IT – this is how your business colleagues think

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.

Robotic Automation: Can service industries learn from manufacturing?

February 1st, 2013

I gave a speech at Intellect‘s Automate Britain launch on 30 Jan. Here is the transcript.

Intellect Automate Britain Campaign

My name is Alastair Bathgate. I come from a process improvement background. This is me in 1985; in charge of Time and Motion at an NGA and SOGAT82 unionised print factory. (If you want to learn about labour relations in the context of industry automation, take a TARDIS back to the post Eddy Shah 1980s printing industry.)

Having spent so much time stressing over minute improvements in manufacturing, a career move to a bank drew a stark contrast in the apparently relaxed attitude to process efficiency and product quality. I remember an article in the internal staff magazine where a team leader was trumpeting the significant increase in productivity created by the installation of a brand new mainframe terminal, the cost justification for which had taken several accountancy man years and the IT lead time approximately 6 months. The year? 1988. It was the second ever piece of end user computer equipment installed in the 200 FTE savings administration department at Bradford & Bingley. I worked in a fledgling O & M department.

Today, I am CEO of Blue Prism, a British software company pioneering software robotics for the back office. I founded Blue Prism to address the frustration operational managers have in making simple process improvements and the observation that the only way to address the problems was to employ staff…somewhere in the world.

I thought it would be good to start with a little history of robots in manufacturing.

Read the rest of this entry »

If I’d known you were a robot, I’d have baked a….

January 31st, 2013

Little fun story from a customer: A global fund manager. The automation team were up against time deadlines (no pun intended) to automate a “Deceased Notifications” process, on behalf of the UK Legals team. It was delivered bang on time, putting it live in mid January. So impressed and grateful were the ladies in the legal department after the first week of operation that one of them made this cake.

Am I speaking to a robot?

January 28th, 2013

Last week’s Economist ran an Outsourcing and Offshoring Special Report which contained an article titled Rise of the Software Machines. Mentioned alongside Blue Prism was IPSoft which caught my eye because complementary to Blue Prism’s back office focus, they are creating front office robots, that actually speak to customers. And more than that, they use autonomics to learn how to communicate in context. The website is worth a read, especially if you are a mathematics geek.

Remember the Jetsons robot maid?

November 29th, 2012

Another interesting post on robotic automation versus offshoring from Ann All at Global Delivery Report. In addition to quality coverage, it does possibly, ahem, position Ann within a certain generation (indeed, my own). Do you remember the Jetsons? Bet you can’t remember the name of the robot maid – Ann has the answer to that too.

Operational Agility Forum – managing the change

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.

British energy retailers start to fight back

November 19th, 2012

Would you rather work in banking or energy retail? Bit like being an estate agent in the 1980s. Easy targets for the press, the public and the Government. But there is a bit more to the stories when you scratch under the surface. Despite recent scandals, much good is done by banks and energy cos that is overlooked in the furores. It seems one company has had enough of the bad press.

Following a staunch defence of British Gas profits last week, in an article in The Daily Telegraph today, the CEO and chairman of SSE, one of the “big six” British energy companies, both argue that their company needs to make profits to “employ people, pay tax, provide services that customers need, make investments that keep the lights on and create jobs”.

My experience of retail energy suggests it focusses as hard on operational efficiency as any other industry I could name. Pricing is always a controversial topic as one imagines freezing cold pensioners on Christmas day contrasted with fat cat bosses sunning themselves on the Med. But the retailers are at the mercy of wholesale energy prices and, even if, as alleged, they had a hand in rigging the wholesale price, this hasn’t resulted in exceptional profits. I would prefer my pension fund to invest in non-energy stocks at the moment.

Robotic Automation – what’s the CIO agenda?

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.

Rise of the machine

November 6th, 2012

Flak flying from the Horses for Sources article about Robotistan (see my previous post) has now reached the UK offices of Computer Weekly. Karl Flinders, on his Inside Outsourcing blog points out that “Automation software is providing businesses with a real alternative to cheap offshore labour” especially if the software enables business users rather than major IT programs to design and build the automation.

The next BPO offshore destination? Robotistan…

November 2nd, 2012

Analyst firm, Horses for Sources, who are driving most of the adventurous thought leadership in the global outsourcing industry, have taken a look at Blue Prism and made their views public on their lively and provocative blog.

In a humourous post, James Slaby argues that robots will drive down processing costs for BPOs and reduce the need to offshore for cost saving reasons. If you get the automation strategy right the economics are “jaw-dropping”.

“Outsourcing has always been about people, process and technology. Scratch that. It’s about process and technology, with people an optional extra…..” – Read the rest of the blog post here.