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Expert's blog: Competitive edge from digitalization

The writer is the managing director of Systems Garden, Pirkka Paronen.

Looking around we see information in digital format all around us. Digital technologies are used in cell phones and every man’s tools used for exchanging information with others – be it work or leisure. A great deal of our lives runs in bits already. So what’s new with this fuzz over digitalization? This question is raised again and again by people tired of never-ending list of new keywords being dropped by know-it-all consultants.

After doing business for 20 years in IT sector my interest lies primarily in helping our customers to make clever choices in developing their business environment. We’re all facing the demand to be quicker and more efficient and to have all needed information available to everybody instantly. With less investments in labour and IT and still keeping the competitive edge by doing things better than others.

Filling in forms by any other means than pencil and paper is surely an improvement. The question remains however is it very effective to compile a bunch of forms centrally to be archived or printed for distribution? Where lies the relevant information? In many cases the collected information is actually part of a process; process that has its origin in bureaucratic practices from times where there were no alternatives.

Let’s take an example: The worker needs a permit to perform some hazardous task in industrial environment and applies for the permit from the safety manager (e.g. fire chief). This manager is in charge of issuing the permits and he needs to report further the details of who he has entitled to perform the tasks, where and when. When applying the permit digitally we reduce consumption of paper and have all data collected centrally.

What else is happening when digitalizing the permit process?

The satisfied worker skips queuing for the permit when applying for it through mobile device, he has his basic information ready for the next application and gets hands-on quicker to the actual work.

The safety manager saves time in issuing the permits. He might also delegate approval of permits to supervisors of work instead of doing it all by himself. He has better time for actually visiting the site for safety tours and can instantly validate if the hazardous work is taking place according to instructions and regulations.

The supervisor – and anybody else – can monitor the real-time status of ongoing work tasks with details on worker, length of the permits and task location.

The most important is the realization that some work phases could be done differently. Not necessarily even by automating them – there are phases in processes that you might even skip entirely. The whole process can be designed more efficient and faster by using digital tools.

And the best thing - that may even be a side product of the process change - is the massive impact in safety improvement. The digital tools are here to allow us to be smarter – it is up to us people to use them to make a change.

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