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In the past, operations were decentralised, paper-based activities with variable inputs, processing and outputs, limited specialisation, and high local labour costs. From these beginnings, operations have evolved. This began with the adoption of a series of best practices, including centralisation, specialisation, and LEAN & Six Sigma. These practices reduced cost, facilitated scale and reduced operational risk. Digital fundamentals followed including Private Networks, Imaging and Workflow, which greatly increased the portability of the fulfilment of services. The outcome was geographically distributed, shared service centres which targeted savings through labour arbitrage, higher volumes and specialised workforces where operational expertise was a core competency.
Robotics Process Automation (RPA)
Over the past decade, Robotics Process Automation has provided the opportunity to leverage these digital, structured, high volume activities and move to a combined humandigital workforce. In this model, the robots do the repetitive, low complexity tasks, and people move up the value chain to higher complexity tasks, including exception handling, QA, managing multiple service lines or working on entirely new activities. While RPA is not a ‘quick fix’ for large operational workforces, over time, it can make a significant contribution to the operational workforce. Contrary to early concerns, this incremental automation provides opportunities for staff as well as the obvious financial and risk benefits. These staff benefits include new digital career opportunities, more interesting roles in managing robots or handling complex exceptions, and freeing up capacity to work on new operations or transformation activities.
“Operations and Digital must work handin-hand as part of agile teams to deliver objectives that are not only understood but shared. As the digital ecosystem expands, a strong partnership with IT becomes increasingly essential”
In parallel to the growth of RPA, a series of megatrends in technology have created a suite of additional digital tools. A Public (as distinct from earlier private) Internet, Wireless technology, huge advancements in processing and storage power, and the resultant globalisation of commerce has allowed niche focused offerings to thrive by offering secure services to a global audience. Examples such as Electronic & Digital Signature, Natural Language ProcessingGeneration Understanding (NLPNLGNLU), Optical Character Recognition (OCR), and even RPA are providing Operations with a growing toolkit of best-of-breed digital tools, each of which targets a specific activity or challenge within the Operation. These individual tools allow operations to pilot and adopt new capabilities sequentially. This reduces lead times and risks traditionally associated with lengthy ‘bigbang’ implementations and allow staff to understand and get the most of each technology as they arrive. An increasingly automated operations landscape can be built ‘one brick at a time’ balancing cost-benefit with risk, time, and capability. This incremental approach supports an agile delivery approach and allows operations professionals to adapt to their digital workplace ‘one byte at a time.’
Getting It Right
Like all commerce today, it is not about getting it right ‘for now.’ It is about adapting and evolving as the toolset at our disposal extends and improves around us. Some key principles that support this approach include:
Operations and Digital must work hand-inhand as part of agile teams to deliver objectives that are not only understood but shared. As the digital ecosystem expands, a strong partnership with IT becomes increasingly essential. But the bedrock of a Digital Operation is founded on Automation, which is rooted (and often owned) by Operations.
Blueprint (a.k.a Architecture)
This evolving digital ecosystem is in constant flux. It is essential to keep a clear view of the Operations landscape. Swapping out manual activities and replacing them with digital components (e.g., replacing a letter with an electronic document and signature) on an ongoing basis means someone (or Group) must have a clear and evolving picture of the landscape. This picture must have at least three lenses:
This Blueprint should be co-owned by Operations, Automation, and IT to maintain that alignment around
Evaluation & On-Boarding
Evaluating, Piloting, On-boarding, and embedding 2-3 new components each year requires an agile procurement, legal, and architecture assessment process. This is greatly aided by SaaS offerings and APIs but a streamlined and evolving approach to adding additional digital capabilities is essential to move at pace.
Some of the expertise will have to come from outside the organisation. But most of it will be home-grown. Staff who have been mired in turgid manual processes for years will thrive when given the opportunity to learn new skills and move to a place where continuous learning becomes the norm, not to survive but to thrive in operations.
A “Digital” operation is no longer a monolithic suite of IT capabilities that are evaluated, implemented managed at arm’s length by a separate IT function. It is a bundle of technology (and related) tools that automate different elements of end to end operational journeys. This toolkit is rapidly evolving as Cloud, AI, and Data solutions mature. The operations professional of today and tomorrow are multi-skilled teams that understand not only the core business activities but how to implement and manage this suite of digital capabiliti