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Pushing process automation to the edge of the enterprise

(Image credit: Image Credit: Cordis Technology)

The world of technology has changed drastically from the early days of computers.

One look at the cost is startling enough. PwC reports that one gigaflop (109 floating operations per second) of computing power would have cost over a trillion dollars in 1961; in 2015 it was $0.08. A terabyte of storage has come down from $3.5 billion in 1964 to $27. A 1mbps internet connection would have cost $1,200 in 1998. Now, you can get it for $0.63.

The diminishing costs of technology has created a world of abundance. There are software solutions for nearly every industry and niche, each with multiple large competitors and new entrants coming in every day.

Technology has also brought increased disruption to many longstanding industries. Functions like supply chain management, warehousing, and inventory management have been completely reimagined digitally in a relatively short span of time. New fields like e-commerce have taken over the global retail market and changed the way consumers access goods.

The digital gold rush

Neil Ward-Dutton, Founder & Research Director at MWD Advisors, and leading IT industry analyst, says that all of these changes have led companies to completely embrace the idea of digital transformation–bringing everything a company does into the digital fold. Digital approaches have proven to be a great investment, and those who are already digitised are realising the advantages.

Initially, the rush was to digitise external factors like end products and allowing for digital payment solutions. However, digital transformation now also includes employee experiences and internal operations. In the modern organisation, HR, procurement, finance, and marketing are all heavily reliant on technology.

Siloed cities

However, although each function in the company is producing and analysing more high quality data, it’s largely stagnant. It is still difficult for most enterprise solutions to move data around inside and outside of departments in custom paths without someone manually pushing it. It’s like building several high-powered smart cities that still rely on hand deliveries and dirt roads.

Business processes are the links that connect different positions, systems, and departments. They are the infrastructure of interlinking roads that makes those important connections and keeps relevant data moving.

Manual processes rely on human power to push data to the right location. Automated digital processes allow the data to move quickly from system to system and department to department without any human involvement. When you upgrade your business processes, data moves faster, there are fewer errors, and you can collect and track information on how items move through your systems.

Not your father’s processes

Originally, automation was only applied to core back-end processes. A lot of these big solutions were solved by ERP and CRM systems. However, organisations now realise they have hundreds of other long-tail processes in sales, marketing, HR, and other departments that also benefit from automation.

Earlier, when an organisation wanted to automate processes, it had to rely on expensive specialist using highly technical tools. Today, no-code platforms allow anyone to create their own automated processes. Technology that used to require a huge upfront investment can be obtained through a much cheaper pay-as-you-go SaaS model. For many companies, cloud service and storage has become part of the core strategy.

Using business process automation to achieve digital transformation

CIOs have a lot of options to choose from to incorporate into their digital strategies. While high-profile technology like blockchain, machine learning, and IoT get more than their fair share of press, only about 10-20 per cent of CIOs plan to include them in their immediate digital strategy. On the other hand, 50-60 per cent of CIOs plan to use business process automation as they strengthen their digital position.

However, for process automation to reach the ambitious goals of digital transformation, it must be implemented in a new way. Neil Ward-Dutton says, “IT cannot adopt a command-and-control approach. It results in over-architecting and pushes out innovation.” Similarly, when you keep creation of the processes only within the IT team, you end up with a delivery bottleneck that can push small projects back months or years before they see the light of day.

For organisations to get the true benefit of process automation, they need to push out the technology to the edge of the enterprise where these long-tail processes exist. Organisations need a lightweight, flexible solution that can put the power of automation in the hands of citizen developers, but in a way that complies with the overall digital transformation strategy.

Business process automation is a powerful tool to help CIOs reach their goals of digital transformation, but only if implemented correctly. Business leaders from all functions should be able to create automated processes for the workflows they deal with every day. When this power is given to them in an easy-to-use platform, the journey to digital transformation will take a massive leap forward.

Suresh Sambandam, Founder & CEO, OrangeScape