Digital Labor and RPA: Part 1 in our series on the benefits of robotic process automation

Blog post by Don Sweeney (don.sweeney@practicallydigital.net) 

Blog post by Don Sweeney (don.sweeney@practicallydigital.net) 

Digital Labor.  Artificial intelligence.  Robotic process automation.  Lately there is a lot to talk about the potentials for digital labor, and the benefits of automation in all companies.   While moon shots like cognitive computing / platforms require heavier investments of time and capital, there are easier and faster ways to generate digital labor benefits.   Specifically, a strong first step is through the use of robotic process automation.   

To help clarify the how and where, we wanted to create a multi-part blog to bring more awareness to the topic and cut through a lot of the noise that is out there.  This first post is defining what is RPA since there are a lot of items that sometimes fall into the overall bucket of RPA.  Our next installment will be why RPA is important and why it matters to you.  Finally, we will  provide steps to focus on for a successful implementation.  

So, what is RPA?

The Institute for RPA and AI  defines Robotic process automation (RPA) as “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.”  So what does that mean?  Simply put, RPA is the automation of a process (or processes) that will remove or reduce the human intervention in that process. 

This can be as simple as removing the redundancy of re-entering data in multiple systems or removing the frequently updated items based on simple logic.  Overall, the benefit of RPA is to reduce the manual intervention in repetitive, routine tasks within a process flow and automate it so it is accurate and predictable going forward but also to free up the human intervention for more significant tasks like analyzing and interpreting the data.

RPA seems to be the next iteration of how organizations have focused on technology improvement.  In the late 80s and though out the 90s and 2000s, organizations implemented enterprise software.

The original goals for implementing enterprise software were to A) improve processes with the “built in” best practices and B) have consistent, accurate data that was integrated with other parts of the organization.  For instance, vendor setup was shared with the purchasing application and accounts payable application – thus limiting the redundant data management in both applications. This was the argument for Enterprise ERP or HCM solutions. 

Cloud computing makes a difference with RPA.  For the last couple years, organizations have been moving their enterprise software to the cloud.  This provides the value of having someone else support the software as organizations realized how cumbersome and costly supporting large enterprise applications can become.  RPA becomes the next iteration of the organization’s focus where an entire process flow becomes seamlessly integrated and can require little or no manual intervention. 

My good friend Paula shares an example on this transformation in the telecommunications industry.   Many years ago, if you wanted to call someone you would call the operator and explain to that person who you wanted to call. They would manually connect your line to the destination’s line (sometimes requiring many operators to get involved if the call was of a significant distance).  You could not call someone without the manual intervention of the operator.  Eventually, the telephone systems were all automated and now you simply dial the number you want and it is connected with no manual intervention.  This is significantly more efficient and cost effective as the use of the telephone exponentially grew. This is the same as RPA, but on organizational processes, in real time.

RPA can include “bots”, which are small pieces of a process that are now automated.  An example would be where an organization that automated the process of answering questions for their staff on how much vacation time they had left or questions about their insurance information.  This “bot” (short for robot) would know the identity of the person asking the question based on their active directory authentication when they logged into the network. 

The employee could ask this Human Resources Bot what amount of vacation they had left and it would go and query the HR database for the balance and display their current balance as well as when the last time they took vacation.  It could also answer simple questions like the contact information for their benefits insurance provider or what benefit plans they were signed up for.  All of this minimized the impact of the internal HR team to answer routine questions and allow the staff to work on more important tasks – yet still answering the questions that the employees needed answered. 

RPA is not new, the capabilities to drive enterprise adoption are.  RPA has actually been around for about 10 years already, but has significantly picked up steam in the last 12-18 months.  It is commonly perceived to be the first stage on the evolution of automation and artificial intelligence.  Those stages are:

·       Robotic Process Automation

·       Autonomics (automation augmented by humans)

·       Cognitive Computing (end to end automation with human oversight)

·       Artificial Intelligence (fully automated with computers “learning” by analyzing trends in repeated processes over large numbers of transactions)

We will address the items on the “A.I. Spectrum” in future blogs where intelligent automation services blurs the lines between RPA and A.I.  In the next blog we will address in more detail RPA and why this is important to you and your organization. 

