Operational resilience has always been a key factor in business success,
but not enough businesses consider their ability to take stress in
turbulent times until it is too late. Covid-19 has been a huge wake-up
call for many, presenting uncertainty and disruption.
In a talk delivered at Emerging Tech
Fest, run by Technology
Connected and supported by
KTN, process and operations experts Gill Knowles
and Steph Locke discuss how businesses can use lean processes and new
technology to build business resilience.
co-founder and director of Maisie Bolan
Associates, focuses on what businesses
need to do before introducing new technology in order not to encode
wasteful processes into the new technology processes. She states that to
build operational resilience, you need the ability to:
These learnings are based on the lean manufacturing principals which
originated from the Toyota Production System (TPS). The overruling idea
is to streamline your processes by eliminating waste. Waste is anything
that doesn’t add value to the customer, i.e. anything they are not
willing to pay for. There are seven categories of waste defined by the
To identify waste, it’s necessary to map out the flow of your existing
processes. You can get really granular at this stage, for example,
detailing who adds what to a spreadsheet. Next, you can begin to
identify steps that fall into the waste categories described, and figure
out what you can change to reduce that waste. It's a good idea to do
this step before implementing new technology so as not to carry any
wasteful processes forward.
This is where Steph Locke, CEO of Nightingale HQ, steps in. With a focus
on helping manufacturers and other businesses become more digitally
capable, Nightingale HQ can help you find the technology to improve the
ways you do things. But a digital transformation journey is never
You must adopt a mindset for reducing waste and becoming more resilient,
and keep repeating this on your search for excellence. You can never
stop this journey, as Covid-19 proved, you can never be 100% resilient
across all dimensions. Even businesses that were thought of as resilient
were hit in unexpected ways. The trick is to adapt well enough in an
appropriate direction to become more resilient to that type of change in
The Nightingale HQ approach to improving processes using technology is
Simply a matter of process: Building operational resilience in times
Putting this into action is easier said than done, so let’s take a
closer look at using tech to solve a problem. We'll work through this
chart using the example of a rapidly growing logistics company who
needed to find a new way to process business data in order to keep up
The first step is to consider your requirements for a solution and set a
goal based on that, this might be the need to save time or money.
Identify appropriate routes to meet these needs. The most important
consideration is the internal skills in your business - an excellent
technology solution is no good if no one can use it. Taking compliance
into account early on helps build a robust solution that meets
requirements such as data protection, rather than having to backtrack
Next, identify the tech to solve the problem. Create a prototype, which
you try out on a sample before a full-scale deploy. Make any changes and
adjustments to get it working well on a small scale, then you can scale
it out. This process gives you lots of points where you can stop or
adjust if it’s not working.
Here's what this process looked like for the logistics company:
The most important rule for implementing AI is to always start with the
business goals. There is no point in doing anything if it doesn’t add
value. While it might be tempting to start with a wild goal, it makes
business sense to consider your existing capabilities and come up with a
high priority use case.
As you’re thinking about a first AI project that will solve a problem,
you have to consider all of the items in the diagram in green boxes. You
may find you have to build up resilience and capabilities in these areas
in order to effectively deliver value with your project.
Strategy and governance are key to deploying AI. Define where you want
to go, why you want to go there, and how you're going to do it.
Consider how you will manage compliance, where you're getting data
from, and how you can use data to get a view of your business. From a
cultural point of view, you need staff that trust data and who are
willing to try new tech.
It becomes clear that the process of adopting AI touches many other
areas of business, requiring a carefully planned out implementation
process. Once we've identified these areas, we build an action plan,
test it out on a small sample, then use our learnings to inform
iterations. This then gets repeated across other projects and
The final stage is feedback and continual improvement which makes you
resilient when things change externally. In the words of Winston
Churchill: "To improve is to change, to be perfect is to change
Effective change rests on the ability to continually improve.
Implementing technical changes can be difficult without a strong IT
team, which many SMEs lack. But according to Small Business
more than half of businesses have increased their digital skills and
added new technology because of the pandemic, with 3 in 4 businesses
reporting that increasing their tech had helped their business.
