July 06, 2022 · 7 min read
In the third part of our series on successfully scaling digitization projects, we look at the stakeholders in an organization who can make or break rollout. Rollout should bring big changes. Involving the relevant stakeholders is critical to rollout success.
This is the third part of our series on how to escape pilot purgatory and successfully scale digitization projects. You can find the introduction here, and the previous article here.
In the first part of this series, we looked at the importance of a clear use case to the success of rolling out digitization projects. In the second, we looked at the importance of situating our rollout within an innovation strategy. We're off to a good start, but successful rollout may still elude us. In step three, we take on the critical work of involving relevant stakeholders, throughout our organization, in the process of rolling out our digitization project.
Depending on the organization and the specifics of the digitization project, there can be any number of relevant stakeholders. Involving as many as possible is always a good idea! For the sake of this article, we'll focus on the three parties most critical to rollout success: upper management, IT, and the technicians who will work with the implemented solution—the maintenance and production teams.
Each is an asset in the rollout process. Involved early in the process, they can even contribute to vetting pilot projects, applying their skills and perspectives to identifying incompatibilities and poor use cases.
Left out of the process, we not only miss out on their expertise, we fail to manage a source of conflict that can stop rollout of even the best innovations.
A STAKEHOLDER SPURNED
Back in the 1840s, a doctor at Vienna General Hospital named Ignaz Semmelweis set out to address a tragic pain point: 18% of new mothers in the hospital were dying of so-called childbed fever.
Semmelweis formulated and tested a series of hypotheses: embarrassment, body position, scary priests—he rejected each. But there was one constant that he couldn't discount. New mothers treated by doctors died at twice the rate of those treated by midwives—in the same hospital. How could this be?
The answer, it turned out, had nothing to do with childbirth. It had everything to do with the cadavers doctors were autopsying before they delivered babies. This was still years before germ theory, but Semmelweis proposed that rotting organic matter from the cadavers, transported on the doctors’ hands, was making new mothers sick.
Semmelweis’s solution was simple: doctors should wash their hands after handling dead bodies. To test this solution, he launched a pilot project. Staff at Vienna General Hospital washed their hands; mortality rates declined to 2.2%.
Armed with a clear use case for hand washing, measurable efficacy, and a strategy aligned with his innovation (doctors preferred to keep people alive), Semmelweis was ready for rollout. In 1850, he presented the case for mandatory handwashing in hospitals to the Vienna Medical Society.
This could have been one of the greatest rollouts in the history of medicine. It should have saved countless lives. Instead, it all but destroyed Semmelweis’s career.
Semmelweis made a critical error in rolling out his innovation: he hadn’t considered the stakeholders. Doctors resented being told that they were the cause of their patients’ diseases, and flat out refused to wash their hands. Under the backlash, even Vienna General Hospital reversed their own extremely successful handwashing policy. It would take decades for doctors to start regularly washing their hands. Semmelweis—and thousands of patients doomed to easily preventable deaths—wouldn’t live to see it.
The lesson here for scaling digitization projects is clear: stakeholder buy-in is important. Getting as many stakeholders as possible involved as early as possible will save your rollout. No matter how painfully, obviously good a solution is, any number of problems can crop up during rollout—fundamental incompatibilities with existing systems, inadequate training, the list is almost endless. By involving stakeholders throughout the process, we can address issues before they become impasses.
UNITING THE STAKEHOLDERS
The internal stakeholders at any successful business agree: the continued success of their business is important. And there's another sweeping consensus shared by executives, managers, and employees in successful businesses: adopting new technologies is necessary to stay competitive.
But according to a study by MIT Sloan Management Review, this consensus breaks down when these stakeholders are asked about the process of taking on new technology. Only 38% of respondents claimed that innovation was a permanent part of their CEO's agenda. Meanwhile, only 36% of CEOs had actually shared their innovation vision with their employees. Where they had, 93% of employees believed that it was the right thing for their company. Still, 63% of managers claimed that a lack of urgency made the pace of innovation too slow.
These numbers show us that where there's clear communication, there's consensus. This speaks to the importance of involving all stakeholders in innovation. The same is true when we roll out digitization projects—involved stakeholders contribute to success. Isolated stakeholders can throw up unexpected obstacles.
In the first two parts of this series, we wrote about getting high-level management involved early. If they’re sold on the benefits of the project, they’re able to incorporate it within an innovation strategy that will guide and assist rollout to success. It’s imperative to keep these stakeholders involved.
