CAPE TOWN – Businesses of tomorrow are the ones that can successfully transition from ‘things and people’ to ‘technology and networks’. This is evident in the recent proliferation of the adjective ‘Digital’ in most C-suite titles and businesses either being ‘born-in-the-cloud’ or traditional businesses undergoing some form of digital transformation.
However, there is no consensus as what ‘going digital’ actually means. To some executives, it is the deployment of technology in their current business – also called business process optimisation (BPM). To others it is about a whole new way of engaging with customers, also called the digital customer experience.
Then for others it’s about an entire new way of conducting business – the exponential digital business mindset. One would presume that the various definitions depend on the individual business circumstances including competition, cost pressures, customer expectations, industry disruptions and regulations.
Whilst none of these definitions are incorrect, every digital transformation journey needs to be guided by strategy, a business model that supports that strategy, enablers that are needed to execute the business model and the orchestration of enablers to reach one’s destination.
If it’s so easy, then why are they failing?
In defining the digital business strategy, most executives are taking a blue-sky thinking approach in redefining the purpose of the organisation. This might seem revolutionary and necessary at the time, but it could create an execution challenge for IT.
Unrealistic expectations often create complexity in the planning and execution phases. The project becomes inundated with technology imperatives: cloud, artificial intelligence, big data and IoT, without due consideration of where and how each of these imperatives will add direct financial benefit, value differentiation or build brand equity.
Instead, the yardstick is the size of the data lake, the speed of data retrieval, data mobility and the reduction of the ICT opex budget. Before you know it, a few years have passed, hundreds of millions of rand spent and the failed project is attributed to poor organisational structures, inadequate organisational change management and a lack of executive support.
Perhaps it should be evolution and not revolution
In the era of the knowledge worker, perhaps the quick wins should be around how we free up the business knowledge worker to be active participants and leaders in the digital transformation journey. After all, they are the ones with the knowledge of the organisational nuances.
They spend their time manually manipulating a melange of structured and unstructured data as resident data jockeys, guiding and mending the business processes with short term fixes and inadvertently creating a precedence of what they regard as acceptable practice, acceptable turnaround times and acceptable service levels.
Is this intentional ? Definitely not. The sheer volumes of repetitive manual tasks leave the guru with little time to stop, think and act. It is very possible that the business process has not been electronically orchestrated due to the nature of the process e.g. multiple decision point inputs or it is cost prohibitive to use some sort of middleware or BPM tool to integrate the process.
Notwithstanding, any brownfields digital transformation initiative is going to be dependent on having optimised business processes, preferably digitised. This will surely remove all friction in the system, ensuring that customers and suppliers can engage with the enterprise in an efficient, timely and cost-effective manner.
RPA is the answer
Robotic Process Automation (RPA) tools offer potential ways to automate repetitive, manual, rules-based tasks. Whilst RPA is not the answer to all automation conundrums within the enterprise, it does offer a compelling alternative to traditional BPM tools.
Instead of months-to-years to automate business processes within the enterprise, RPA can achieve similar results within weeks-to-months. The earliest versions of RPA technologies were primarily anchored in screen scraping technology – which allowed a software ‘robot’ to mimic user interactions.
However, RPA technology has evolved significantly since then. Today, RPA vendor UiPath, offers a host of out the box user interface interaction, integration and descriptor technologies that can be configured to mimic business processes in an attended (user monitored, controlled and interfaced) or unattended ‘lights-out’ mode. This allows one to create a team of virtual workers that operate 24/7, executing error-free, repeatable business processes.
Apart from the use case of reducing manual interventions in repeatable business processes, one can use the technology to reduce headcount in batch driven data input and output processes.
One could also link to legacy or external systems in a non-intrusive manner that would otherwise be too cost prohibitive to integrate into one’s internal business process or avoid major systems re-engineering for the purpose of integrating or automating part of a business process.
If there is a requirement to have a speedy, cost effective, error-free, repeatable automation of business processes, then RPA should be a consideration. More so, if there is a requirement to transition knowledge workers for the mundane and routine tasks of mollycoddling business processes to become an integral part of the digital transformation journey, then it is best that one addresses their barriers to participation before embarking on a transformation journey. So perhaps evolution may be a more measured response after all.
Ugan Maistry is the chief executive of FIRtech. The views expressed here are his own.