söndag 30 maj 2021

Automation - the hidden potential


Leveraging the power of automation

The power of automation - it certainly has a ring to it, right? If you've already read the preceding blog posts in this series, you know that we've covered various aspects of implementing automation; inherent distrust of new technology and the not-invented-here (NIH) challenge, finding the right mix between improving workflow and introducing yet another tool & technological platform, and avoiding the most common pitfalls when it comes to moving from labor-intensive to automated workflows.

These are crucial steps towards leveraging the power of automation, and with successful outcomes it can be a game-changer for your business, your colleagues, and your customers.

In a way, the title of this post could’ve been “Leveraging the power of technology”, since the application of technology in most cases aims to provide some kind of automation of a task which we either do not want, or cannot afford, to execute manually. We could call it “creating capabilities” and “eliminating inefficiencies”.

Classic LEAN methods prescribe the elimination of waste identified with the mnemonic TIM WOODS – Transportation, Inventory, Motion, Waiting, Overprocessing, Overproduction, Defects, Skills

A brief explanation of each, highlights quite clearly what areas we can address with technology and automation as low hanging fruit -

  • Transportation - Moving items or information
  • Inventory - Items or information that the customer has not received
  • Motion - Excessive movement within workspace
  • Waiting - Waiting for information or items to arrive
  • Overprocessing - Doing more work than necessary
  • Overproduction - Doing work before it is needed
  • Defects - Mistakes and errors that need to be reworked
  • Skills - Not using the skillset available

Eliminating inefficiencies

Through e.g. integration, BPM or RPA as technologies, we can make sure that the right information reaches the right recipient in time – always – and the move, the transportation, is automated.  No more trudging through an export from SAP to filter, sort, copy and paste the information into another system to generate a report or presentation material.

This also includes a variety of operations on the information set, which may today be carried out manually – the exclusion or addition of an area code prefix in contact information, the sum total of a sales report, the concatenation of street name and post code in the address field etc. just to highlight a few generic examples. It gets done automatically, every time, and without any errors, mistakes, defects.

The win, the measurable impact in each task, activity and process – is that lead times are shortened or even eliminated (moving or waiting for information), actual work required is minimized (more work than necessary), the automated parts of the process are quality assured and secure (errors than need to be reworked), and the actual work required shifts focus from rote repetition to creative innovation and value-adding problem solving, making sure that the full skillset available in your colleagues comes to use (using the skillset available). Keep in mind that efficient automation also includes the factor of eliminating overprocessing (not doing more work than required) even if that work is automated in itself. Almost needless to say, customers – internal as well as external – will receive service with a completely new level of availability, transparency and response time which in comparison to the previous situation, will be game-changing.

Creating capabilities

Having seen what technology can do to our existing ways of working – what does it mean for the overall business, and the way we approach and communicate with our customer?

Looking at industry trends in practically every field over the past 20 years, it is clear that a vital part of our customer expectations, regardless if it is in relation to a product or a service, online or offline – is digital - the information dimension is critical. If I need a product, I want to be able to order it online, I want to be able to follow the delivery information from dispatch to delivery, I want information about the product properties to be available online and I want to be able to interact with other consumers who use that product to maximize my benefit and use from it. This is completely regardless if the product is IoT enabled and connected to a centralized service – and by then we’re entering into a whole new dimension of associated services, metrics, customer consumption and behavioral information etc. which can completely transform a business from reactive and competition driven to proactive and customer centric.

These are the kinds of capabilities that only are available through leveraging technology and automation – there just isn’t a way of achieving those types of information transfer and transparency, without efficient automation. Judging by the direction that the market and consumer behavior has taken – in short, you could say that there is no other way to stay competitive, relevant and valuable to a fast-paced information driven consumer base. You might think that this is strictly specific to the B2C market, but if so - take another look – B2B is even more data driven, from supply chain to aftermarket, the information flow is becoming the backbone of market leaders in every industry – and we’re taking our behaviors and expectations as consumers or professionals in both directions. Intuitive seamless access to information, private and professional – is standard, and a capability you cannot operate without.