About the author:

Don Sweeney has over two decades experience as a technology consultant and digital visionary, working with companies to automate business processes with digital solutions, including robotic process automation platforms.   Don has worked at global organizations like Andersen Consulting, Oracle, and most recently at Emtec to enable companies in their digital journey.  Don can be reached at don.sweeney@practicallydigital.net 

Digital video: the next frontier of digital engagement

Live video.  Video blogs.  Video everything.  The brave new world of video engagement is here.  Combined with collaboration technologies like Facebook Workplace or Salesforce Community Cloud, the ability to connect, collaborate, and share knowledge is reaching a new level of digital engagement. The question is, are you ready to leverage effectively?    
 
Video on the Internet is far from new.   Video streaming has been in our lives pervasively now for nearly a decade, and on our mobile devices in the past five years more often.  

What is new is the commercial ability to integrate, embed, and engage your audience in effective ways.  A major change in the business universe is thelaunch this month of live streaming video on LinkedIn.  Taking a queue from Facebook, the ability to stream video messages to your subscribers will soon occupy more of our business networking real estate.  

We tried it ourselves this month. The video promotion for Practically Digital above  is a good example of how easy, and effective the outcome can be.  Utilizing a handful of technologies and $150 in licensed content, we engaged thousands of people.  We had dozens follow up with a query, and several new client leads were generated. 
 
Video is more than advertising though.   Guided video sales is a new experience as well.  As part of our sales proposals, we deliver a client portal and include a guided video outlining the opportunity.  The extra level of experience both demonstrates digital value and differentiates. 

Video is collaboration.  Starbucks utilizes the Facebook Workplace platform and streaming Live video to engage store managers throughout the US weekly.  This provides real time engagement from the CEO to the unit manager - a major difference in management.   

Curious to learn what options exist for better video engagement?  Get in touch and we can share the better practices to differentiate your business! 

Being Different in a Digital World

The most frequent question we have heard this year at Practically Digital Why does digital matter to my business”

The short answer, because the business world has changed, quickly. The number of people with mobile devices now exceeds PCs, the degrees of engagement for customers are tilting strongly into digital territory, and customer expectations (and attention spans) are drastically heightened and short. There are growing piles of statistics that indicate that the business world is now running at a different speed. 

Digital is about time. Saving it. Optimizing it. Being different and catching the eye, thought, and opportunity for a customer to engage with your company.  Time is the most valuable asset in commerce today (both for the business and customer).

That is why differentiation in the digital world matters. The historic business activities, processes, and outcomes are growing tired in the eyes of the customer base.  People are ‘swiping left’ on companies they no longer have time to explore or wait on.  Customers are looking for fresh and engaging. They are looking for different. 

Companies who get the digital opportunity are leveraging this unique era to grow exponentially, much as they did during the 1st and 2nd Internet revolutions.  Optimizing customer journeys through digital engagement points (web presence, social media, email campaigning), selling with a high degree of affinity for the customer’s preferences, and concluding contracts in hours and days (instead of months and quarter) are all ways that leading companies are differentiating themselves.   

For 2017, we foresee a greater opportunity through digital than ever before. Companies (and individuals) who want to differentiate and go to market quickly and with high customer affinity – can do so for modest investment and effort.   

Finding those right digital business capabilities is what we focus on with our clients. Helping our clients understand the opportunities, how to roll up the sleeves and get forward quickly, and better engage customers.   We believe every company is a digital business, and the digital opportunity awaits in the year ahead.  

Start your digital year right at www.practically.digital In a digital world, be different.

