Digital business

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

Artificial Intelligence. Digital Labor. And Robotic process automation. Finding the right answer for your business. (1).png

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 2 in our series on robotic process automation

By Don Sweeney (

By Don Sweeney (

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


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

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!       

Digital Transformation Reimagined: Insights from the HMG Strategy CIO Summit 2017

Digital Transformation Panel, including Ramon Baez, CIO's from Abbott Labs, Baxter International, Crowe Horwarth LLP, CMO from Alfresco, and Practically Digital CEO Rob McGillen

Digital Transformation Panel, including Ramon Baez, CIO's from Abbott Labs, Baxter International, Crowe Horwarth LLP, CMO from Alfresco, and Practically Digital CEO Rob McGillen

This week HMG Strategy and their local partner SIM Chicago, hosted a CIO Leadership summit in Chicago that focused on digital transformation and how enterprises can successfully adopt for their own business.    Being part of a great speaker panel on the discussion today, the pearls of wisdom shared are worth passing on.      

7 key insights from the assembled digital leadership:

1.     Digital transformation is a journey, not a destination – while stating the obvious - focusing on digital strategy (and transformation) as a singular activity or deliverable is missing the opportunity.  Digital transformation and the strategy to achieve it is business specific, and keeping in mind that the journey will have achievement points (goals), and transformation journeys (projects and sprints) - an important perspective to embrace. 

2.     Transformation success takes executive alignment – a key theme from many of the speakers today is the importance of executive sponsorship and alignment of digital transformation with the CIO / CDO in a company.   Whether an enterprise mission statement and a reoccurring dialog, or spending time frequently with the leadership team on the digital needs – alignment is crucial to success.

3.     Cyber-security is a major factor to the transformation journey – and should not be under invested.  The continuous attempts against all organizations (commercial, government, and academic / not for profit) to breach and disrupt needs to be a crucial factor in your digital changes.   Defense is no longer enough – offensive considerations need to be considered when your company is clearly under assault. 

4.     Customer focus is key, and partnering with Marketing and Sales is crucial to aligning the IT organization with the revenue generating streams of the business.   Digital is not about a platform or ‘new app’ – it is about the customer experience, brand alignment, and enabling the customer journey / experience.   Ensuring your marketing leadership and IT are aligned are important components of the successful digital transformation.

5.     Culture matters Realizing the importance of culture and ensuring everyone understands and feels part of the digital journey within the company.    Ensuring the balancing act between customer experience (#4 above) and internal culture attenuation to the digital change are equally important. 

6.     Differentiate your business with digital – identify how your company can be different in the market is crucial to your digital transformation journey.    Use digital business platforms work to your advantage (Marketing centric, Sales Centric, delivery and collaboration centric are all good areas to focus on) in that differentiation journey.   

7.     Stay digitally current – continuous digital awareness is crucial for IT leadership to be useful and influential to the broader business objectives.  Being part of organizations (including SIM Chicago) and continuously educating yourself on the new trends of digital are a must in the digital journey.   

8.     Start now – digital transformation is not waiting on a business unit or a leadership objective – it is happening in every area of your business today.  Start now in your digital leadership efforts, focusing on the journey for the company and your customers!


To learn more about Digital transformation and forming an effective digital strategy, get in touch !