Innovation and Automation in 2019
Wishing all our readers and subscribers a very happy and prosperous 2019!
For my last blog of 2018, I thought I'd take the opportunity to look back on some of the events of 2018 and see where this might lead us in 2019.
The most significant personal achievement last year was the publication of my book, Digital Workforce. The book was developed to introduce new audiences to the topic of Robotic Process Automation (RPA), providing an executive guide to understanding and implementing their first automated processes.
The title, Digital Workforce, was chosen specifically to reflect that successful automation implementations are achieved only when you bring together the right technology, with the right processes, the right people with the right skills and the right business model.
In 2019 small and medium-sized organisations will succeed or fail based on their ability to automate. Large organisations are already in a race to reduce their operating costs as they are being squeezed by nimble startups.
AI is everywhere. From Netflix to your connected toothbrush, you can't avoid it. The market has evolved in 2018, providing 'off-the-shelf' AI solutions to common problems. When machine learning algorithms were first being written, many organisations were trying to solve the same problems, whether reading the information from invoices, receipts or emails, everyone was competing to be the first to solve these problems.
In 2018 several common problems have been solved and you can buy these solutions knowing they've been trained with millions of different variations of the problem. Far more than you could have achieved yourself. The start of commodity AI has already arrived.
The race in 2019 is the battle of 2 different approaches. Is it our own Betamax and VHS battle? One approach is to develop an ecosystem, whereby you are enticed into the interconnected world provided by the 'RPA' solution provider. The alternative is the open connectivity making it easy to integrate the growing number of 3rd party 'commodity' AI solutions.
RPA is dead, long live the new name for Automation
That's a bit dramatic I know, but all of the main RPA Vendors no longer provide just RPA, they now incorporate large amounts of AI and process mining in their solution. There are lots of terms being used to try and reflect this change, whether it's Intelligent Automation, Smart Automation, Digital Process Automation, Cognitive Automation, Workforce Intelligence or even a Digital Workforce; a new collective branding will emerge.
The Skills Gap
Whatever industry you are in, it's likely that you've experienced some hardening of your market in 2018. New business is harder to find, staff are moving less frequently because of the uncertainty, costs are relentlessly continuing to rise and the skills you need are in short supply.
There are basically 3 options when you are looking to develop a new skill or technology within your business; you can train existing staff, recruit new staff or find a 3rd party partner to work with.
Traditional recruiters are already reporting the difficulties of finding staff with the right digital skills. Finding partners with genuine experience is becoming more difficult. Training people yourself is a long-term commitment. In 2019 the predicted growth will fall short of expectations, challenged by a shortage of critical skills.
In 2018 the term 'Innovation' lost some of its shine. Difficult market conditions often result in a refocusing on core products. It's a short-term tightening of belts that seems a good idea at the time but assumes that the same products and services are wanted by customers when the storm passes. The very team that may identify the future for the company has been downsized or eliminated.
It is a shock how many seemingly experienced executives do not think about their business model. In last years message, I opened with the importance of culture change and business model innovation, to drive real results. In reality, there has been less, not more, innovative business models in 2018.
It's wrong, and I wish it were otherwise, but the pace of business innovation and change will diminish in 2019. Technology innovation will continue its accelerated pace of change, but this provides only the enabler for business products and services.
On a happy note
Looking back, 2018 was a terrific year. It was an opportunity to meet many new people, forge new partnerships, deliver new insights, workshops, and solutions.
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I hear that it's a fool's errand to make predictions, but I hope you have enjoyed mine. With that, I'd like to wish you all a successful and prosperous 2019.
Happy New Year!