7 Digital Investments for 2018 every company should consider

By Rob McGillen

By Rob McGillen

A frequent question I have been ask lately "What are the leading digital trends for the year ahead?"   Through dialogs with customers, business and technology leaders, and reviewing dozens of independent surveys and reports - Below is a list of 7 digital innovations for 2018 which we feel will make a difference.  

#1 - Artificial Intelligence.  The ability to leverage A.I. is already an industry differentiator - and knowing where and how to start is key.  Three strong steps to help you get started: Understand the differences between RPA, autonomics, machine learning, and cognitive computing solutions.   Understand how your enterprise provider of ERP and CRM is either delivering - or intends to deliver for use in their platform.  And decide how your employees and customers will engage with the experience ahead.  

#2 - Augmented reality (and audio engagement) and how to successful leverage for customers.  Beyond the possibilities of virtual real estate walk thrus or ordering soap replacements from Amazon- which parts of your business and customer services become vastly different when augmented or voice enabled.   Consider how the customer experience can change (and their expectations most certainly will) - and aim for where the hockey puck is going in your industry.   

#3 - IoT and edge based computing capabilities.   IoT has become mainstream, smart cities are leading the way - and analyzing and acting on the data flowing insights is optimally done at the edge (think hybrid cloud / solutions that act on real time streams like traffic flow through an airport, but do not require a 'home run' for analysis and reporting to a corporate data center).  What is your ability to act on the possibilities of the IoT / cloud edge solutions that are now available? 

#4 - Blockchain and effective distributed trust based solutions.   As more companies and industries get their head around distributed trust - blockchain will disrupt many existing 'trust and verify' processes and businesses.  Industries (think banking, logistics, manufacturing) which rely on extreme accuracy and precision of information (and have regulatory implications) - are already moving on these innovations.  What are you doing to ensure your place in the blockchain revolution? 

#5 - Dark analytics and Insights.  Sounds like Star Wars stuff.  This is life after Big Data - focusing on the insights that make a difference found in the information previously so vast or complex it was not link-able to the bigger business picture. Now it is.   The questions and answers to be found will grow exponentially in the year ahead - and combined with an A.I. solution to help surface - you will be leading (or lagging) your pack.

#6 - Pick a better cloud platform / partner (again).  As all of the major players have put out their strategies and new solutions for the year - making choices between Microsoft, Amazon, Google, IBM, and Salesforce becomes a major business / partnership choice for the year+ ahead.  Microsoft in particular has stepped up their offerings and capabilities with Azure.  Take more than a few minutes to study the options.  The pricing.  The value added services and eco-systems.  It is going to make a big difference if your business relies on integrations to maximize value in the business.  

#7 - Lastly, information security and real time risk management automation.  This needs to be on every company's 'deal with asap' list - automation and management / talent to address the continuous war on information.   As more information security providers are embracing and offering automated solutions, companies will need to have a clear (and continuously updated) picture of risk and response to ensure their stakeholders and employees / customers of optimal security operations.    The days of 'once a year' security audits and response lists are behind - real time and autonomous is where companies need to be today. 

While not exhaustive - the 7 above are a strong place to start in digital innovation for 2018.  Curious to learn more about these solutions and and how they are part of a digital business in the new year - get in touch! 

From RPA to Cognitive Computing: Finding the right robot for the job

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Digital Labor.  Artificial Intelligence.  Cognitive Computing.  Robotic Process automation (RPA). The possibilities of new A.I. business model are increasing by the month, as is the hype.  Finding the right platform, adoption process, and long term value can be a challenging journey.

Insights on what works and why are becoming more clear, and sharable.  Earlier this month, I participated in a panel on robotic process automation and cognitive computing sharing such experiences, as part of the DePaul University Digital Innovation conference. I was joined by several business leaders with deep practical experience, including Dwayne Prosko from Deloitte, John Stiber from Mondelez International, and Steven Pyke from W.W. Grainger.  The panel discussion was wide-ranging, and provided the assembled audience much to consider with the challenges and benefits of digital automation.  

