Data-driven work requires much more than beautiful technology

At a time when the challenges for organizations are piling up, innovative digital technologies promise enormous opportunities: from software robots that automate work to BI dashboards that provide an overview of the entire business. But many organizations that roll out this software don’t keep the promise, notes Exilo co-founder Erik Koster.

“Today it seems as if you as an organization no longer participate if you do not have the latest software running”, begins Erik, who advises public organizations from Exilo in the areas of finance, control and business operations. “At a minimum, you have to work data-driven – and that of course includes the smartest solutions,” he says.

The advantages of these solutions are therefore great and numerous. A small selection: Cheaper and more efficient business operations, savings on administrative staff, the ability to better deploy freed people and the necessary insight to manage on the main lines as a director, to look ahead and make better decisions.

But reaping such benefits turns out to be easier said than done. “Unfortunately, we notice in practice that these benefits are achieved to a limited extent,” says Erik. “We see a lot of data being collected, but making decisions based on that data is still limited.”

“The BI dashboard is consulted once a month or sometimes dumped into Excel for editing. Or the software robots stand still because they were not updated when the source system was changed”, he outlines some of the examples he often encounters in his work.

Only the technology

The stated objective pursued by organizations already reveals what is often missing in practice: the promised value is achieved by being data-driven. working, not by simply getting software in-house. The smartest solutions are worthless if they are not used (correctly) – if they are not used the work.

“We often see that a few people in the organization are enthusiastic about the technology. Then they ensure that it is purchased – often from a supplier who then only supplies the technology,” explains Erik. “So it is, or so we think.”

In this way, however, it is not a question of a “supported choice” by the entire organization. “So you have people internally who mostly look at the technology and not more broadly, and the vendor of the technology is solely providing the technology.”

Organizational problem

What is going wrong here, Erik explains, is that data-driven work is approached as a technological problem instead of an organizational problem, where, in addition to technology, attention is also needed to the processes and especially the people who make it possible.

“If decision makers don’t value data-driven decisions, the rest of the organization will take over.”

“The organizations that successfully implement new ICT techniques have not stopped with the successful implementation of the ICT application. Firstly, they link this with redesigning the processes – because if you leave the process the same, you will continue to do the same.”

In addition, people must be trained in the new work method, including the use of the technology. “Data-driven work requires something different from your current employees. It is an aspect that is often underestimated, but without the right training you will see that employees do not know what to do with the data.”

It is equally important to get the managerial layer on board. “If these decision makers do not value data-driven decisions, the rest of the organization will take over. It is important to take them with you!”

Digital in the DNA

You cannot start with this adaptation of the processes and include people after the technology is in place – the three elements must be seen in conjunction with each other.

The connecting factor in this is the company’s objectives, explains Erik. “The IT must be minimally supported in relation to the business goals. It really is in the DNA of successful businesses. They have the tools, but also the professionals who want to work with these tools.”

“It really starts with what kind of organization you want to be.”

To explain how big the step can be for some organizations, he takes education as an example. “Teachers are still trained to write with chalk on a blackboard. Is everything taken from a digital whiteboard? The same applies to business operations: to be able to implement new technology like RPA there, more needs to be done than just training people.”

“It really starts with what kind of organization you want to be,” he emphasizes. “What do you actually wear? You want to involve and train the employees in that. Make sure you have good ambassadors who excite and concretely support the employees. If you want to make good use of digital in your organization, then digital must become a part of your organization’s DNA.”

The basics in order

This is where Exilo helps customers. Not by immediately betting on the latest, most hyped technology, but by looking carefully at what suits the organization in question.

“Our first step is to get an answer to the question ‘what do you want to achieve with the new technology?’ Then we actually take a step back and look at where the organization is now: ‘is the foundation in order?’”

Sometimes it turns out that other steps have to be taken before the desired solution can be implemented. “For example, a municipality came to us with the question of whether we could help them build a series of dashboards. In the end, it turned out that, on the one hand, the potential users did not know what they wanted with a dashboard, and on the other hand, that the municipality did not have access to its data.”

Exilo created a step-by-step plan to master the basics. “From there, the municipality can still grow into a data-driven organisation,” says Erik. “And that ambition is more than worth pursuing.”

After all, digitization is a must for the 21st century organisation, he emphasizes at the end. “In order to be and remain relevant and affordable, it is essential that you make decisions based on data. And amid the growing staff shortage, software robots are indispensable. As an organization, you don’t have much choice in this. You can choose how well you approach this.”

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