This is the third of a four-part blog post series about intelligent automation, using technology in a smart way to get the most out of the time, energy and overall investment each organization is faced with to improve Customer offering, quality and overall market competitiveness.

Are you looking for ways to leverage technology to benefit your business and outsmart the competition?  Get in touch - every step forward starts with a constructive and thorough discussion!

söndag 23 maj 2021

Practical steps to efficient automation

Everyone in the vicinity of IT systems, application and software knows that the promise of the potential benefits looks absolutely irresistible from a distance, or in a sales pitch, but when it comes down to the nitty gritty details of using the end result, customer satisfaction is not always on par with the initial impressions.

Automation, like any efficiency improvement straddling organization, human behavior and technology, runs a similar risk of disappointment – hence, if our aim is to overdeliver on customer expectations, we have a number of practical steps to follow based on our previous experience and, ideally a methodology framework.

To emphasize the difference, and additional potential pitfalls, whether we were discussing replacing an existing integration between two systems, or establishing a new integration for data transfer, the success criteria are quite obvious, and practically binary;
  • Does the data end up where it should?
  • Is it the right data?
  • Is it on time?
  • Is the solution resilient enough to handle deviations in content, system availability etc?

...together with the ‘standard’ expectations of the overall delivery being on time, on budget and managed professionally (communication, planning, pricing etc).  When it comes to improving  efficiency that affects on organization, human behavior and technology combined, the challenge is practically exponentially more complex.  So, what makes the effort to automate efficient, and how can these steps be achieved from a practical perspective?  Let’s break it down into the challenging areas mentioned above; organization, human behavior and technology.


Sometimes, we can ‘get away’ with working within a limited workflow, or a couple of isolated processes handled within the same team, the same department. But in most cases, real efficiency drivers are discovered in our cross-functions, between roles, departments or applications (with different owners). This is a common source of grief and potential project pitfalls; when there are shared responsibilities, unclear ownership or unknown escalation paths, the projects run a serious risk of falling behind schedule or delivering a solution which doesn’t fit real-world requirements.

The solution is to engage with all relevant stakeholders and individuals, regardless of formal area of responsibility, required to align towards the common goal, and anchor the solution buy-in with them. A practice usually recommended, is to form an Automation Center of Excellence as a forum to handle cross-area issues, promote the benefits of automation, and communicate with all parties within the organization to make sure everyone is informed, onboard, and aligned.

Human behavior  

On the smaller scale, individual human behavior can and should not be underestimated as a risk factor.

Even though most of us have a generally optimistic outlook on new ideas, on the subconscious level we’re often leaning towards resisting new ways of doing things, changing “the way it has always been” and bringing in practices that are “not invented here”. Although mentioned as a risk, it can easily be converted into a great asset and enabler, tying into the Automation Center of Excellence concept. The practical step to this stage is to untap the hidden potential and wisdom ‘hidden’ within the experience and knowledge of each co-worker.  Make sure everyone gets the opportunity to engage, to participate, contribute to the discussion on the solution design, ideally through process discovery workshops – where a common way of working and real gems of efficiency drivers can be identified. 

This way, a better sense of understanding and ownership can be established in the teams who – in the end – will actually own and benefit from the new functionality.  As automation can sometimes be portrayed as dehumanizing or replacing jobs rather than as an enabler to allow for proactive troubleshooting, problem solving and creative innovation, this approach will also defuse such views and contribute to a positive reception when the time for change management comes.


Technology is great at doing what we ‘tell’ it.  The problem is, if we don’t think through the instructions well enough, the result can be a disaster.  Therefore, small steps, and taking those small steps in the right order, is a success factor. The process discovery activity mentioned earlier, can provide you with vital input on which workflow, out of several candidates, to support with automation, and – crucially – how to design the automation without producing a ‘carbon-copy’ process of the human-based labor-intensive way of working. Technology and automation require an approach with the best from both worlds, to make the most out of its potential. 

