For centuries, organizations have used lean thinking to find ways to trim the fat off inefficient processes. Long before lean found international fame at Toyota’s manufacturing plants, the 15th century Venetian Arsenal was using essentially the same principles to optimize ship production processes.
Fast forward to today, and modern lean principles are built around one clear purpose: to maximize value for customers while minimizing waste.
Typically, this goal is achieved through a system of continuous, incremental improvements to individual processes. But digital technology has now made it possible to fast-track improvements and make great leaps forward in operational efficiency and customer experience.
It’s no surprise digital transformation is top of the agenda for today’s enterprises—research by Harvard Business Review shows that digital leaders outperform laggards on several key financial metrics.
Digital leaders post a three-year average gross margin of 55 percent. Digital laggards post just 37 percent.
In this age of digital transformation, driven by rapidly changing customer demands, organizations often describe themselves as customer-centric, or even customer-obsessed.
So there’s a clear crossover between the fundamental purpose of lean and digital transformation that both revolve around delivering greater customer value. The question is: how do you transform faster?
Digital tech accelerates lean transformation
Much of the value in digital tech lies in its ability to instantly strip out layers of complexity in processes that impact the customer experience.
Enabling employees to be more productive means businesses can make better use of their existing resources (minimizing waste). People are then freed to spend more time serving customers, or working on customer-focused innovations (maximizing customer value).
Here are three examples from the front lines of digital transformation, showing how businesses of all sizes can become lean, forward-focused, profit-generating machines.
1: Driving productivity and collaboration in the cloud
If field workers don’t have the right communication tools, they can’t do their jobs effectively. They get frustrated, but that’s nothing compared to how frustrated customers get.
At one heating, ventilation and air-conditioning company, field technicians would often be left waiting on hold for up to 30 minutes trying to get through to dispatch. And when the air conditioning is down in a 100-degree heat wave, customer frustrations can get out of hand pretty fast.
But by shifting communications to cloud-based collaboration apps, such as Google Hangouts, the firm’s technicians can now quickly and easily communicate with dispatchers and with each other. That means they can get fast answers to questions, order replacement parts, fix problems more quickly and move on to the next customer.
2: Cutting out paper-based processes
Whatever the size of your business, managing inventory, customer information and billing by sifting through piles of paper records isn’t easy.
Just finding the info you need can be tough (and good luck reading the handwriting once you’ve found it). Ensuring bills are accurate and timely is tougher still. Worse, all these paper-based processes reduce the number of customer visits you can make each day, slowing down service to customers.
Switching from paper to mobile forms has worked wonders at many businesses. One in particular stands out for revolutionizing the way it tracks inventory, manages billing and keeps customers satisfied. The move to digital worked so well, in fact, that the company is now saving more than $30,000 a year on admin costs alone.
Switching to mobile forms saved more than $30,000 a year on admin alone
3: Taking control of mobile assets
When you’re operating a large fleet of trucks, fuel costs can have a huge impact on your bottom line. Excessive idling quickly ramps up those costs. And aggressive driving not only increases fuel consumption, it also puts drivers and the public at risk.
One operator we worked with used fleet monitoring tech to stamp out inefficient and unsafe practices to quickly get fuel costs down (a classic example of literally minimizing waste).
Safer, more fuel-efficient driving has brought enormous operational and financial benefits. The company has also been able to improve customer response times through real-time visibility into truck location.
Time to transform
The convergence of lean thinking and digital technology has made rapid business transformation more achievable than ever. So what will you do? Which areas of your operations could be quickly transformed by a little fresh thinking and some simple tech?
Of course, continuous improvement will always be a vital part of lean management, but by seeking out quick wins—where digital tech can help you make big changes rapidly—you can get off to a flying start with your transformation efforts.