The simple way low tech industries can digitally transform

The older and more undisturbed a process is, the greater the potential. Simple tools can create immediate and substantial value.

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Technology is “everywhere.” Or is it? When my 5-year-old son broke his arm, the hospital experience was unnervingly similar to mine as a child. Decades later, with all the technology we have available, the inefficiency was astounding.

As we waited for doctors and results, I thought about how some of the largest industries in the world are also some of the slowest to adopt technology. Sectors like healthcare, finance and agriculture are still in need of disruption and innovation.

But for CIOs in these industries, the paths to digital transformation are full of resistance. They must overcome people’s adversity to change — feelings, in this case, complicated by a mistrust of machines.

However valuable the long-term result, making a case for digital transformation is complex. Therefore, start with the simple.

The people problem

The biggest challenge in low tech industries is getting people to understand the value of technology. It’s around allaying their fears of being replaced. CIOs need to demonstrate how technology will complement human capabilities, make people’s lives easier and allow them to do more meaningful work.

In fact, as use cases are validated and processes reinvented through technology, the learnings are oftentimes counter to longstanding approaches. Suddenly, the realization is that the way things have been done forever isn’t the right way any longer. That can be a scary proposition, and employees won’t be the only ones wary of change.

The outcome for customers, consumers and partners must also be considered. It’s important to get the constituencies involved up front in decision making. Assessing each user’s experience is also key. Making technology adoption collaborative and clearly showing and communicating the benefits will create advocates instead of detractors while softening the perceived risk of change.

Efficiency: less is more

Digital transformation in any industry doesn’t happen overnight. In lower tech industries, change typically takes regression before progression. The application of technology throws a wrench into the existing methods. Along with technology, people, processes and, ultimately, culture must change. A new approach requires a new mindset, framework and training. All take time and perseverance.

Frustrations can run rampant during the transition period. Additionally, in lower tech industries, the starting amount of data tends to be low. The data that does exist is mistrusted, mischaracterized or misunderstood. When full data access is finally enabled, the information frequently flies in the face convention causing disregard or denial instead of recognition of its power.

Between cultural opposition, the need to reinvent workflow and revelations that might cause initial discomfort, inefficiencies may start to emerge. CIOs must sanction this interim loss to gain even greater efficiency in the long term.

High tech should be simple

It is critical for CIOs to define realistic goals and timelines for gains when evolving to high tech. Achievable targets facilitate credibility, which is a catalyst to other necessary shifts.

When processes are done differently, they should be measured differently. Consequently, rewards and metrics will need adjustment.

When adding technology, a good place to start is with data, its presentation and ability to help explain a problem or interpret results. If new information can supplement or enhance what’s in place, the transition to digital can be easier. Start simply. Technology doesn’t have to be cutting edge to be transformative. Straightforward ideas powered by technology have revolutionized our world.

Take retail for example. Traffic counters in stores were the foundation for subsequent sophisticated strategies. This early development, which seems obvious now, was one of the most impactful pieces of technology in this now high tech vertical. It changed the way stores staff, service and market.

Starbucks’ idea of mobile ordering is another example of pure simplicity. The company figured out how to use technology to make a process more efficient, without losing the personalization of the experience — something lower tech industries in flux tend to struggle with. 

Bring the value of technology to life

Many lower-tech industries are either lower margin or highly manual. Improvements come from really strong processes, which will vary by sector.

In the office of the CFO, digital tools can enable better scenario planning around multiple different outcomes to understand the impact of any one area on a company's financial performance. Other solutions help consolidate information faster so time can be focused on analysis instead of data collection.

In agriculture, data about weather and soil conditions can inform when to best plant, water and harvest. Drones will be able to easily monitor fields, see situations the farmers cannot and alert them to various issues. The right data can influence pricing and help ensure fair market value.

As high tech as many manufacturing environments are in terms of production, much is still lost when it comes to maintenance, repair and operations. Again, it’s simple: if a machine breaks, it’s useless. Waiting for parts and people to fix equipment damages sales and potentially hurts the customer experience, whereas technology like machine learning can identify problems before they happen. A proactive operation overcomes margins and manual issues.

In the case of my son’s broken arm, the simple idea of electronic medical records alone would have brought our experience closer to the modern age.

The concept of digital transformation seems daunting, especially through a lower tech lens. But the older and more undisturbed a process is, the greater the potential. Simple tools can create immediate and substantial value.

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