6 key insights from the panel discussion included:  

  1. Automation, of any sort - is a process transformation before it is anything else. Realize you need to focus on the process(es) you wish to change, understand the why (business and mechanical), consider the human factors (job / performance changes and differences in work ‘speed’), and evaluate which platform(s) help achieve the business / process goals. Do not start with an automation 'hammer' and look for 'business problem nails' to hit.
  2. There are many layers (and complexities) to digital automation.  While the business process itself may jump off the page needing to be improved - deeper thought on the underlying systems, processes, and connective tissue of a business function need thought.  Something as simple as a Windows software patch, normally done without thought to the impact in a company - can completely disrupt the performance of an automated platform that is handling thousands of returns an hour. Third parties are also bringing their own automation tools to the table now - consider how your automation solution will interface with third parties for joint automation (e.g. procure to pay, or payroll processing / outsourcing). You might be surprised which platforms do and do not work well together.
  3. Digital automation does not mean digitally unattended.  The ability to automate a business process or event does not preclude the need for human supervision.  Sampling for accuracy in the automation, review of exceptions, and performance tuning are all part of the journey of digital automation. Ensure you have a clear vision who will be 'managing the digital labor / platform' (both from IT and from the business) as part of your change journey. And be ready for surprising adjustments / changes to the situation as you accelerate the pace of performance.
  4. Crawl, Walk, Run, then Fly.  Many times, businesses respond to the hype that can proceed a digital automation investment. The better advice - be clear on the why, take it at pace and go patiently forward. Focus on a single function / department business process change you want to transform as a starting point to prove out the benefits, and increase organizational buy in. Learn how the business responses to faster, increased accuracy, or differences in efficiency. Ensure your culture can sustain the change and grow on the knowledge gained from the automation experience (vs. rebel and resist - see the next point).  
  5. Human / cultural alignment is key to success. Putting a human face on the automation process increases the acceptance and utilization / leverage of digital automation in a business.  Something as simple as ‘naming’ the automated platform, including in work schedules, and ensure team members who are working with the digital colleague’ understand the ‘why’ and the ‘WIFM’ - improve the chances of cultural adoption long term.   If you do not address - myths and worries will manifest around the 'real reasons' for the automation change- something which can become difficult to overcome in a culture that relies on the automation process.
  6. The idiom - “Horses for courses” certainly applies to digital automation.  A key insights agreed: No A.I. platform can do it all in the area of digital automation. Companies are now finding that ‘moonshot’ A.I. programs that focus on becoming a digital game-changer can quickly miss the value target (and revenue / ROI expectation) if implemented in an eco-system or scenario that fails to integrate the digital automation itself.    

And last - a better automation model:

Consider having a 'automation eco-system' vs. a singular platform. Instead of relying on a singular answer - consider how you can optimize the benefits of multiple platforms to your digital advantage (and do this over time, learning and absorbing in your culture).

An automation eco-system model: an RPA solution gathering normalized data and performing entry / validations at record speed, a digital autonomics platformevaluating and managing exceptions and acts as an ‘engagement agent’ to support high volume customer interactions, while a cognitive computing solution provides analytics, guidance, and exception ideation that helps surface new value in the business.

Leveraging these insights above, achieving a digital automation platform (or eco-system) for your company can be a smoother transformation in the digital world. Focusing on process, the change journey (and the human factors), and finding the right digital 'horses for courses' will improve your chances for digital success!

Digital Labor and RPA: Part 3 in our services on RPA benefits and better practices

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

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

Key steps to a Successful RPA Implementation

In June 2017 , the Institute for Robotic Process Automation and Artificial Intelligence (IRPA-AI) conducted a study of business technology leaders in more than 22 industries and 40 countries, which showed that digital automation has become part of almost every process and industry in the world.

But where—and how—does RPA fit into this? While RPA can drive a lot of process efficiencies and cost savings, it also can be a huge financial undertaking that requires a lot of change management.

So, how can your organization be sure it’s implementing RPA where it will be most beneficial to the bottom line instead of just using technology for technology’s sake?

In this third post of the three-part blog series on RPA, we are going to talk about how businesses can ensure a successful RPA implementation and what to consider prior to rollout.

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Making RPA work right: Identifying the right processes for RPA

The IRPA-AI survey noted that the processes most ripe for RPA are typically in shared services organizations – areas where there’s a lot of repetition and well-defined processes but also a lot of human intervention.

Surveyed companies specifically called out financial processes as the most common processes they planned to automate in the future. RPA can help improve financial processes by automating expense receipts, collections, approval workflows and some standard reporting.

The second most common area prime for RPA mentioned in the survey is Human Resources (HR). RPA can enable HR staff to rapidly track timesheets, store documents, calculate benefits, and issue on-boarding information to employees. 

Finally, the survey also mentioned procurement as another target area for RPA influence. The automated approval of requisitions and invoice processing can significantly help reduce human intervention in procurement processes. Not only can organizations reduce costs and gain efficiencies by using RPA for procurement, but they also can improve the vendor management process with more communication and better expected planning.

RPA priorities: Narrowing the field

There are other areas in which RPA can fit as well, including high-volume and high-frequency activities, repetitive, transactional activities, data-intensive activities, rule-based activities (interrogation of data, tax and compliance), tasks that pull data from disparate systems, and activities with standardization opportunities.

