Digital transformation

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 3 in our services on RPA benefits and better practices

Blog post by Don Sweeney (

Blog post by Don Sweeney (

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.

RPA map.png

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!   

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 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!