Perspectives

7 Structuring Aspects and Impact of Digital

Digital can have multi-faceted impact on an organization. In the white paper Digital as a Growth Engine (and More), I have discussed the four business aspects of digital- as a growth engine, management dashboard, structuring agent and wheels on ground.

Here, I would like to discuss the structuring dimension in detail.

Structuring refers to how is the work defined, how is it done, how is it distributed, how is it measured and how is it managed? They essentially are the aspects of operating environment, task definition, role definition & task allocation, performance metrics and supervision respectively. Two new dimensions have been added in the realm of knowledge workers, where is it done and when is it done? They represent the aspects of physical location and the time of work done.

Collectively, there are 7 dimensions and they make up the operating model of an organization.

1. Operating environment is the ecosystem for producing a product or delivering a service. E.g. operating environment for manufacturing a car will involve a blue print or a design, component details, bills of materials, procurement policy, material inspection policy, inventory policy, production plan, production technology assembling plan, quality control and dispatch policy. A similar operating environment may exist for software development or for providing hotel services. It is largely formal, policy driven and holistic.

2. Operating procedures and task definition is a drilled down version of the operating environment. If the later is a ecosystem or a formal system, the former is a breakdown into specific tasks and how exactly are they to be carried out. E.g. how is the inspection done, what is to be done with pre-booked customers in a hotel, how to underwrite an insurance policy etc. It’s also formal, but most of it becomes informal as one does it over time and it become habitual.

3. Role definition and task allocation involves the complimentary aspects of defining various roles for carrying out the operating procedures or the tasks and allocation of specific task to specific person based upon domain specialization, skills and availability. E.g. who will carry out quality inspection or who will handle incoming hotel customers and what are the various activities they are supposed to carry out.

4. Performance metrics is the measure of planned output at an individual (number of components processed, sales accomplished), group (number of assemblies produced, regional sales) and organization level (number of cars produced, revenue turnover).

5. Supervision is task monitoring and reviewing of the performance by individuals as per their role definition, the task definition and the set metrics. It also involves the appropriate interventions undertaken in case of deviation from what was planned

IT has also made two additional dimensions more relevant and explicit. These were earlier treated as rather fixed and rigid- physical location and temporal reality.

6. Physical location has traditionally been fixed as a cabin, machine or work station. But in the realm of knowledge workers, the concept of anywhere working has gained pace. Now an analyst or a developer or a consultant can work from home, office or the airport.

7. Temporal reality has undergone massive shift. What was considered as a time bound work in a defined physical space can be done anytime. Hence, an analyst or a developer or a consultant can not only work from anywhere but also can work any time.

Traditionally, the structuring aspects were handled with written down procedures, task and role definition and manual supervision and metrics measurement, the place and time were fixed and defined. It was cumbersome, tiring, difficult to change, person driven and contained vast scope for errors. The advent of information technology with its power to automate many of these physical and manual tasks helped metric measurement and supervision.

But these still existed a gap as the physical operations and enterprise IT remained detached and the data was still entered manually into the system. The situation improved a bit with the advent of data capturing technologies like bar coding, RFID, digital counters, CCTV etc. and advances in digital operating technology. But most of metrics measurement and supervisory tasks are still post hoc.

So how does digital help? The advent of social, mobility, analytics, cloud, IoT, next gen networking technology and security solutions has provided a solution to the problem of detachment of physical operations and enterprise IT. They can make the communication between people, processes, data and machines possible and provide added functionalities.

The link between physical operations and enterprise IT is now possible real time.  The system can tell the operator real time in case there is an error (many a time even before the occurrence), metrics are available real time for more effective supervision, task allocation by role and people can be automated in lines with the operating procedure, mass customization is possible, many tasks are possible anytime and anywhere and the entire aspect of task management can be automated and supervised real time, possibly from anywhere.

In short there are five ways in which the digital can bridge the gap between physical operations and enterprise IT and impact the structuring aspect of an organization-

1. Automated rendering of policies, plans and definitions. They can now be embedded in day to day organizational functioning. It is not required to remember them or retrieve them from the archives whenever required. They are always in action and available tacitly. Any change in them does not require a big change effort as they can be effectively managed centrally.

2. Better communication and collaboration between people, groups and departments. Through the integration of unified communications solutions like video conferencing with the core management processes, real time communication and collaboration is possible. Specific needs of a guest in a hotel can now be captured and made available real time to multiple workers on their tabs or smart phone. Such functionalities can spur innovation by creating appropriate structures to take ideas from lab to land.

3. Inherent analytics capability at the systems level for better supervision and control. System generated real time feedback and the need for immediate action can control the possible errors and wastage. The performance metrics can be more effectively implemented and used for reviews thus enhancing accountability and transparency. The analytics capability can also be used to create more personalized product or services for the customers, hence improving the overall effectiveness.

4. People independence and systems driven work implying that anyone, anywhere and anytime can do the task. The history of the task and the past actions are available at the click of a button. If particular guest relations staff is on leave, another staff can pick up the threads. If a particular machine operator or group is already loaded, the work can automatically be shifted to another operator or group, a huge part of software development operations are being automated now thus reducing human intervention.

5. Creation of time bound structures of implementation of key policy and business decisions. For example special purpose committees or empowered groups can be created for carrying out specific tasks. Project management teams can be created by identifying the right skills and its availability in an otherwise geographically dispersed organization. Not only are these structures created but they can be managed and measured real time on their effectiveness. The other four aspects of automated rendering, collaboration, analytics and systems drive all synch together to provide the fifth and an important impact of digital.

Hence, IT helped automate many of the mundane tasks but digital can help make them smarter by creating better management, insights, control and hence more efficiency and effectiveness.

In short, digital can really reduce the possible gaps between policy, operations and control.

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