While there’s a host of processes that could benefit from RPA, organizations should evaluate them each separately to determine how they can ensure a successful implementation for each one.   Before diving in and making any RPA project a reality, consider these suggestions:

  • Define “transformation” before thinking about the tools. Technology does not solve the problem. It’s the vehicle to get you to the solution. Would you select building materials before designing the house?
  • Define automation objectives – e.g. headcount cost reduction, improving productivity, accelerating financial reporting cycles, redeploying resources to higher-value activities, enabling the organization to bring roles back onshore while maintaining an efficient cost structure, or improving compliance and controls.
  • Establish the right governance. To accelerate transformation, an organization will need to expand automation in a managed and thoughtful manner and not just as a series of separate projects. With this in mind, it is useful to plan and work in concert with business-led, end-to-end process improvement initiatives.
  • Plan for transformation. Change Management is key for any RPA implementation. Considerations should include changes to job design, roles, capabilities and skills required.
  • Conduct a pilot to demonstrate and prove out your RPA thesis of value.   This can be helpful for understanding the effort required to program and run the tool and the impact on resources.

Alignment and sponsorship: gaining executive—and employee--buy-in for the RPA journey

 Once your organization has begun a RPA implementation, it’s essential to show ROI beyond cost savings to ensure you gain buy-in from both executives and employees for future projects.

You can do so by identifying and quantifying opportunities for how RPA can be used in revenue-generating activities in addition to cost-saving or compliance activities. Don't just focus on RPA’s ability to reduce labor costs as its only benefit. Carefully set expectations of what the tools can do and how your organization can use them to support automation in an overall digital transformation strategy.

You also can identify other processes that touch multiple systems across the enterprise that could benefit from a nonintrusive approach to automation. Evaluate RPA opportunities where you have people acting as "swivel chair integration" — rekeying data between systems — and where they’re performing work that involves structured, digitalized data processed by predefined rules. This analysis forms the basis for your enterprise automation roadmap.

Lastly, identify alternative existing tools or services which have most of your required functionality at a suitable price point and evaluate these solutions in parallel with RPA, or as a hybrid solution. Also keep an eye on future artificial-intelligence-based options to ensure your organization chooses the right technology for each future automation project! 

 

As always, please reach out if you have questions, comments or concerns about RPA. We appreciate your feedback!   

5 Practical Insights to achieve Digital Business

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Making a digital difference for companies ready to skip the hype.

Sitting down this week with CEO Rob McGillen, founder of Practically Digital, we ask his insights that business leaders should understand on digital business and transformation. 

"Digital means something different to every person, and every company" observes Rob McGillen.   "Many times, tech companies and consulting firms are sharing digital visions about the future 3 years from now - without any clarity on what you can do now to get to that future.     

We see it differently.  Working across industries, we sense clear business trends and digital investments that make a major difference.  That is what we focus on with our clients - finding better choices and helping them on the digital journey now."

2 years on, business is growing rapidly for Practically Digital.  Part of the growth success is the intentional focus of Practically Digital's services: 

Practically Digital: Focusing on digitizing the business processes that matter

Practically Digital: Focusing on digitizing the business processes that matter

"Many companies are daunted by digital 'moonshots' which take years and millions to achieve.  These big bets are risky and impact growth. " shares Rob.  "Our focus at Practically Digital is to help digitize the common business practices all companies face.   

This approach helps build confidence, delivers incremental value quickly, develops change skills on digital business, and establish a 'digital first' eco-system for the business.   When everyone is thinking and working digital - it is much easier to go for the moon, and much less cost and time."

 

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the top trends in digital business that make the difference

Looking across all of the clients and talking with hundreds of business leaders, we see the following 5 trends making a difference:

1) Stay hyper focused on the digital / real world customer.  The customer experience remains key, and needs to be continuously aligned with.   Journey mapping the customer experience (B2B or B2C) across your real world and digital touch points with your brand and service / solutions makes a major difference as you adopt digital solutions.  Bring those touch points and insights back to a cloud based CRM / relationship system.    

2) Digital Sales Enablement is the secret weapon to digital growth.  Digital marketing and social media are 'table stakes' activities - you need to do it, your brand absolutely needs the visibility, and- it has become a commodity.   Digital Sales Enablement - integration of 'facilitated sales platforms' and CRM solutions is becoming the major capability that companies can leverage to increase sales and growth.    

3) Artificial Intelligence has reached a maturity stage, where smaller players who are specializing and partnering.  You will see A.I. embedded in over 1/3 of your products and platforms in the the course of the next 24 months.   It is now found in part on chips in the newest iPhones, and more importantly - the cloud-enabled platforms are embedding and making possible for customer service, sales support and analytics, relationship builds with customers, and even tailored customer intake processes.  

