Joseph Micallef

Chief Operations Officer at BEAT

Ing. Joseph Micallef is Chief Operations Officer and Partner at BEAT, a Maltese niche-based consulting firm specialising in the provision of project management, strategic advice and business transformation solutions.

The Move Towards Lean Digitalisation

Monday 09th July 2018

Data is the life-blood of any organisation. It permeates through every channel, traversing processes, functions, entities, and all that is involved in delivering services and/or products furnished by the organisation.The various data elements, in all their forms, keep the organisation alive, providing the basis for information and facts to be handled and utilised by the various business activities and tasks.

On the other hand, business policies define the rules to be observed, and can be compared to the brains of the organisation. Once fed with the relevant information and facts, the brain can determine and dictate what will be done, when it will be done, where it will be done, why it has to be done, and who will do it. The brain will also control how activities will be done, and how the tasks will be governed.

The management of the volume, type, and complexity of data that every modern organisation finds itself handling, renders imperative the use of technology-based solutions. On the other hand, the processing of data and information using technology solutions, requires that we convert this into digital format – a process known as ‘digitisation’. This is the starting point for enabling our organisational processes to be handled by technology solutions. 

It is an undeniable fact that we are currently seeing the evolution of businesses towards the use of digital technologies. Organisations are adapting their operating models to enable these to provide new revenue streams and higher value-producing opportunities. This process is what we refer to as ‘digitalisation’.

Let us take a scenario within a hospital setting to demonstrate this in a context that may be familiar to many:

Traditionally, a qualified nurse might find herself struggling to cope with the number of patients she is responsible for within her ward. The nurse’s duties would normally include attending to each patient in turn, taking temperature readings, measuring blood pressure, administering prescription medicinals, monitoring infusion dosages, adjusting drip rates, recording the results on bed-side files, and eventually entering data onto the hospital’s centralised patient records system. His/her duties would also require notifying healthcare professionals and doctors to attend to alerts identified by the nurse’s patient round, or to attend to some other ad hoc or emergency situations relating to specific patient issues, etc. Not much digitalisation is evident in this scenario, although there may be some degree of digitisation in the sense that some data and information may eventually find itself being input into the hospital’s centralised computer system in a digitised format.

In the interest of modernisation, hospital management may decide to invest in some technology by installing, for example, tablet devices for nurses to carry around during their ward rounds.  This would enable them to directly capture data at the bedside. Patient data could be inputted by the nurses straight through interfacing with the electronic device provided (the tablet). This would in turn enable them to enter data into the system at an earlier stage than they would have originally, though that would be about it in terms of achievement. 

This is nothing more than management throwing some more technology at the process and can hardly be defined as a commitment to digitalization. Unless this kind of technology is introduced within the context of a wider and better structured framework, introducing more technology into the business will not bring about digitalisation or allow the organisation to reap its benefits.

On the other hand, were we to develop a strategic plan to review process activities and get them streamlined to maximise effectiveness and efficiency, and to reduce non-value-added activities, whilst introducing readily available (or emerging) technology solutions in a strategic fashion, we could   start thinking of a lean digitalisation roadmap for hospital operations.

A digitalisation strategy would allow the hospital to seek to maximise the capability of this technology, its interconnectivity and analytic capabilities, whilst introducing an automation of processes which would relieve nurses of repetitive and mundane tasks. The digitalisation strategy would require technology to do all the monitoring, automatic dosing, and control, relevant data capture, as well as information analysis and health record capturing, with actions initiated from resulting analytics. The hospital would therefore be maximising the potential of various technology solutions to change its operational model; to separate what can be automated through technology, and let professionals do what they were trained to do. Freeing up nurses from the mundane tasks would allow them to spend more quality time with their patients, comforting, listening to, and reassuring them – something that cannot be done by technology solutions.

What benefits would organisations hope to acquire by pursuing digitalisation?  At the top of the list there would be the potential increase in revenue generated for the organisation, as well the potential to reduce unnecessary costs in operating the business. However, digitalisation would also contribute towards the solving of myriad issues which the organisation could be facing, such as dealing with human error and rework, together with inconsistency in quality of service and/or product delivery, to mention but a few.

Despite the above, less progressive organisation may find various barriers to put up against the process of digitalisation.  In these cases, management would typically use the excuse of lack of budgets to undertake the disruption. They would also be characterised by the resistance of the more traditionally–oriented, power-head individuals within management. Finally, management would bring up the matter of a lack of qualified IT personnel to oversee the needs of additional technology introduction into the business.

One thing is for sure, the writing is on the wall for all to see. The trend towards digitalisation has been set, and the providers of technology solutions are both responding and driving the process across sectors and industries. It remains for organisations to embrace this trend; to identify, to understand, and to take optimal advantage of the potential benefits of the digital revolution. Ultimately, it can mean the difference between thriving and surviving.