 

The Digital Business Portfolio: A balanced approach to transformation

In the past months, a growing trend we have seen is the corporate appetite for ‘digital everything’.  Looking for ‘moonshots’ and transformation at every turn, digital transformation seems at the top of every agenda. 

The challenge with that is the amount of organization change it requires succeeding at one transformation cycle, much less ‘all things to everyone’.   Based on experience, we recommend a more balanced, portfolio approach to digital transformation.   How to do? Read on!

Asset classes in a ‘digital portfolio’

Like an investment portfolio or real estate holdings mix, ‘digital’ portfolios have different types of investment for different types of result.    Depending on a company’s risk tolerances, market conditions, and maturity, each portfolio investment can make a major digital difference on your journey.  

an example Digital Business Portfolio with weight towards Sales transformation & growth

an example Digital Business Portfolio with weight towards Sales transformation & growth

Asset class: Growth-focused digital changes

In this area of the portfolio, the digital investments are focused on growing the top-line revenue and market growth for a company.  Most often this is through digital experience changes, including improved digital presence (websites), customer / user experiences, mobile / app capabilities, sales enablement, digital marketing and brand building, and accelerated transaction processing.    All are focused on driving brand awareness, marketing engagement, and 'click to close' sales outcomes.

Asset class: Digital efficiency efforts

Digital improvements to a company’s eco-system are not limited to top line revenue efforts.  Each area of a business, including the traditional functions like Human Resources, Corporate learning, Finance, Collaboration and information sharing within a company – all have digital opportunities today.   

Migrating many of these to the ‘cloud’ is a common response – though thought needs to be given to key dependencies including identity management (logins and access controls), information updates and real time ‘feeds’ of core information, and the ability to record  outcomes across multiple systems. 

Business process automation, machine learning, and robotic process automation (RPA) are all digital investments in the operations portfolio.  

Enterprise architecture is a key skill that a company needs to have in abundance when undertaking these sort of changes, as digital experiences can set (or disrupt) corporate culture quickly if not done well.  

Asset class: Improving the digital risk position

 With the constant talk about ‘digital transformation’, the security and stability of a company’s infrastructure usually takes the back seat to other new digital imperatives. 

What can be missed – the importance of information security, life cycle management of information including data backups and restoration (now cloud enabled), and continuous cyber-security interference.   If you do not consider these when you digitize, you put the entire portfolio (and likely company) at a much higher risk. 

The wisest of companies are continuing to invest in their information security capabilities and readiness in parallel to other digital efforts.   These include upgrades to network monitoring and intrusion detections, preparations for the malware outbreaks, and cloud disruptions are now common place.  

When you accelerate, and enable digital systems to interact across cloud platforms, disruption and reliance on third parties become a higher priority to manage than ever before.  Either outsourcing to a trusted third party the management, or investing in automated tools and infrastructure that identifies and protects issues is a better practice.  

 

Different digital portfolios for different (corporate) goals

Each company is at a different maturity stage with technology (digital or otherwise), personnel capabilities and staffing (outsourced, in-sourced, hybrid, shadow IT), and market conditions faced.  That is what makes finding a ‘perfect answer’ for digital a broad spectrum response to this sort of query.  There are several archetypes and better practices to start with.  Some of the more common digital models observed include:

Growth minded (with lower priority on efficiency or risk factors):

-       Aggressive user experience / customer journey mapping projects that focus on touch points and digital marketing to sales conversion.   CRM platforms are usually up for review and transaction / deal flow enablement technologies are implement;

-       An efficiency / operations project to improve collaboration or work place experience (HR platform / benefits platform)

-       Outsourced managed info-security scanning and monitoring.

