How Digital Operation can re-focus people on curiosity – key to unlocking innovation?

Dec 02, 2018 Download Case Study


Research has shown that children thrive on curiosity - one of the values that is core of who we are as humans. They are always asking questions to learn about their environment as they grow. They often ask “ Why?”   excessively, wanting explanations for everything without any fear of being judged. Their curiosity is at its peak at the age of four or five as they are in a phase of intense learning, absorbing information, and widening their capacity for new information. However, their curiosity begins to take a steady decline as they grow and become more self-conscious and more fearful about asking questions. They also begin to display confidence over curiosity, as they become more comfortable with their environment.  

The phenomenon described above is at play at the workplace, where employees and managers have the tendency to consider their roles as fixed and the business processes and culture as set in stone. Many employees and even managers do not ask enough questions to help them thoroughly understand a problem before jumping into a solution. They accept their tasks as it is assigned and work simply to finish it without questioning the process or asking about overall goals. They are more worried that they may be seen as incompetent or difficult if they voice their opinions or raise questions.

In this post, we are going to briefly introduce digital operation, and provide some context on how it can help people refocus on curiosity - the key to unlocking creativity and innovation.

 

What is Digital Operation?

When people hear the word "digital" they tend to think of websites and promoting content on social media. So they are thinking of marketing that has a primary goal of generating high volume and high quality leads for the sales team. Digital Operations, on the other hand, is a cultural change in business that requires operational management and employees to continually challenge the status quo, experiment and get comfortable with failure. To build this culture of innovation requires strong leadership, digital technology capability, and a curious workforce. 

Whilst digital technology capabilities such as analytics and automation remain important when building a digital operation, other technologies such as cloud computing, mobility, and social media are increasingly taking the center stage in operations. 

The core capability required for a digital operation is Data Engineering. This capability is critical to linking the data from different processes within operations with the data from other processes such as marketing, sales, finance, and HR – to improved operational insight. It can empower operational management to monitor their operation in real-time, automate operational processes and deliver rapid sustainable business process improvement.

When the technologies mentioned above are successfully deployed into a business, management and employees are then empowered to monitor their operation in real-time, automate operational processes and deliver rapid sustainable business process improvement.  

The companies that are succeeding in digital operations embrace human natures desire to evolve. They embrace employees desire to improve or change their working environment in a way that increases their productivity and job satisfaction


 

The key technology encouraging curiosity  

The most innovative companies today search for curious people who are willing to admit things they don’t know and show interest in what they can learn. That’s because innovation and business growth rely on people who ask questions, challenge established assumptions and ways of thinking, and strive to always learn, progress, and move forward in life. These companies not only find curious people they also empower them with the right tools, practices, knowledge to answer any authorised questions on-demand. 

Today, managers and employees are really working in handcuffs, because they are restricted by legacy systems made available to them. These tools, applications, and data are often not up to the task, limiting their ability to quickly come up with innovative business improvement ideas.

The underlying technology that is encouraging collaboration and curiosity in the workplace is cloud computing. Cloud computing provides an on-demand environment for developing, testing, delivering and managing software applications, analytics, and intelligence without worrying about the underlying infrastructure needed for development. This technology has matured over the years in terms of simplicity, reliability, performance, and security, so organizations that held off on early adoption are now in a position to benefit from innovation. 

There are now a number of cloud-based solutions that exist today that companies can quickly deploy and start building a digital operation that will encourage curiosity. One key solution is a  “Data Lake” – a centralized repository that allows businesses to store all their structured and unstructured data at any scale. This solution enables the storage and processing of data generated from operational processes as-is, without having to first structure the data. The data is then served to managers and employees on demand so that they can satisfy their curiosity by running different types of reporting and analytics solutions—from real-time dashboard visualizations to predictive analytics, that can improve decision making agility. 

The great thing about a data lake solution is that it can be designed to suit any business and their analytic requirement and easily configure to integrate nicely with your existing data management systems, minimizing the risk and cost of implementation. The data engineering role is critical in architecting and deploying a data lake solution. This solution will empower management and employees to query operational data for insights, build real-time dashboard and predictive models required to support decision making.

 

Digital Operations case study

A manager responsible for a number of vehicles operating across multiple operational sites was extremely frustrated that he had limited visibility of planning and scheduling information for the management and maintenance of those vehicles. Countless times the manager requested this information from his team and it appeared too difficult to get. This manager had no real idea of how efficient his workforce was, nor did he know where the opportunities for improvement are without someone from his team coming in to help. It usually took them several months to show him some value and even then they struggled to implement any changes. This lack of transparency meant that the manager could not properly allocate resources between sites and meet demand requirements without the need for additional resources. The manager was running his part of the business based on intuition alone, as a result, missing on cost-saving opportunities.

This manager could not satisfy his curiosity on demand because of the delay in getting all the necessary information required from his fragmented operation. By leveraging a data lake solution and automating the data collection process, the manager was empowered to develop real-time KPI dashboards that provided better visibility and transparency into his maintenance operation and helped him to better manage his resources.  

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Summary

Many employees and even managers do not ask enough questions to help them thoroughly understand a problem before jumping into a solution. They work simply to finish their job without questioning the process or asking about overall goals. The main barrier to curiosity identified in this article is the difficulty in accessing or analysing data from disparate IT systems used within the business operation.

The concept of digital operations means that operational analytics can now be managed within a single data platform (i.e. Data Lake Solution) to achieve cost benefits from data governance and security perspective; reduction in the number of commodity hardware and software applications. Companies could leverage a data lake to complement, rather than replace, existing data management systems allowing them to build advanced analytic solutions - that take into consideration data from other parts of the business and generate on-demand insight into operational processes.

In my opinion, organisations can’t continue to force the adoption of tools, applications, and data as one size fits all. When organisations accept this, they can start to address the real issues facing managers and employees when it comes to business improvement or innovation. Managers and employees should be empowered to build applications that they’ll not only love to use but one that will encourage curiosity and drive the business forward.

Data Engineering is a digital operation solutions provider that combines design-thinking practices, agile delivery model and domain knowledge of business operations to rapidly prototype data lake solutions, resulting in quick insights into the size of a return on investment opportunity.  We believe that an empowered workforce having access to seamless business system experiences will organically improve their attitude towards data quality and data fitness. Combine this with the ability to collaborate and answer any authorised question in real-time without relying on information technology specialists, then you will create an environment for accelerated change, what we refer to as rapid business improvement. This system of accelerated change is a central part of what digital operations offers by enabling management to accelerate business improvement and build an innovative culture across the business.

 

Author:

Kelechi Anyaegbu,
Principal Consultant – Intelligent Automation
Data Engineering
 

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