Back to IoT basics: Automating outcomes to improve customer experience
Jason Kay, CCO of IMS Evolve
The application of IoT is booming with new use cases arising near enough daily.
But, contrary to its growth, the sector risks inertia if businesses lose sight of the key objectives digitisation was founded upon – improving day-to-day experiences.
Yes, a big part of IoT is creating more efficient processes. But those efficiencies must translate into issues that resonate with customers, from the quality of the product to meeting environmental pledges and reducing wastage to truly deliver; something that can’t be achieved by automating processes alone, but by automating outcomes – as Jason Kay, CCO, IMS Evolve, explains.
Pinpointing the reason for organisations’ growing failure to make the expected progress towards successful digitisation is a challenge. Choice fatigue, given the diversity of innovative technologies? Over ambitious projects? An insistence by some IT vendors that digitisation demands high cost, high risk rip and replace strategies? In many ways, each of these issues is playing a role; but they are the symptoms not the cause. The underpinning reason for the stuttering progress towards effective digitisation is that the outcomes being pursued are simply not aligned with the core purposes of the business.
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Siloed, vertically focused digitisation developments typically focus on short-term efficiency and process improvements. They are often isolated, which means as and when challenges arise, it is a simple management decision to call time on the development: why persist with a digitisation project that promised a marginal gain in process efficiency at best, if it fails to address core business outcomes such as customer experience?
Accelerating the digitisation of an organisation requires a different approach and brave new thinking. While disruptive projects and strategies can prove threatening to existing business models – when executed correctly – can in fact create opportunity for new business models, exploration and a new approach to the market. By considering and focusing on the core aspects of the business, not only can opportunities to drive down cost be identified, but also deliver measurable value in line with clearly defined outcomes.
In many ways the IT industry is complicit in this situation: on one hand offering the temptation of cutting-edge and compelling new technology, from robots to augmented reality, and on the other insisting that digitisation requires multi-million pound investments, complete technology overhaul and massive disruption to day-to-day business. It is therefore obviously challenging for organisations to create viable, deliverable long-term digitisation strategies; and this confusion will continue if organisations focus on the novelty element and fail to move away from single, process led goals.
Achieving the true potential digitisation offers will demand cross-organisational rigour that focuses on the business’ primary objectives. Without this rigour and outcome led focus, organisations will not only persist in pointless digitisation projects that fail to add up to a consistent strategy but, concerningly, will also miss the opportunity to leverage existing infrastructure to drive considerable value.
Consider the impact of an IoT layer deployed across refrigeration assets throughout the supply chain to monitor and manage temperature. A process based approach would be focused on improving efficiency and the project may look to utilise rapid access to refrigeration monitors and controls, in tandem with energy tariffs, to reduce energy consumption and cost. However, if such a project is only defined by this single, energy reduction goal, once the initial cost benefits have been achieved there is a risk that the lack of ongoing benefits will resonate with management. Yet digitisation of the cold chain also has a fundamental impact on multiple corporate outcomes, from customer experience to increasing basket size and reducing wastage; it is – or should be – about far more than incremental energy cost reduction.
Supporting multiple business outcomes
Incorrect cooling can have a devastating impact on food quality. From watery yogurt to sliced meat packages containing pools of moisture and browning bagged salad, the result is hardly an engaging brand experience. These off-putting appearances can threaten not only customer perception but also basket size, yet the acceptance of this inefficiency is evident in the excessive supply chain over-compensation. To ensure that the products presented to customers on the shelves are aesthetically appealing, retailers globally rely on overstocking with a view to disposing any poorly presented items. The result is unnecessary overproduction by producers and a considerable contribution to the billions of pounds of food wasted every year throughout the supply chain.
Where does this supply chain strategy leave the brand equity with regards to energy consumption, environmental commitment and minimising waste? Or, for that matter, the key outcomes of improving customer experience, increasing sales and reducing stock? It is by considering the digitisation of the cold chain with an outcomes based approach, a project that embraces not only energy cost reduction but also customer experience, food quality, minimising wastage and supporting the environment, that organisations are able to grasp the full significance, relevance and corporate value.
Furthermore, this is a development that builds on an existing and standard component of the legacy infrastructure. It is a project that can overlay digitisation to drive value from an essentially dull aspect of core retail processes and one that can deliver return on investment, whilst also improving the customer experience.
Reinvigorating digitisation strategies
If digitisation is to evolve from point deployments of mixed success, towards an enduring, strategic realisation, two essential changes are required. Firstly, organisations need to consider what can be done with the existing infrastructure to drive value. How, for example, can digitisation be overlaid onto existing control systems to optimise, for example, the way car park lights are turned on and off, to better meet environmental brand equity and reduce costs? In the face of bright, shiny disruptive technologies, it is too easy to overlook this essential aspect of digitisation: the chance to breathe new life and value into existing infrastructure.
Secondly, companies need to determine how to align digitisation possibilities not with single process goals but with broad business outcomes – from a better understanding of macro-economic impacts, all the way back through the supply chain to the farmer to battle the global food crisis, to assessing the impact on the customer experience. And that requires collaboration across the organisation. By involving multiple stakeholders and teams, from energy efficiency and customer experience to waste management, a business not only gains a far stronger business case but a far broader commitment to realising the project.
