Archive for the ‘IT Strategy’ Category

Mobile phone/mobile wallet

Monday, September 9th, 2013

I’ve been noodling since 2007, why mobile payments are taking so long to take off. It is such an obvious idea, and one of many that shows that mobile apps have a long, long way to go before they meet some of the most basic use cases imagined in the early mobile days.

So. it is good to see PayPal (who maybe the only player with few enough vested interests to really force the agenda) taking some real steps towards a mobile wallet.

But let’s not stop at finances. If a mobile app can replace my wallet, why can’t it replace my key-ring, my security access cards, my car park entry zapper, my driving license and passport?

Blue Prism announced Gartner Cool Vendor

Tuesday, May 21st, 2013

Leading technology analyst, Gartner, has announced its 2013 Cool Vendor list and Blue Prism has been identified within the Business Process Services category.

Read the analysis by Cathy Tornbohm on the Gartner website for more details.

Company culture is the threat, not robots…

Friday, March 8th, 2013

Interesting piece from NS Ramnath in which he argues that, despite early warnings, large corporates can get complacent about innovation, allowing new ideas like software robotics to threaten their established business model.

You can read the article on the Forbes India website.

IT – this is how your business colleagues think

Monday, February 11th, 2013

The history of this blog is littered with commentary trying to analyse why Business Operations come from Venus and IT comes from Mars.

If you work in IT, take a quick read of this article, published by an outsourcing analyst (Horses for Sources). Although intended to be aimed at the geeks and suppliers of the sourcing industry, it is also a lesson to internal IT colleagues in how Business Ops thinks, and why IT should focus on using technology to achieve business outcomes, not try to sell the technologies themselves.

You can find the article here: Sourcing no-no’s for 2013.

Operational Agility Forum – managing the change

Thursday, November 22nd, 2012

Yesterday I attended the Operational Agility Forum Steering Group’s seventh meeting hosted by Npower in Swindon. Attendees includes both large enterprises and BPOs. The focus is on business process. It was a lively and interesting debate and I learnt some important stuff.

In implementing an OA strategy, most members subscribe to a Eliminate/Automate/Offshore (EAO) methodology. Firstly using tools like Lean to reduce process labour, then automating and finally offshoring as a means of reducing cost for processes that cannot be automated. Of course, there is still very much an onshore presence for customer service and political reasons.

When using automation tools like Blue Prism – they need to sit as part of the operational strategy, not the IT strategy. IT guys in the room all subscribed to the need for IT to provision the tools, create scalable hardware and provide governance and support. But agility only comes when business ops control their own destiny, build their own processes, choose their own priorities.

Culture is an important success factor with some subscribing to the idea that Business and IT should share the same KPIs to align objectives and motivations. One member had outsourced business processes to Accenture and noted that their KPI alignment delivered enormous agility.

It is also clear, as with any initiative that involved cost reduction as one of its objectives, the cultural side of change is important. It was interesting note that, of the Blue Prism users in the room who had between them reduced their FTE headcount by many hundreds, not one single worker had been made redundant as a result. There is a soft side to change that needs to be taken care of.

Robotic Automation – what’s the CIO agenda?

Sunday, November 18th, 2012

More follow up from the Horses for Sources blog post that has been picked up by CIO Magazine.

It’s another interesting take, but I wonder if there is room for more CIO reaction? And what’s in it for the IT function at all levels? There are real technical and strategic advantages from extending the value of your already stretched resources by delegating and empowering business ops to self serve solutions against a controlled set of challenges.

Robotic automation – from factory to back office

Monday, October 15th, 2012

My marketing director, a keen petrol head, sent me this YouTube link showing how robotic automation works in a BMW factory. It bought to mind the seminal Fiat Strada advertisement from 1979 – thirty three (yes, 33) years ago. As an aside, I always wondered what the association was between an Italian car and the Barber of Seville. Never mind. Equally, never mind that the cars fell apart frequently, or that the production team turned up to film, only to find striking workers blockading the factory. These were pioneering days of the robotic car plant.

Whilst the British automotive industry went bust, was nationalised, privatised, and sold to Japanese and Germans for 2’6″, other parts of the world took the concept of robotics and improved it so that cars were cheaper and faster to design and build, more reliable, more flexible (I’ll spare you a long spiel about mass customisation) and more appealing to consumers.

