integrates with other applications for multimodal collaboration. In this regard, the user experience (UX) is critical, and this depends heavily on having an end-to-end solution that is purpose-built to support digital applications across all use cases and workflow requirements.

The more distributed your workforce, the stronger the rationale becomes to deploy a cloud-based collaboration solution. Aside from enabling a consistent UX for all end users, this approach provides IT with flexibility to integrate with existing cloud applications, and add new applications to improve workflows without disrupting network operations. Not only will IT be able to properly support existing workers this way, but this capability aligns with the way Millennials want to work and what they are looking for in an employer, making it easier to attract new talent.

More learnings from SCCFD—automating manual tasks

Another benefit to consider with digital transformation is the automation of tasks that have long been done manually in the analog world. Every business has its share of manual tasks. SCCFD research illustrates why this is another driver for using a collaboration platform to improve workflows. The particular example cited was ePCR—electronic patient care records—which had previously been managed manually. In the field, firefighters had to write patient information down manually, then enter it again into a database when back at the station. In addition to duplicating efforts, these workflow steps were prone to being inaccurate or incomplete, not to mention being slow and inefficient.

When lives are on the line, first responders cannot keep working this way. Now, data is entered on a tablet, on scene, then it’s disseminated in real time across the full first responders network of fire chiefs, paramedics, physicians, and the local hospital. This is a prime example showing why businesses need to think more broadly about the value of collaboration platforms for improving workflows. Not only are communications easier, but automated tasks minimize inaccuracies and speed process completion.

Implications

Improving workflows is a universal business objective. The key here is to recognize how collaboration solutions can deliver value in two ways. First is the requirement to facilitate efficient communications in today’s digital workplace. With continuous modes of working, employees need a fluid set of capabilities that standalone communications applications cannot support.

Second is the need to automate more elements of workflows, and digital transformation is enabling far more possibilities. You may not have been thinking about these two things in a connected manner, but they are, and given what digital collaboration solutions can deliver, the business case is clear for improving workflows to drive better business outcomes.