Once the scope is established, the implementation should follow along similar lines, operate with quick iterations, be agile and test and release often to make sure the end user get a chance to provide feedback and input.  Don’t forget - The gains achieved through the joint effort is a team win – celebrate the victories accordingly!

To summarize:

  • Engage across the organization, initiate an Automation Center of Excellence
  • Involve and enthuse, frame and emphasize the investment in improvements and benefits to the individual roles.  Promote participation and contribution.
  • Start small – keep it simple, and build on the positive momentum of continuous gains
  • Work agile, test and release often – and highlight the concrete efficiency improvements with each step.  A little bit of evangelizing internally goes a long way to grow enthusiasm and interest.
  • The achievements are a team effort – celebrate the results and victories as a team!

This is the second of a four-part blog post series about intelligent automation, using technology in a smart way to get the most out of the time, energy and overall investment each organization is faced with to improve Customer offering, quality and overall market competitiveness.

Are you looking for ways to leverage technology to benefit your business and outsmart the competition?  Get in touch - every step forward starts with a constructive and thorough discussion!


söndag 16 maj 2021

The robots are taking over

- oh are they really?

- Yes.

- Shouldn’t we be worried?

- No, actually not. It’s a good thing, all things considered.

For most of us, what we refer to as robotization or some kind of automation with rule based outcomes has been going on since long before we were born. You could even say that inventing the wheel and domesticating horses and oxen is a form of automation, where we replaced previous human effort and labor with something less exhausting. Since the early days of civilization, this has been the leading factor allowing us to specialize even further in our different domains and areas of expertise leading to all kinds of discoveries and inventions. So, it’s a good thing. However. there are some concerns where the potentially negative aspects of automation are brought to light;
• Automation makes life and work inhuman and stressful
• Our lives will be run by machines and we will be out of jobs and things to do
• You can’t trust automation. A real person needs to review and decide things

Let’s address them with a constructive approach:

Automation makes life and work inhuman and stressful

Did you know that the word robot has its roots in the Czech word for ‘robota’ meaning forced labour? The tasks most suited for automation and robotization are rote, repetitive and recurring tasks which follow a specific pattern and rules. Many of us find that it is just that sort of task; recurring reporting or analysis, searching for and sorting information, transferring data from one system to another, that makes it nearly impossible to find enough time to do that other part of our jobs. The other parts could be, the creative innovation and problem solving processes. If we apply automation and robotization, it carries the promise to actually make our lives and work more human, and less stressful.

Our lives will be run by machines – We will be out of jobs and things to do

Connecting to the preceding line of thought – when we free up time from rote, repetitive and monotonous tasks, we can focus on the human strong points such as problem solving and creative innovation. It’s not like we couldn’t find other things to do than operating elevators, connecting phone calls, carrying water or handling horses. All throughout human history we’ve put spare resources into finding higher levels of productivity, quality and value that we can pass on to our colleagues and customers. Gains in time, resources and capability translate into opportunities – and it’s our responsibility to direct technology as a tool, which good governance and management supports.

You can’t trust automation – a real person needs to review and decide things

This is a reasonable point. Automation and technology in itself isn't a guarantor for a good, well thought out process. What does help us direct technology in a way that aligns with human values, with interaction and outcomes that make automation a serving, supporting tool rather than an unreliable ‘black box’ is to apply it in a smart, transparent and process-driven fashion. This builds trust and understanding of the value of automation and can be recognized in clever, modern applications like Swish, Klarna, Kivra, etc. More to follow on this topic in an upcoming blog post.

This is the first of a four-part blog post series about intelligent automation. Using technology in a smart way to get the most out of the time, energy and overall investment each organization is faced with to improve customer offering, quality and overall market competitiveness.

Are you looking for ways to leverage technology to benefit your business and outsmart the competition? Get in touch - every step forward starts with a constructive and thorough discussion!