The robots are coming – but humans are still needed

When thinking about robots in the workplace, we imagine something out of a sci-fi movie, a metal figure – cute or menacing, depending on if you are watching Terminator or Wall-E.

However, the reality is that most robots in the workplace are unlikely to take corporeal form at all – most likely they are (or will be) robotic process automation (RPA).

Robotic process automation (RPA) is the application of technology that allows employees in a company to configure computer software or a “robot” to capture and interpret existing applications for processing a transaction, manipulating data, triggering responses and communicating with other digital systems.

Huh? What does that mean in the real world? 

Put simply, RPA is a software program that is capable of machine learning. 

Examples are registering new patients in healthcare, processing credit card application in financial services or administering employee benefits in HR functions. 

Just look at these: 

A Vancouver-based startup company that makes a free cloud-based accounting application has introduced what it calls MagicBot into its product. MagicBot is trained to review bills, receipts and other documents saved in a Dropbox folder, and create accounting transactions from those files. Another New Zealand based software publisher recently introduced a similar application to categorize invoices based on what it’s “learned” about the way a business operates.

Robotic Process Automation – the benefits

In the corporate world, less than 10% of typical business functions have full-scale RPA, however, the active use is growing. And repetitive, process driven tasks as the mainstay for shared service functions are a prime target. 

The benefits that businesses are looking for are not surprising:

  • to save time on repetitive tasks
  • reduce risk and improve compliance with protocols
  • improve work quality as less manual work reduces the risk of errors
  • improved process effectiveness

but they are missing an opportunity…

Missing the opportunity

While RPA can no doubt deliver great benefits in the areas described above, the focus on time and cost savings ignores potentially much greater benefits:

  1. Simplifying processes and reduce business complexity. For example, simplifying communication flows reduces the risk of errors, omissions and misinterpretations of information. 
  2. Making a business more agile. As processes become simpler, adapting to external changes and taking action becomes easier. This only works, of course, if the business has the human capability to rule the RPA – not the other way around.
  3. Reinventing the business model. Forward-thinking businesses will look at how their customers will use RPA and what means for the service they provide these customers. Outsourcing providers are the obvious example here, but the same is true for lawyers and accountants.

Most importantly, though, when organisations focus only on the savings RPA can bring, they focus on removing humans. Cost cutting, reorganisation, redundancies. 

That means they are missing the opportunity to tap into the creative intelligence of their people. In this context, they are not thinking about freeing up human capacity which could be used to leverage creativity and human judgement. This makes them less smart, less creative and even less agile. 

All things you should avoid if you want to survive in the future.

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Miriam Gilbert, Coincidencity

I am focused on re-humanising work – one organisation at a time. I am a consultant, entrepreneur, thought leader, speaker and change agent who has made a life out of exploring how to make organisations better – better for themselves, their people and society.

As a consultant and coach, I help leaders plot their course through complex, demanding environments and explore what the future of work could do for their organisation.

If you want to create positive, sustainable change in your organisation, truly engage your people and look to the future of work with confidence or if you are looking for a speaker with new insights about how to build a better business for your next event – call, email or LinkedIn message me to arrange a chat.

Mobile +44 0783 40 58 240

Email miriam@coincidencity.co.uk

Life is a minestrone* – a food based explanation how too much data is killing your business transformation

Uh-oh. My alarm bells went off.

I was having lunch with a friend from an international law practice, chatting about their digital transformation efforts. She was concerned about the people aspect – how to get buy in, define what the future of work will actually look like, skills required… and much more.

The firm had started talking to some technology vendors, set up a steering committee for the initiative and drafted governance structures. And it was in this context that my alarm bells went off:

Managing the fruit salad

The draft governance was highly hierarchical, with lots of layered sign-off processes, auditing and reporting through the levels of the firm to the senior partners. But what turned my mental alarm bells into a shrill screech was this comment:

“Currently we have a mixed fruit salad of operating models across various locations, different systems and technologies, and different approaches to managing people and workloads. As the steering team, we need to understand it, of course, but at the moment we are putting off doing anything because someone always asks for more data”.

“To me, that sounds like the steering committee was trying to eliminate uncertainty”. I suggested. She nodded in agreement.

Businesses don’t like uncertainty.

It is too closely associated with risk of failure- something we as humans are conditioned by evolution to minimise as far as we can.

When our prehistoric ancestors had to deal with uncertainty, it was often a matter of life or death. Is this red berry deliciously food or deadly poison?

Over time, man developed language and writing systems that allowed him to gather and record information – and to pass on information, making it easier for the species to survive and evolve.

Businesses try to eliminate uncertainty

In business, we combat uncertainty by implementing structures, rules and controls that give us a sense of control. And we gather information. A lot of information. We use it to plan and measure. We hope that by having all the information, we can control our (businesses’) future.

But, it does not work.

Giving up the illusion of control

Of course, I am not suggesting that we should stop gathering information, analysing performance and investigating what happened when things go wrong (though we should investigate when things go right, too). Quite rightly, we should collect and use as many insights as we can. And big data has added tremendous opportunities for more insights than ever.

But we need to give up the comforting illusion that information and the strategies we base on it can ever give us complete control. Because no amount of big data can.

The mindset that stands in the way

Our current mental model of organisations includes the hidden assumption that organisations are ultimately complicated machines. And just like we can direct and fix machines, we assume that, as long as we have all the data and are clever in the way we use it, we can predict and control the organisation – including the changes or transformations we wish to see.

Organisations are not complicated -they are a bowl of spaghetti

In reality, however, organisations (even small ones) are complex systems. They are not like a car or a computer; they are more like a bowl of spaghetti. And a bowl of spaghetti is much more complex than even a space rocket.