How businesses use tech to scale, improve, and change will certainly
vary based on size and type of business. Here's our top advice on
building IT resilience in different sized companies.
At this level, it pays to get the most out of existing services and
begin to build your technical understanding. Learn about the cloud,
software as a service (SaaS), and how to work with data. There is
existing software to address almost any problem you can think of, so
there is no need to build your own IT infrastructure at this stage. It
also pays to focus on your people and building their skills, as they are
the most critical part of business success. Help your people work more
productively on things that add value to your business.
Start thinking about parts of your business that are the most valuable,
and how tech can help you improve that intellectual property (IP).
Building in a new technical capability could be the step that takes you
from being a medium sized organisation to the next level. Now that you
have more financial resources, you can use an expert to act as an
external centre of excellence to help drive digital adoption inside your
business. Finally, you can focus on optimising your processes. As your
business grows, you process get more complex, but you can usually refine
these back down.
At this level, your main goal should be to be more cutting edge. You
should be looking forward and aiming to disrupt yourself before getting
externally disrupted. For example, businesses that were focusing on
bolstering their supply chains were not hit as hard by the pandemic as
they had anticipated a similar issue. Enterprise businesses should be
advocating data literacy and data culture among employees which helps
them be proactive. Finally, after waste reduction, you can work on the
speed and smooth running of processes.
IT is made up of Developers and software engineers. A developer writes
code, a software engineer writes code with a focus on quality and
robustness. DevOps is a process which takes principals from
manufacturing and combines them to get everyone thinking like a software
engineer. This reduces the wasteful processes, improves the quality of
work, and improves the speed at which value is delivered.
Just as these principals were borrowed from another industry, DevOps can
be applied to how your organisation functions, too. Using a DevOps
framework, you can apply the kanban system to tracking the daily tasks
of your staff, highlight your work in progress, and identify
Resilience comes from giving people the time and agency to makes
changes. You can enable your staff with digital literacy and investing
in tools or training to help them be more productive.
Online collaboration and meeting tools have proved vital throughout the
pandemic and may change the way we work forever. They have allowed
distributed teams to stay connected and allowed businesses to work
through uncertain times.
No code apps can enhance productivity by allowing people to work with a
simple data-entry app instead of having to update a master spreadsheet
for tasks like taking inventory. Microsoft Power Apps is a key tool for
setting this up.
These tools require a small investment and do not require any IT people,
but can help your staff from day-to-day.
Being able to see the data inside your business and being able to
understand them to make decisions about problems is critical. You can
use self-service tools like Power BI to get a deeper insight into
critical measures. Even Excel is very powerful these days and comes with
multiple integrations such as CRMs, Mail Chimp, and many others.
SaaS tools such as Google Analytics can also give you excellent
insights. It's worth putting in the effort to understand such tools and
get the most out of them. This can help you to understand how people are
experiencing your website, where people are dropping off, etc.
An excellent SaaS for small business is Charlie HR. We use this tool to
manage our HR processes. It generates automated emails for holiday
approval, helps with employee onboarding processes and other HR bits.
You can even check reports to see if staff have taken enough holiday.
You can equip staff with the power of automation without them needing to
know any code. While it helps to be digitally savvy, you can use
platforms like Zapier, Power Automate and IFTTT to write programs and
connect apps without needing to code.
Finally, marketing is a prime sector for
automation, and by relying on
automation to look after the vital bit of your SME, you can get much
more done. You can capture Twitter mentions, respond to queries on
Facebook, or repurpose content into quick videos with tools like Lumen5.
Marketing is a vital part of getting your business noticed, and these
tools can help you improve without big time investments or IT spend.
Through our Innovate UK funded GoSmarter project,
we discovered that many SMEs find it difficult to get on the cloud. We
built a set of tools that SMEs can set up with just a few clicks,
including FAQ Chatbots and Social Media Listening. Designed to be low
cost and high impact, the tools are a sleek way to get started with
automation and process optimisation. Get full access to the toolkit as
we release more tools:
Sign up for GoSmarter
If you're interested in getting more serious, diving into azure, and
optimising your operations with tech, please get in touch.