Tidy up your coils of unstructured process

By Bill Porter on February 14, 2017


How improved collaboration reduces complexity and enhances user experience

In my last post, I mentioned that “User Experience” was one the topics that delegates at digital transformation conferences name as one of their areas of focus when it came to seeking out help and advice.

What do people mean by “User Experience”? Here’s a definition I like from the Nielsen Norman Group:

“User experience” encompasses all aspects of the end-user’s interaction with the company, its services, and its products.

Let’s consider this in the context of digital transformation where organisations are seeking to make themselves fitter and more adaptable to market disruption.

In a white paper “The Agile Enterprise”, PWC explain that organisations have a propensity to become too complex, especially following periods of rapid growth or acquisition. The basic aim of achieving agility is to reduce this complexity.

We are all customers, and we all see the effects of organisational complexity in the dealings we have with organisations. How many times have you chased up an issue with your phone supplier, electricity company, or any other supplier, and found yourself becoming increasingly exasperated repeating the same information over again in different channels? Not great for the customer, but how expensive must all those interactions be for the supplier? And how soon will an innovative competitor jump in with a new service model and take market share?

Living with complexity is not good for the employee experience either, especially for Generation Y. In their paper, “The digitisation of everything”, EY found that,

“Generation Y display the same lack of patience as employees as they show as consumers, and companies must address their evolving expectations to avoid high recruitment and churn costs.”

They go on to say,

“What is more, this generation have significant ideas and are willing to share them company-wide, they represent a useful resource every company”.

So the risk is not only in disenchanting your staff, but the opportunity cost of losing valuable new ideas.

Most digital transformation efforts focus on core processes and those operations that are repeatable and can be automated by BPM, PLM, ERP, CRM, or HRM/HCM software. Companies seek to be more agile by simplifying existing processes, and ensuring that new processes can be quickly and easily created as the business seeks to adapt to new threats and opportunities.

But around these structured and repeatable core processes, there is usually a large “coil” of supporting unstructured activity in the form of conversation, collaboration and the exchange of information and knowledge. In this “coil”, there can be a great deal of complexity because this exchange of information is almost always fragmented across many different tools and methods of communication. So what’s the user experience in the “coil”? Often very confused :

“Does this email have the latest document version attached?”

“Where did I see that information? In a chat, an email, a shared document, or in the enterprise social network?”

“I am just looking at this issue now. How many emails do I need to read to catch up?”

“Haven’t we dealt with a similar issue before?”

“Sorry, this got lost in my inbox”

“Sorry, I turned my chat notifications off. They’re constantly interrupting me with stuff that’s of no interest to me.”

So complexity creates confusion and a poor user experience, both for customers and employees. Reducing complexity is also the aim of becoming agile. So are these two sides of the same digital transformation coin?

How can we address the complexity in the coil, and in doing so, improve the overall user experience for customers and employees? Here are some suggestions:

1. Consolidate collaboration tools. Instead of using many incompatible tools for chat, file sharing, social collaboration, tasks, etc., use an integrated platform that combines all these methods of collaboration and engagement, so users only have one inbox, and one place to find information.

2. Eliminate the use of consumer tools internally. Many people prefer the experience of consumer chat and sharing tools over email (sometimes even when it risks breaching compliance or privacy rules). So offer the same methods of collaboration but using tools that are managed in the business. Your employees will be better connected, and the ideas and knowledge they are creating and sharing will not be lost to the organisation.

3. Have a plan to reduce or eliminate the use of email for internal communication and collaboration. It is not feasible to just “turn email off” by executive order, but email is a very poor tool for collaboration, and provides no accountability. So plan for transition and choose a tool and an approach that allows for a bridge between old and new ways of working.

4. Use your mobile digital channels to bring the (consumer) customer closer. Customers resort to social media channels to raise issues often because it is just easier than emailing or picking up the phone. So why not make it even easier by offering a private, persistent chat channel to each of your customers? They just pick up their mobile, post their question, at any time in the chat. When they do so, if all the context (previous discussions, links to their account, statements, contracted documents, etc) is directly linked to the chat, there will be no need for additional explanations. They do not need to wait for a call centre person to answer, and you can get issues resolved in less time and with less resource. And the episode is not aired in public.

5. Ensure there is an automated process for capturing and organising the knowledge in all collaboration and engagement activities. To avoid confusion, try to ensure there is only one copy of everything (a “Single Source of Truth”). Make sure that the cross-references between activities, content, topics and people are embedded so as to make knowledge re-use, audit, discovery and analysis easy later on.

If an object of your digital transformation initiatives is to make life less complicated for your employees and your customers, you could do a lot worse than look at how your organisation copes (or doesn’t cope) with its unstructured coils of communication, collaboration and engagement activities.