The digital landscape has evolved massively, thanks to progress in cloud, automation and artificial intelligence. With rapid growth in data and intense market competition driving business leaders to rethink digital strategy, innovation is crucial to remaining competitive. As automation and AI technology progresses, businesses have the potential to truly transform their processes and lay the foundations for growth.
This is particularly true in today’s uncertain climate brought on by COVID-19 and the economic downturn. Nimbus Ninety members gathered virtually to discuss how to realise a new wave of operational efficiency and what it means for business productivity.
THE DIGITAL READINESS INDEX
In 2020, a survey revealed that an organisation’s attitude to change is inherently linked to its digital strategy. 40% of organisations that describe themselves as “disruptors” claim digital strategy is “in our DNA”; in comparison to 41% of “defenders” that are “still developing our digital strategy”.1 With businesses becoming more and more digital, this highlights a strong correlation between digital readiness and an ability to pivot.
In addition to this, infrastructure investment has jumped from 20% in 2019 to 31% this year, as we see organisations laying the foundations to deal with more data and high-performance applications.2 As we heard from Douglas Coombs, IBM's European Lead for Digital Business Automation, digitising isn’t an option anymore – it’s an imperative. He broke this down into a journey. Firstly, it’s crucial to digitise work in order to increase operational efficiency. Once that is in place, then businesses can start applying AI to the data obtained from operational workflows, to further increase efficiency.
At this point, the blend between human and digital workers must be carefully supervised: digital must be used to enrich and augment the human, not to replace it. The ultimate goal is to optimise the hybrid workforce of both digital and human, in order to reach new heights of operational efficiency and digital innovation.
The question is: how do we learn from how we work? And how can we improve? As automation and artificial intelligence becomes increasingly part of digital processes, Doug urged his audience to pay attention to the data coming from operations. “We increasingly need business visibility, and to use the insights from the ways we already work” he told us. “Only then can we improve.”
STRATEGISING THE NEXT CHAPTER
So, what does the next chapter of digital reinvention look like? Members split into discussion tables focused on specific areas of digital transformation: application strategy, open source strategy, cloud migration, customer experience, RPA and redesigning workflows.
For application strategy, discussion focused around the need to be clear and concise when aligning strategy to business objectives. With application strategy focused wholly on addressing the needs of the business, the organisation as a whole can benefit more deeply than just optimising existing workflows. In addition to this, businesses are seeing a trend where the 5-year plan is being replaced by more flexible approaches. When examining open source strategy, risk was a key part of the discussion: how can the risk be managed, and especially the financial/legal side of open source? The journey to open source also requires a certain level of expertise within the organisation. One member noted that when failure occurs, it is all too easy to get rid of teams but when you fail fast, you just need to make sure that the team has somewhere to land.
When it comes to cloud migration, the regulations surrounding the platform can be a challenge to overcome. One member argued that cloud should be seen as an operating model rather than a destination. When thinking about how digital workers can optimise and innovate customer experience, design thinking is helpful in developing systems to implement into client experience. In the context of the current global situation, it is also important to think about mental wellbeing of employees and how this can impact interacting with the customer.
When thinking about the potential of robotic process automation (RPA) and building AI into workflows, it’s important to have a blend of tactical and strategic automation. Quick wins are good to get the ball rolling, but there also lies in them a danger of low ROI if there isn’t more fruit to follow. Similarly, expectations must be managed in order to ensure that they are realistic and achievable. With RPA becoming somewhat of a buzzword with the drive to invest in infrastructure, one member notes that it is imperative to automate the right things. Taking something bad and automating it doesn’t improve your business; it just allows you to do something bad faster. This is where cost reduction must be considered in line with customer needs: if you’re implementing RPA just to reduce costs, it won’t fulfil its potential. Starting with a clean-slate mindset ensures that RPA doesn’t simply become an add-on, but a capability enhancer.
For the discussion around redesigning workflows, the group agreed that humans are still integral to the process: instead of thinking about ways to take human out of it, the question should be how to blend the human with the digital. Again, the urge not to just think about cost reduction came up, as simply viewing something through the cost lens doesn’t give a wide enough picture for the tech to be used strategically.
With digital making great leaps forward, and current market conditions making heavy demands on organisational performance, it’s important for businesses to bring these ideas into play when thinking about digital reinvention. Unlocking a new wave of efficiency is about so much more than speed: it allows the human workers to tap into their creative potential, previously fatigued through mundanity.
The call is to digitise now. Bring on the next chapter.
1. Nimbus Ninety, Digital Trends Report 2020.
2. Nimbus Ninety, Digital Trends Report 2020.
This event held was in partnership with IBM, an IT solutions and cloud provider.