(This Web Exclusive by Scott Nelson & Ray Wizbowski originally appeared on Monitor in February 2022)
Transformation to becoming a “digital business” may be a tired topic, but how many finance companies can actually claim success? Indeed, how many business leaders have a definition of success for digital transformation much less have communicated it companywide? Certainly, there are some who have led the way and set a standard, but as service providers, we see many finance companies who have only taken one or two of the steps necessary to realize the power of data. In situations such as this, the adage “few have succeeded where many struggle,” we thought that a Digital Business primer would be timely.
Any business transformation is multi-faceted and requires perseverance. Culture is always a critical part of the change and culture change takes time. As we have observed companies transforming their operations from manual and paper processes to ones driven by software, workflows, and centered on data, we consistently see five key steps taken by the successful.
The journey begins with the adoption of the right technology. For example, Solifi has built an open finance platform supporting cloud-based delivery of its portfolio management solution (formerly known as InfoLease). This evolution combines 40 years of business logic with the ability to leverage the solution via the cloud. But technology advances exponentially while human adaptation tends to be linear. In this situation, an understanding of the necessary steps can help an organization catch up the digital ecosystem.
Measure and Time Stamp Everything
Digital business is centered around the data that it uses and that it generates. In a world with overwhelming amounts of data knowing what is important for your business is a critical point of definition. While pre-Internet and Internet of Things, Drucker's axiom “You can't manage what you can't measure” is a fact in digital. As such, a digital business identifies and measures everything it needs and every outcome it desires.
Since business is a continuous process, everything must be time stamped for trending and analysis. Time stamped data, particularly outcome data, enables the construction of time-base models that not only provide an understanding of the process and its inputs they also enable prediction of what is going to happen. Prediction enables both automation and proactive adjustments that improve both outcomes and productivity. But you need technology that can consume and apply the right business logic/financial use case to the time stamped data.
A digital company measures everything that matters — continuously.
Anywhere-Anytime Empowered Culture
A common phrase echoing through the halls at a recent community banking conference was “within the bank's footprint.” The thing is, digital knows no boundaries. There is no physical or footprint for a digital business. As such, a digital business will have a culture and technology stack that work in concert to provide anywhere-anytime access to both employees and customers. While not the only way to reach this state, cloud-based solutions are the fastest and most secure way to reach this goal and empower the company culture.
A digital company leverages the cloud to be wherever customers are, whenever they need help.
Visualization — Data Has No Value If You Can't See It
One of the challenges for early adopters of digital is that as different parts of the business are digitized — Lease Origination (LOS), Contract Management (CMS), customer background information — the data accumulates within different systems. As a result, seeing and analyzing the data in context becomes difficult. Many companies have accepted this as “the way it is” and resort to manual spread sheets or disparate organizational use — sales look only at sales data, operations look at only contract data, and finance look only at financial data. But these siloed views undermine the ability of a business to thrive.
A digital organization lives off data and therefore the simple, real-time visualization of that data in an easy-to-use format is no longer optional… it is foundational to an organization's success. Digital companies do not accept data isolation and do whatever it takes to get all the data into a single system, even if it is a spreadsheet. They do this because they know the power of real business insights come when you can see and do comprehensive analysis on the metrics the drive business growth.
A digital company strives to make data accessible and easy to use.
Curiosity Culture— Data Has Value to Those with Questions
Most lessors are sitting upon vast amounts of data today — let's call it Big Data. Since the deployed software systems, CRMs, and GLs they have been gathering and storing data. Unfortunately, they typically use it in an operational, real-time sense. Thus, after use most of their data goes “dark” — unseen, unused, and unleveraged for operational improvement. In fact, IBM has estimated that 90% of all company data is dark.
Big data only has value when someone asks it a question. Which customers are renewing most often? What class of equipment has seen the largest decrease in spread during COVID? Richard Davis, former CEO of USBank, often spoke about three quotients as the key to success — Intelligence (IQ), Emotional (EQ), and Curiosity (CQ). An effective data-centric culture is naturally curious. They wonder why things happen the way they do, and they wonder what would happen if we changed this? They know by asking questions you can find answers ahead of others potentially leading to a marketplace advantage.
A digital company has a curious culture.
Mathematical Models, Not Intuition
Like many finance industries, veterans of equipment finance will say that “leasing is a relationship” business. Salespeople will attest the importance of meeting face-to-face to creating empathy for customers and closing deals. Digital businesses value relationship no less, but they know that their relationships are now hybrid — both digital and physical — and that the data generated from those relationships can make them deeper and better for the customer.
The natural extension of the relationship mentality is that “intuition” is the key to closing deals and securing new customers. But intuition alone does not provide a wholistic view of the person or previous business interaction and when left as a face-to-face implementation it does not scale. A digital company understands that while intuition is valuable and often a key to new offerings and new relationships, data enables them to codify intuition and improve it. Outcomes from past intuition-base decisions, both good and bad, are documented in the data. That data can then be the basis for mathematical models that supplement relationship decisions. Integration of those models into the workflow then automate and improve the decision making by avoiding poor past experiences.
A digital company values intuition but uses data to automate and scale its applications.
Becoming a digital business is a journey that most in equipment finance have embraced and already begun — some long ago. It's a journey of technology adoption, for sure, but also one of business process and culture. Digital businesses serve customers anytime, anywhere. Firms that will lead in this next era of digital understand that data science tools do not replace employees, they make them more productive by making the data accessible and easy to use. If anything, data allows employees to become more customer centric and provide better customer service because they have better insight into the customer. These firms will fight for culture empowering their team to be curious and embrace new ways of making their operations more efficient to better serve their customers. They understand risk through data analysis and take changes when they know the scale of consequence. Digital companies do not abandon their experience and intuition, they automate and improve it with systems that learn from their data and ultimately create a better financing experience.
Digital companies are faster, more profitable, and closer to their customers. As Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum said, “In the new world, it is not the big fish which eats the small fish, it's the fast fish which eats the slow fish.”