What is interesting from the BMW clip is that robots can’t do everything. Work is constantly handed off to real people before returning the automated line. Another thing that grabbed my attention was the detailed process design that maximises the robots’ effectiveness by preparing the work for them. For example, somebody had to design the car build process in such a way that all the painted bits hang together so the robots can spray without having to use masking tape etc.

I think this is something that the clerical back office is only just starting to learn about. But the economic case is bound to be just as compelling.

Stormy waters for UK banks – where’s the lifeboat?

Tuesday, July 3rd, 2012

Let’s be honest, banks, and especially British banks, are not having a great time right now. I doubt that Bob Diamond will be the last casualty of the LIBOR manipulation affair. Stephen Hester has his own problems, and I would imagine that whether he takes a bonus or not will be the last thing on his mind right now.

There is often little that can be done to correct problems of the past. No use crying over spilt milk, as the saying goes. But who clears up the mess when a BACS tape is wrongly processed? Who refunds bank charges when a software upgrade puts batch processing behind and wages don’t make it to customers’ accounts? When a regulator rules that a regulated product was mis-sold, who organises the refunds? Operations of course!

A great example of this is PPI. Banks were ruled to have sold inappropriate payment protection insurance policies alongside loans and other forms of credit. Now, certain UK banks have created and staffed specific divisions to handle the PPI complaints. A fundamentally simple process – read complaint, check PPI was sold, evaluate whether compensation due, calculate and issue refund, write to customer – is consuming hundreds of jobs. Whilst this is good for the Indian offshoring industry, enlightened banks are using technology, such as robotic software, to automate these rules based tasks so that refunds are evaluated more accurately and more quickly. This does more than reduce the number of onshore and offshore staff required. It enables regulator deadlines to be met, customers to be dealt with faster, balance sheet provisions to be more accurate.

NHS innovates to save public funds

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2012

In these days of austerity, and if you read the Daily Mail, it is all too easy to believe that the public sector is over-populated with plodders who lack the initiative to find ways to save costs whilst maintaining, or even improving, services.

My experience, based on working with many NHS trusts, is that this sector is rife with innovation. In the post-NPfIT era, IT directors are grasping the nettle and really making a difference. A good recent example is University Hospitals Birmingham (UHB) in their use of Blue Prism to attack new process areas that using traditional IT tools, could not be economically automated.

Steve Chilton, IT Director at UHB, explains his motives in this ComputerWorldUK article.

Will virtual FTEs deliver the next wave of back office cost savings?

Friday, March 30th, 2012

Virtualisation. It’s a term that is rattling around the IT industry like a pinball. Yet, unlike many IT terms (SOA anyone?) it seems to me, fairly easy to define.

Virtualisation has so far focussed on hardware, and software. Shared central resources providing computing power as needed, are sure to be more economical than local machines which carry wasteful overheads. This utility model can also apply to software. MSP, SaaS, Cloud – take your pick. All are aimed at making software available at the point of need, in immediately scalable quantity. All are managed automatically, with resources being selected to suit the requested task at any given point in time.

Let’s think about your back office for a moment, though. How many people work there – hundreds? Thousands? What do they all do? I would place at least a $1 bet that more than half are doing simple rules based processes. Couldn’t we apply the same principles of virtualisation to people? It’s like the opposite of the Mechanical Turk principle.

So far, efforts to reduce back office costs fall into three categories:

  • Large scale IT automation programs
  • Process Improvement – Lean/Six Sigma etc
  • Reducing input costs – work people harder, or offshore to cheaper labour rates.

But despite all these efforts, back offices are still hideously inefficient. Just ask any process expert who has worked in manufacturing and moved into the clerical world.

What if we could create a centralised pool of virtual FTEs*, using robotic automation techniques. Then delegate business processes to that pool to be executed at the most appropriate time to suit the business. These virtual FTEs can perform rules based processes interacting with other applications to achieve the process outcome.

It’s not just about cost savings, accuracy and the other benefits that go with any type of automation. It also provides process visibility and perhaps most importantly, scalability. Under-estimated your business volumes for that new product by a factor of 10? No problem in the virtualised world. In the “real people” world, how would you multiply the size of your workforce overnight?

Blue Prism’s experience is that the economics are very interesting indeed. The cost of setting up and managing a virtual back office is about 1/3rd of an offshore centre. So you can imagine the savings if you haven’t offshored yet.

* FTE – Full Time Equivalent Staff