Moving the boardroom out of the dark ages
Gavin Fallon, Managing Director - UK, Nordics & South Africa, Board International, explains why boardrooms are often the last aspect in business to embrace new technologies, in his latest exclusive with Business Chief.
Organisations around the world are increasingly using data to improve their business processes. From customer targeting to supply chain optimisation, the advent of big data fundamentally transformed the way many organisations operate. While the rewards are being reaped across various business functions, one place where data is yet to make any significant impact is in the boardroom. Modern businesses are highly complex, with most operating within volatile market conditions and at the mercy of a constantly shifting economic environment. Yet the boardroom remains an enclave of static spreadsheets, presentations and decision-making based on what has already happened, not what the future may hold – more important for making decisions in today’s ever-changing business environment. In order to remain competitive, organisations now need to make their boardrooms digital, keeping pace with the rest of the business.
Reading the business pages in the newspaper each day, it is clear that market turbulence is impacting businesses across sectors and around the world. From Brexit and general elections to the US trade war with China, organisations are being hit by global factors that are outside their control. While planning and forecasting have never been fool-proof, today, a single tweet from a world leader can send a currency into freefall and significantly impact a business’s results. As we have seen recently, this uneasy operating environment can have devastating consequences for businesses – from Thomas Cook to Pizza Express, a failure to accurately plan for the future amidst uncertainty can lead serious financial difficulties and, at worst, collapse. Although a business cannot stop or avoid market turbulence, they can more accurately prepare for it by modelling their business in a more structured way.
Traditionally, the planning process at most organisations is disjointed and conducted in silos, leading to different outputs in each area of the business. While data has transformed huge swathes of business processes, the place where it, arguably, matters most – the boardroom – remains stuck in the dark ages. A recent report from FSN highlighted that only 60 percent of organisations believe their data is always accurate and trustworthy, and only 44 percent said the spreadsheets they use in the reporting process are well controlled and free from errors. Given spreadsheets remain a central feature in the boardroom, it should be a huge concern that at least 56 percent are likely to be inaccurate.
What’s more, too many organisations remain focussed on reporting. Even if we take for granted that the data is correct, reporting can only tell you what has happened, not what may happen in the future. While understanding past drivers is important, the key to future performance indicators lies in making calculated decisions for that future. If the right processes are in place, reporting should be so clear that the answer to ‘what happened’ is obvious. Instead, conversations should focus on what next actions need to be taken to meet an organisation’s strategy and vision.
This is why every business should move to establish a digital boardroom, where senior executives are provided the ability to take into account everything from strategic KPIs to operations, and interactively test scenarios and outcomes for decisions about the future in real-time.
Take, for example, a board meeting where business strategy is being discussed and which direction the company should take. With multiple routes available, how should a decision be made? A digital boardroom will provide the answer. Such a decision-making platform allows anyone in the room to perform complex scenario modelling and build strategic plans as they go and discuss potential outcomes with data to underpin the debate. A company considering the development of a new product, for example, needs to answer a number of questions before moving forward – do they have enough resources to deliver the project? Will the new project require investment in people? Would it be more economical to hire additional staff, upskill existing employees or outsource certain aspects completely? Is it likely to sell in the current environment or if there are shifts in the economy in future?
What would ordinarily be an incredibly manual and laborious process to calculate in Excel, can instead be answered with a few clicks of a mouse. Using forward-planning scenarios and predictive analytics can help determine the impact of a project providing a far more robust outlook and enabling more considered decision-making. Crucially, this takes place in real-time, not over the course of weeks when spreadsheets have been recalculated. The board can input different scenarios and base decisions on robust data analysis.
This is not a quick fix and a transitioning to a digital boardroom requires buy-in and a cultural shift – a desire for the organisation to be truly data-driven. However, with the technology available today, it makes little sense that decision-makers can’t react at a speed the business needs. Implementing a digital, data-driven boardroom is central to any digital transformation journey and, in the coming years, will be the difference between success and failure.
About Gavin Fallon, Managing Director - UK, Nordics & South Africa
Gavin Fallon is the Managing Director for the UK, Ireland, Nordics and South Africa at Board International. Gavin is responsible for driving the business strategy in these regions, working with teams across the organisation to ensure success. With more than 20 years’ experience, Gavin has spent the last 18 years at Board International working in roles including Head of Services & Consulting and Product Director. With his passion and experience, Gavin is widely considered an expert in the application of Enterprise Performance Management (EPM) across Sales and Operations.
For more information on business topics in the Middle East and Africa, please take a look at the latest edition of Business Chief MEA.
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.”