4) Robotic process automation (RPA) is ready for the prime time.  As more companies are struggling with outsourcing (either visas, quality, or contract renewals) - the alternative that is now commercially viable is RPA.  Over 20 solution providers now exist in this space, and you will see the major consulting companies and outsourcing / system integrators will be offering this as a strong / lower cost alternative to the traditional BPO / ITO solution.  Get ahead on this curve and decide which makes sense for your company.   

5) Digital collaboration platforms (with video and content targeting and sharing)  that work on mobile are becoming a major supercharger for corporate speed and decision making, and engaging field / remote team members with a core corporate center.  We are finding companies who leverage these new generation are finally making a difference in the area of collaboration.   

 

A final insight from Rob McGillen. "These 5 digital activities are not hard efforts to rapidly prototype and bring online if a company is ready to make the journey.  The right thing to do is tackle one or more of these initiates together that enhance the collective value to the company. 

If you want to engage the customer better - focus on Sales, Marketing, transactions.  If you want to improve efficiency and growth within - collaboration and video engagement are great choices.   It depends on your business goals now and next. 

The key point is 'don't wait' for the digital moonshot opportunity.  Be practical and get moving! "

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To learn how Practically Digital can help your company on digital transformation and capabilities you might consider, get in touch!

Digital Labor and RPA: Part 2 in our series on robotic process automation

By Don Sweeney (don.sweeney@practicallydigital.net)

By Don Sweeney (don.sweeney@practicallydigital.net)

In our first blog post on RPA, we defined what Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is and provided some examples.    In this second post of the three-part series, we will explain why RPA is important regardless of your role in an organization, and how it will significantly impact employees and processes going forward.

RPA vs. outsourcing – the benefits and the gains

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While robotic process automation is touted as a solution to many inefficiencies, in practicality RPA is an iteration of companies seeking to increase efficiency and reduce costs in various roles and processes within their organization.    

Over the past decade, many businesses have tried to achieve cost minimization and improved efficiency of capital and labor by employing offshore capabilities. While some gain is achieved when done well, offshoring creates various communications issues because of language, culture and time-zone differences, often resulting in an increased number of hours—and costs--to get the same amount of work accomplished.

To combat the hidden offshoring costs, some organizations have tried to make offshore processes as specific, static and repeatable as possible.  This approach increases efficiency certainly, though limits upside growth and scale of such a capability.  In contrast, with RPA, companies gain the benefits of scale and growth, plus the efficiencies possible (but rarely achieved) with offshoring or outsourcing efforts.   

The benefits of RPA

RPA - Taking the error, inefficiency, and complexity out of frequent tasks

RPA - Taking the error, inefficiency, and complexity out of frequent tasks

So who gains in the adoption of RPA?   In an interesting twist, outsourcing companies are often the ones leading the movement to RPA because they foresee the efficiency gains that can be achieved by moving to less labor-intensive processes, and less costly remediation efforts on projects or services which are already in place.  

The value of RPA is certainly not limited to companies that have outsourced their efforts for a specific process. The benefits that RPA can bring to any organization include:

Cost Reduction: Automating manual, menial, repetitive tasks that follow a consistent, logical flow can reduce the need for costly human intervention.
Performance Improvement: Allowing RPA to execute on linear tasks with high accuracy, speed and quality can improve quality assurance.
Risk Mitigation: There’s less risk associated with decreased reliance on outsourcing partners.
Increased Innovation: Allowing employees to focus on more innovative and creative projects and tasks can lead to increased thought leadership.
Workforce Flexibility: Using RPA can help mitigate against the decreasing access to white collar labor as baby boomers continue to retire.

How does RPA benefit your employees?

RPA allows the humans to focus on the creative, decision, and growth priorities.  

RPA allows the humans to focus on the creative, decision, and growth priorities.  

If you’re a worker and not a decision maker, RPA can still be beneficial to you because it removes the repetitive, administrative work that you’re currently doing. And let’s be frank…you don’t like to do that stuff anyway and you mostly likely aren’t valued for it.

RPA will allow employees to focus more on analyzing data and complex decision making, instead of just completing the processes involved in it. And that change will significantly increase a person's value to any organization.

RPA can offer various benefits from the enterprise level all the way down to the employee level by automating tasks and processes that are repetitive and consistent. It can reduce costs, improve consistency (and therefore reduce errors in processing), and potentially provide a better engaging experience for the end customer because these processes now can be done 24x7. 

Stay tuned for Blog 3: Making the RPA investment a success