Even though the “parts” might appear simple, if you pull on one strand of spaghetti, you cannot know the full impact this is going to have on the rest of the bowl (and whether you will end up with tomato sauce on your shirt).

Our businesses and organisations are so complex that no matter how much information we have, and no matter the smart analysis we apply, we cannot know fully what will happen when we introduce change. Especially, when we embark on a change as complex as a digital (or other) transformation.

New threats or opportunities may arise, our competitors might react in unexpected ways, our supply chain could be impacted by new regulation, our people’s behaviour cannot be fully predicted… the list goes on.

From fixed recipes to experiments

We require a different approach to change and transformation. Traditional project management practices, like PRINCE2, don’t work as they rely on stable environments. (PRINCE stands for PRojects IN Controlled Environments). Relying on traditional governance approaches of gathering all the data, then plan the work and work the plan find themselves wanting.

Making delicious soup:

Did you know that minestrone, the soup of Italian origins, has no fixed recipe? The way it is made, and the ingredients used vary widely across Italy. And while good cooks will be confident in the ultimate success of their recipe, no two minestrones will taste the same.

What does that mean for your business transformation?

Take a minestrone approach: your leaders, teams and governance arrangements need to become comfortable with uncertainty. They need to adopt a stance of confidence and commitment to the journey, keeping an eye on the direction while being willing to question if a particular path is still appropriate. Learning when to persist and when to pivot. Letting go of pet projects and reacting to changes with agility. Creating a culture of skilful experimentation and continuous learning.

*Reference to the great song by 10cc with the same title is entirely deliberate

How comfortable are your teams with uncertainty and how agile are they when faced with a change?Get tailored insights by booking a complimentary 45min agility audit here

What’s stopping Digital Transformation – three misconceptions and one key tip

No industry is immune to disruption. Are your competitors doing an “Uber”? Are the likes of Amazon, Apple or Google moving in on your territory in Finance, Telecoms, Transportation or Home accessories? And how about those AI’s that are replacing accountants, lawyers and doctors?

To keep ahead of these threats, companies need to build digital into their DNA.The good news is, many leaders recognise it. Cue the tremendous activity in the digital transformation space: spent in on digital transformation is forecast to reach $2.0 trillion in 2020.

High failure rate

The bad news, however, is that these initiatives show a worryingly high failure rate. Research by McKinsey suggests that 70% of transformation programmes fail, while Forbes puts the figure at 84%. That comes with a hefty price tag: Consultancy UK estimates that large enterprises throw away an average of $400 Billion (£258 Billion) per year on digital transformation programmes that fail to deliver promised benefits. 

So how come that despite best efforts by very smart people and huge sums of money, companies struggle to make this shift? Is it just too big a tasks?

Transformation of any kind IS a big task, and it is not helped by some persisting misconceptions around what digital transformation actually is.

Here are three misconceptions about digital transformation I come across again and again:

Misconception #1 – It’s just about automation.

Digital transformation is more than using technology to replace previous analogue tasks. Digital transformation means doing things drastically different, to the extent that it either disrupt the market or wards off disruption. For example, replacing paper forms of staff records with online forms is not digital transformation, it is digitisation. Similarly for all the initiatives to overlay digital channels to the customer journeys. By themselves, offering digital channels is not transformation. It is merely using digital tools to automate and improve the existing way of working.

Of course, there can be merit in digital change projects. A considered, strategic portfolio of them might very well be part of the digital transformation.  

Misconception #2 – Digital transformation is a one-off programme.

Assuming that digital transformation “programmes” have a beginning, middle and an end is a mistake. They don’t. Instead, digital transformation requires continued effort. Digital transformation cannot be “done” like a fad diet – it needs a real lifestyle change. And it is not going to go away: to remain competitive, organisations must be continually seeking to improve and innovate.

Misconception #3 – Digital Transformation is about technology.

Of course, choosing and implementing the right technology is important. But getting it right is less about the technology than it is about people. No matter what the tech: cloud, social, big data & analytics, mobile, IOT or Artificial Intelligence, technology is just a tool. And as a tool, it will only function well if the people, data, processes and culture of the organisation are taken into account. Vendors don’t like to hear that, but not every tool is right for every organisation every time. 

Falling prey to these misconceptions can positively undermine transformation initiatives. The focus for activity and spend is misdirected, costing the company dearly in terms of money, effort and time and potentially leaving it vulnerable.

Key tip: Take the digital transformation out of the IT department.

If you want to give your initiative the best chances for success, you need to develop a digital culture. That means not delegating it to the CIO or IT Director and assuming the rest of the organisation can carry on business as usual.

Instead, the initiative must work with multiple stakeholders – including business units, support functions like HR, Finance, Marketing, Facilities, etc.

Prepare your organisation for a digital culture:

  • Create a broad digital strategy. Be very clear on the goals for your digital strategy – what is it about and why? Are you truly aiming at transformation or just improving the status quo by using digital tools? At the same time: don’t get too attached. The trick will be to keep it flexible, yet consistent in the direction of travel.
  • Develop a group of internal digital champions from across functions and business areas that shape a common journey to transformation. Make sure they can experiment and feel secure enough to learn from failure.
  • Tell the story of the digital journey while being open to feedback and willing to adopt it as appropriate (see above about flexible and structured)
  • Start flexing organisational behaviours, processes and even the organisation chart. That means changes to top-down decision-making. Changing who can take action. And how people collaborate with each other.
Digital transformation is everyone’s business

As Selina Heiska, the new VP of Digital Transformation at Wärtsilä puts it

“The transformation can mean different things to different people. For some, it may mean the use of new tools, for some need to think outside of the box to look for new innovative solutions to solve customer problems –  but common for all is that transformation requires everyone’s participation.”

Find out how to set up a team of internal champions and prototype your way to transformation that is fit for your business, book your complimentary Future of Work Game Plan session here