Remember, we want high-level management aware of the pilot project early. They should be convinced that our use case is a good one. They should be primed to see reassuring numbers coming in. When they know that this digitization project will be a winner, they can fit it into their innovation strategy.
In accordance with their innovation strategy, leaders can allocate resources towards rollout. This includes money and time, but also human resources. With people dedicated to a successful rollout, it’s more likely to succeed. This isn’t just because an innovation task force has the time and space to work on rollout—it's because they’re often the stakeholders who have the expertise to implement and support scaling projects.
These stakeholders take on the work of rollout. Besides having the necessary expertise to realize the digitization project, they also know how easily it will integrate into existing systems—or not.
IT involvement is extremely important. A project can be aligned with organizational strategy and deliver exactly what it’s expected to and more. But what if rollout is actually impossible? The IT team will know of incompatibilities, deficits, and security issues that will hinder rollout. If there’s a way around these issues, they’ll be the ones to find it. If there isn’t, you’ll be glad you involved them early in the process.
With this in mind, we made easy implementation one of our goals in developing our predictive maintenance solution. AiSight’s solution doesn’t have to integrate with existing systems—it's an all-in-one solution, from power, to connectivity, to software. We’ve kept these stakeholders in mind, made their job easier, and made rollout that much easier.
MAINTENANCE AND PRODUCTION TEAMS
These stakeholders may be the most important: the colleagues who will actually use the digitized solution in day-to-day business. These teams receive daily proof of best practices—they know what works. Their buy-in can make or break rollout. Perhaps more importantly, their involvement means that a successful rollout produces a solution that they will actually use. If a digitization project rolls out and nobody uses it, did it really roll out at all?
Both parts of this group—maintenance and production—will use the solution, but their interaction with the solution will be different. It’s worth looking at them separately.
Maintenance is an integral part of production. According to a study in the International Journal of Production Economics, maintenance costs account for 15–40% of production costs (Löfsten, 2000). That's significant, but deferred maintenance costs even more: running a machine to failure can cost anywhere between three and 10 times as much as regular preventative maintenance—plus the cost of lost productivity.
Maintenance teams are, therefore, important stakeholders in scaling digitization projects. Even if the solution doesn't directly involve maintenance issues, it's important to make sure that maintenance teams are on board. They'll know how it will affect their capabilities and if it will produce or solve maintenance issues.
When the solution does directly affect maintenance—as AiSight's predictive maintenance does—it's obvious that maintenance teams are among the most important stakeholders. We want to give our maintenance teams the best equipment—and equip them to use it.
An easy-to-use solution will always experience greater uptake. That's why ease of use was a major consideration in the design of our predictive maintenance solution—it is, after all, supposed to be a solution. We aren't interested in creating new problems for the maintenance technicians we're here to support.
And, no matter how easy a solution is to use, training is also a crucial part of involving these stakeholders. That’s why we provide training as a part of our solution. We want maintenance teams using our solution and realizing its benefits on day one. With that success in hand, successful rollout is academic.
Digitization projects should yield higher productivity. Our colleagues in production teams who wield that improved productive capacity should be convinced that they are working in a more productive system, and they should be trained to get the most out of it.
Wasted technology is a serious cost for any business. According to 1E, up to 38% of enterprise software alone goes to waste in the US and UK—about $34 billion a year. And that doesn't even count the opportunity cost presented by staff not using the best tools at their disposal.
Production teams know what works. They know what they need to be productive. It’s important, therefore, that production teams are partners in implementing solutions. With clear and open, two-way communication with these stakeholders early in the process, we can ensure that all parties understand and appreciate the solution as rollout begins and progresses.
This communication should also include training. Once the solution is in place, it’s only as good as the production team’s ability to put it to use. But training should be more than instruction on how to leverage the solution to maximum effect; it should demonstrate the value contribution the solution will deliver—for stakeholders, for the organization, for the product, and, ultimately, for the customer.
Demonstrating value contribution is the next part of our series. We started this series emphasizing the importance of making sure that our use case could produce measurable, provable value contribution. In the next step, we revisit value contribution and demonstrate it to all of our assembled stakeholders.
Stay tuned for 5 steps to a successful rollout, part 4: the value contribution. We'll take a look at the quantitative and qualitative values we can use to demonstrate the worth in rolling out digitization projects.
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