Stay practical with your digital spend

Posted on July 06, 2022 | By Ashley Fitzpatrick | 0 Comments


Dr. Kathryn Brohman (Submitted Photo)



In striving to be profitable as a company and also meet environmental, social and governance goals, digital solutions are often at least part of the means. It could be a whole new platform for operating or the simple use of an app for improved efficiency.

The director of the Master of Digital Product Management program at the Smith School of Business at Queen’s University, Dr. Kathryn Brohman, told Atlantic Business Magazine it’s important to be aware you don’t need a big IT department or multi-million-dollar budget to play in the digital space and see real improvements.

Canada needs more companies giving regular thought to digital investments, supporting the day-to-day. At the same time, many have ventured down that road before only to be frustrated by the results. So how do we avoid unnecessary losses in time and money?

It’s good to start by remembering you don’t have to completely reinvent the wheel to see positive change, Brohman said.

“We are really in a state of what’s called over-innovation,” she suggested, pointing to headlines often focused on the latest, new app, operating system or piece of technology.

While she would never blanket-shun new digital products, she is not the only one suggesting a need to find ways to get people—including more owners of small and medium-sized enterprises—thinking less about the constant addition of new apps or novelties like a baseball game in the Metaverse and more the broader potential of what’s already available, with practical application here and now.

Companies embracing digital don’t need their own digital labs to find something of value. However, they do need staff who will shoulder the search for options, test and gather information, working with the rank and file to address issues along the way. Businesses need people who will be “connective tissue,” as Brohman puts it, moving basic ideas and possibilities out from the board room or head office and into regular operations.

In addition to this essential connective tissue in staff, she refers to “three Es” to see a company’s digital spend push beyond novelty and return real value. The first is empathy. “Really, be thoughtful about how the technologies can help your employees and your customers do things easier or more effectively,” she said. That takes more than a moment but a little bit of time invested can return dividends in the longer term. The second? Extend. Look for the means to build on the way the company operates. There are certain things engrained in the day-to-day and it can be useful practice to assume people are not going to use anything outright different or move far from the existing system with any comfort. The final E is experiment. “Test these (proposed) solutions. Learn what people like and what they don’t. Evaluate their impacts before actually trying to scale them.”

Brohman pointed to The Gap experiments as an example of a digital push with evidence of success. On the heels of a push on stable-scheduling legislation for shift workers in the U.S. and broader calls to address stress in frontline shift workers, The Gap connected with researchers: University of California-Hastings professor and director of the Centre for WorkLife Law Joan Williams; University of Chicago associate professor and director of the Employment Instability Researchers Network Susan Lambert; and University of North Carolina associate professor Saravanan Kesavan, who recounted the activity in 2017, in the Harvard Business Review. They tested different things in San Francisco and Chicago area stores. There were direct actions tested, like the outright end to on-call shifts, the attempted use of a dedicated chat group for settling shifts, but the researchers found the most popular thing was the introduction of an app for shift swapping: Shift Messenger (researchers were less familiar with other apps like Shyft and ZoomShift also available). In a test in 19 stores, the uptake on the app was good and most shifts posted a day or more in advance were covered without need for any time-consuming calls by management. What was really notable, Brohman highlighted, was a survey of the part-time associates involved in the tests, with 200 responses, showed at least 95% agreed or strongly agreed it was easier to adjust their work schedules.

“All of a sudden, through the very simple adoption of this app … not only did they recognize that the employees had more flexibility in terms of when they wanted to work, but they were also happier when they were there. And their sales actually increased by 7% at these stores,” Brohman said.

The bottom line is you can keep things simple and see results, she said. However, it does take some specific follow-through effort.

“Everybody loves the word innovation. Nobody loves the word implementation. Everybody wants to be strategy but nobody wants to be the tactical executor. And I just think it’s so funny because innovation is in the execution,” she said.


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