Combining engaged, cross-functional teams with an emphasis on leveraging legacy infrastructure offers multiple business wins. It enables significant and rapid change without disruption; in many cases digitisation can be added to existing systems and rapidly deployed at a fraction of the cost proposed by rip and replace alternatives. Using proven technologies drives down the risk and increases the chances of delivering quick return on investment, releasing money that can be reinvested in further digital strategies. Critically, with an outcome-led approach, digitisation gains the corporate credibility required to further boost investment and create a robust, consistent and sustainable cross-business strategy.
Automation of repetitive tasks leads to higher value work
Two-thirds of global office workers feel they are constantly doing the same tasks over and over again. That’s according to a new study (2021 Office Worker Survey) from automation software company UiPath.
Whether emailing, inputting data, or scheduling calls and meetings, the majority of those surveyed said they waste on average four and a half hours a week on time-consuming tasks that they think could be automated.
Not only is the undertaking of such repetitious and mundane tasks a waste of time for employees, and therefore for businesses, but it can also have a negative impact on employees’ motivation and productivity. And the research backs this up with more than half (58%) of those surveyed saying that undertaking such repetitive tasks doesn’t allow them to be as creative as they’d like to be.
“When repetitive, unrewarding tasks are handled by people, it takes time and this can cause delays and reduce both employee and customer satisfaction,” Gavin Mee, Managing Director of UiPath Northern Europe tells Business Chief. “Repetitive tasks can also be tedious, which often leads to stress and an increased likelihood to leave a job.”
And these tasks exist at all levels within an organisation, right up to executive level, where there are “small daily tasks that can be automated, such as scheduling, logging onto systems and creating reports”, adds Mee.
Automation can free employees to focus on higher value work
By automating some or all of these repetitive tasks, employees at whatever level of the organisation are freed up to focus on meaningful work that is creative, collaborative and strategic, something that will not only help them feel more engaged, but also benefit the organisation.
“Automation can free people to do more engaging, rewarding and higher value work,” says Mee, highlighting that 68% of global workers believe automation will make them more productive and 60% of executives agree that automation will enable people to focus on more strategic work. “Importantly, 57% of executives also say that automation increases employee engagement, all important factors to achieving business objectives.”
These aren’t the only benefits, however. One of the problems with employees doing some of these repetitive tasks manually is that “people are fallible and make mistakes”, says Mee, whereas automation boosts accuracy and reduces manual errors by 57%, according to Forrester Research. Compliance is also improved, according to 92% of global organisations.
Repetitive tasks that can be automated
Any repetitive process can be automated, Mee explains, from paying invoices to dealing with enquiries, or authorising documents and managing insurance claims. “The process will vary from business to business, but office workers have identified and created software robots to assist with thousands of common tasks they want automated.”
These include inputting data or creating data sets, a time-consuming task that 59% of those surveyed globally said was the task they would most like to automate, with scheduling of calls and meetings (57%) and sending template or reminder emails (60%) also top of the automation list. Far fewer believed, however, that tasks such as liaising with their team or customers could be automated, illustrating the higher value of such tasks.
“By employing software robots to undertake such tasks, they can be handled much more quickly,” adds Mee pointing to OTP Bank Romania, which during the pandemic used an automation to process requests to postpone bank loan instalments. “This reduced the processing time of a single request from 10 minutes to 20 seconds, allowing the bank to cope with a 125% increase in the number of calls received by call centre agents.”
Mee says: “Automation accelerates digital transformation, according to 63% of global executives. It also drives major cost savings and improves business metrics, and because software robots can ramp-up quickly to meet spikes in demand, it improves resilience.
Five business areas that can be automated
Mee outlines five business areas where automation can really make a difference.
- Contact centres Whether a customer seeks help online, in-store or with an agent, the entire customer service journey can be automated – from initial interaction to reaching a satisfying outcome
- Finance and accounting Automation enables firms to manage tasks such as invoice processing, ensuring accuracy and preventing mistakes
- Human resources Automations can be used across the HR team to manage things like payroll, assessing job candidates, and on-boarding
- IT IT teams are often swamped in daily activity like on-boarding or off-boarding employees. Deploying virtual machines, provisioning, configuring, and maintaining infrastructure. These tasks are ideal for automation
- Legal There are many important administrative tasks undertaken by legal teams that can be automated. Often, legal professionals are creating their own robots to help them manage this work. In legal and compliance processes, that means attorneys and paralegals can respond more quickly to increasing demands from clients and internal stakeholders. Robots don’t store data, and the data they use is encrypted in transit and at rest, which improves risk profiling and compliance.
“To embark on an automation journey, organisations need to create a Centre of Excellence in which technical expertise is fostered,” explains Mee. “This group of experts can begin automating processes quickly to show return on investment and gain buy-in. This effort leads to greater interest from within the organisation, which often kick-starts a strategic focus on embedding automation.”