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Digital Process Acupuncture: An Educational Perspective

Instead of performing a reactive, major surgery on a struggling end-to-end business process, consider undertaking digital process acupuncture to heal and energize the new digital enterprise

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The 5,000-year-old discipline of acupuncture is based on the belief that a set of accurately placed pinpoint treatments can impact the entire body. Actually, organisations can relieve the operational stress that builds up at critical process connections by identifying and isolating processes (or sub-processes) that are materially connected to other important activities, and applying precise doses of digital change. Precision doesn't mean half measures either; decisive action requires intensive, digital focus on the connective tissue that constitutes entire functional processes. Let's call this emerging scenario 'digital process acupuncture'.

How could a precision twist on digitisation bring value to an entire value chain? By using digital technologies to "heal" process bottlenecks, lubricate friction points, optimise manual inputs or handoffs, and relieve systemic pressure points in information flow, businesses across industries can unlock substantial value, maximise healthier business outcomes and improve the experience for all participants - customers, suppliers, partners and employees - across the value chain.

Examples of this highly targeted use of digital technologies include using digital wallets and beacon technologies to create shopper awareness and boost retail sales; tethering touchless payments to loyalty programmes in order to predict buying patterns; and using sensors, IoT or RFID for real-time monitoring to streamline the business supply chain.

This method of digital acupuncture is applicable to the world of education as well.

Universities are widely perceived as being behind the curve when it comes to adopting and deploying modern managerial techniques and technologies, especially digital methods. The University of Kentucky is an exception to this rule. According to Dr Vince Kellen, until recently the Senior Vice Provost of Analytics and Technologies at the University of Kentucky, all journeys - but particularly digital ones - begin with one step, not 1,000.

Kellen applied this mentality to a big priority of his: student retention. By doing so, he focused on a strategic part of the entire issue. The digital process acupuncture in this case was leveraging proactive outreach via social media; this was the critical "pinprick" needed to get the right data to fuel a predictive model to prevent students from dropping out. While most universities approached student retention after-the-fact, Kentucky took a proactive approach.

Ordinarily, retention-boosting efforts started by analysing the data of students who dropped out and applied the findings to the future, in effect asking, "How are we doing, and what can we do better?"

Kentucky, however, used a predictive "K score", which let students know how much they interacted with the university. In this way, the university was asking, "How are we doing now, and what can we do now?" It was the critical piece of the equation, and it was obtained using digital process acupuncture in the form of social media.

For example, every time students opened the app to check their course schedule or the date for the next Wildcats game, they were faced with a quick question, such as: "Have you bought all your textbooks already?", "Do you own a tablet?", or "On a scale from one to five, how stressed are you?"

In five weeks, students had answered those and other questions more than 40,000 times. Students were given the option to ignore the mini-survey, but response rates ranged between 50% and 80%.

Furthermore, if a student stopped uploading assignments to Blackboard Learn (a virtual learning environment and course management system developed by Blackboard Inc.), the mobile app would send an alert that could only be cleared once the student met with the professor or an adviser - and completed the work.

To enable the K score, the school merged its institutional research and business intelligence teams, hired three data scientists, moved to a real-time analytics platform and rebuilt the institution's mobile app, which served as a digital gateway to the university and collected crucial bits of information about students.

A possible way the situation could have been handled was by getting rid of paper and improving business processes or by looking at the procurement cycle. However, digital process acupuncture helped Kentucky's freshman to sophomore retention to rise up to about 81.5%, which was an increase of about 1.3 percentage points.

Embarking on digital process acupuncture can seem scary. But unless executives are honest about the need to get started by identifying process stresses that can be alleviated through this approach, they are going to simply be spectators to the changes around them, as incredible opportunities slip further and further away. What matters most is lasting outcomes that can result in sustained health and rejuvenation of the whole business - that's why a digital process acupuncture approach can be such an effective way to get going. Businesses that are already embracing process digitization are capturing more data, improving work and generally empowering workers to be more effective at their jobs.

Instead of performing a reactive, major surgery on a struggling end-to-end business process, consider undertaking digital process acupuncture to heal and energize the new digital enterprise, and your business is bound to become more productive.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

Robert H. Brown

The author is an Assistant Vice President in Cognizant’s Center for the Future of Work and drives strategy and market outreach for Cognizant’s Business Process Services business unit

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