The current digital age is evolving at an exponential rate without historic precedent. Consumer demands for seamless, reliable experiences are driving businesses to dismantle legacy systems and build flexible, integrated processes. These new efficiencies are obscured in a chaotic and contested technological environment; one where transformative solutions are entangled with false promises and pitfalls. Businesses leaders must be able to discern returns from rhetoric, distinguishing mature solutions from prophetic exaggerations to integrate processes that reflect and advance customer outcomes.
DOCUSIGN and Connect Media gathered leading finance, legal and procurement executives from all sectors of the national economy to explore the factors that are arresting digital momentum in Australia. Their conversation uncovered a number of shared frustrations, as well as aligned opportunities – this is what they had to say.
Traditionally, the business case for process automation has been anchored to yielding greater productivity and has hinged on quantifying return on investment. Now, by virtue of technological advancements and a maturing marketplace, key metrics around cycle time reduction, handling time reduction, FTE reduction, and hours saved are no longer contentious – they are have been rendered indisputable by quantitative data. As a result, the business case for automating processes at scale has evolved in extension towards the end user. Customer centricity has become a centrepiece of strategic discussions unfolding across corporate Australia.
In almost every dimension of life, consumer expectations are soaring. Fiercely competitive technology firms have changed the ways we communicate and transact with each other. They operate in climates of their own design where user experience is the difference between market domination and extinction.
Now, these soaring demands for seamless, personalised experiences are translating into the legal domain. Organisations are realising that digital convenience is paramount to both retaining existing customers and bringing new consumers into the fold. Resolute change resistance is being overshadowed and overwhelmed by the fear of losing business to competitors. It has dawned on firms that digital convenience can sway client allegiances. The challenge, from a transformation and change management standpoint, becomes a question of connecting isolated business units – far removed from the end user experience– to the ultimate mission of championing the customer.
In order to secure buy-in for technological renewal, change agents must realign isolated business units with the end-consumer. In many instances, IT departments are resolutely tied to legacy systems that are locked on a trajectory towards obsoletion; although once effective, they are now unable to provide the flexibility that customer centricity demands. On a human level, change is naturally feared and resisted – routine is familiar, and there is security and ease in familiarity. Further, the essence of time is limited for everyone, and transformation absorbs this hallowed resource.
To overcome these barriers and begin moulding new behaviours and perspectives, leaders must ensure that everyone in the firm understands that they play a role in delivering customer outcomes. Only once this level of understanding has been reached, and everyone in the organisation is framing their tasks and responsibilities against ultimate consumer outcomes, can steps be taken to identify areas that can be automated and optimised.
To achieve this understanding, leaders and system architects must involve every stakeholder – even if they only touch on the process end to end in a minimal capacity – in the wider design from inception through to execution. Staff must feel a sense of ownership over their work and by extension the processes that enable and empower them. A deliberate reversal of hierarchy and boss culture is required, one that explicitly empowers employees to describe their workflow, identify roadblocks and opportunities for automation, and sign off on final designs. Leaders must facilitate these conversations, empowering employees to say, ‘this is what we do’, rather than themselves dictating ‘this is how you do it’. Only once we fully understand what the customer expects in the scope of our own work can we begin designing and integrating systems that advance consumer and business outcomes alike. By aligning the goals of isolated business units and embedding developers and designers with employees responsible for customer experience, organisations can begin to transition into customer-centric operating models.
It is worth noting that in large, complex systems, structured change generally unfurls at a glacial pace. Transformation at scale and pace carries danger; there is real pressure on leaders to ensure a seamless transition to new systems, or risk immediately losing buy-in from staff and customers. This pressure is accentuated by the fact that it is exceedingly difficult to reengage disillusioned staff and customers if a new system rollout is disruptive.
For these reasons, those with remit over risk are naturally inclined to proceed in an incremental fashion, automating specific operations that are comparatively low risk. Employment contracts and NDAs, for example, fall into this category, in contrast to executing high-value contracts. In these circumstances, local firms remain more comfortable with physical witnesses for contract execution, particularly given the industry has not fully reckoned with the core question as to why a witness is necessary in digital formats when other means of authenticity exist.
By extension, and as an example of the security that routine and established practice affords, the industry has failed to confront the obvious flaws that a practical witness presents. But by wholeheartedly championing the customer and embracing a strategic approach to change management, firms are beginning to realise that digital convenience does not come at the expense of security. As more firms shift their perspective on risk, the pendulum on process automation will begin to shift, and those that have not already begun taking incremental steps will fall drastically behind the pace of the market.
On an international scale, Australian firms are hesitant when it comes to process automation. Local firms are highly risk adverse, and slow to acknowledge the risks underlying established processes. But by engaging stakeholders in the design process from inception to execution, firms can vastly accelerate the speed of transformation, and in doing so, further mitigate the broader competitive and structural threats posed by relying on archaic systems.
Leaders around Australia are realising that maintaining a technical knowledge of the changing technologies and practices in the legal sphere bears heavily on corporate and personal success. DOCUSIGN and Connect Media will be continuing this series of executive conversations across Australia, empowering leading firms to lift to consumer expectations.