In this scenario, investment in a digital marketing / IT savvy solution partner, and investment longer term in a digitally experienced CMO is recommended.  With focus on the digital marketing / sales experience, companies pursuing this transformation will find themselves often in the land of digital agencies and solution providers enabling direct email marketing, social listening and auto response, and managing engagement campaigns across many digital channels.    Internal initiatives will take lower priority by cultural / leadership focus

Balanced with bias towards conservation of capital (typical private SMB):

-       1 to 3 digital growth initiatives (marketing, digital user experience, sales enablement)

-       1 to 2 efficiency efforts (digital transaction management, workforce collaboration)

-       2 risk management efforts (data center replication to the cloud, information security testing and systemic improvement)

In these circumstances, the corporate entity is balancing a finite capital budget with the new operational expense costs of many ‘cloud’ platforms, and attempting to execute change in concert across these multiple areas.   In this scenario, having a centralized change office / project management office, working in concert with enterprise architects to ensure alignment between information process and business / experience outcomes.   

Digital ‘dabbler’ with low(er) risk tolerance

-       1 digital growth initiative (digital marketing and social media listening typically)

-       1 efficiency effort (usually a long running and slow moving back office migration to a cloud platform, or industry vertical cloud shift)

-       2+ risk management digital solutions

In these portfolio cases, the investments on digital transformation are limited and enterprise risk / operations are willing the majority of budget, talent, and focus for the business.  This scenario is not a bad one for a slower moving incumbent / market leader that has a sizeable revenue gap and time to evaluate and implement digital capabilities at a slower pace.  The risk, that a disrupter/ competitor emerges – exists and digital can become a hurdle (vs. a benefit) in the scenario. 

Which ‘digital assets’ and model are right for you?

This is where we help.  Finding the right ‘digital transformation’ game plan for your company is what we help companies identify, prioritize, and enable.   Making the digital journey is a challenge, and we believe in practical answers tailored to each Client’s market, business, and digital conditions.   

To learn where and how to start on your digital journey, or to optimize your digital portfolio in place today, get in touch!    We provide a free hour’s assessment and chance to understand the ‘art of the possible’ and how you can become a better digital business!       

Sharing the Digital Transformation Bonfire: Our Drinks N Digital events

Rhinodox leadership including Justin Ullman, Kevin Carlson, and Julia Huang, speaking on July 13th 2017 at TechNexus

Rhinodox leadership including Justin Ullman, Kevin Carlson, and Julia Huang, speaking on July 13th 2017 at TechNexus

 Last evening, we had a great evening with over 40 people attending our monthly Drinks N Digital event, this time with a new innovative technology company Rhinodox sharing their vision and Worklight platform.  

During the event I had a chance to connect with many of the attendees, and heard a frequent question: “Why do we (Practically Digital) host these events,  - they are different than most?!”  

The Answer: every fire needs help to grow, and when we find really cool technology solutions we want to see flourish in the world, we throw a party and invite our friends to help build the blaze! 

Really cool is subjective, we know.  Really cool can be transformative in an industry, bringing a new solution to the market that solves hundred (if not thousands) companies needs.  Rhinodox is one of those we feel.  They have innovated and launched a contextual search and workflow automation platform that helps companies reduce repetitive work.  Impressive capabilities and results for any company - especially those handling large amounts of standard forms, claims, records, or files.   

Other times our events highlight an emerging services companies that is taking a fresh look, often disruptively – to existing industries.   All of these events generate dialog, moments of ‘wow I wonder if…’ and follow up meetings and conversations around the food and beverages provided.   

Our events serve another purpose - they help bridge the enterprise / corporate IT and operations worlds, with the startup / tech community here in Chicago.   There are thousands of emerging tech companies each year, and finding new solutions that help you digitally transform is much easier when there is a location, a time, and free food and beverages to help you get started.   We dig it when great teams come together, and we hope our attendees do as well!    

If you are interested in learning about future events and joining us, sign up to our list below.  If you are interested in presenting (even better!), get in touch at contactus@practicallydigital.net and let’s talk about your awesome tech solution or service!

+ See you at our next Drinks N Digital event!  -Rob