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AI and robotic processing are changing the business operations

This is my tenth column for the Horizon CIO Podcast. The underlying theme I have focused on has been the diversity of new capabilities that are building in this new era of low cost computing power (aka cloud computing); machine learning, big data, big software, artificial intelligence and their business consequences for the contemporary enterprise. And as a former CIO I have given attention to that role in the contemporary enterprise.

These new capabilities are potent, but young and still immature. Their champions’ hype to one side of the debate, this is the time for their exploration then real mastery in the  context of your business. And, I will argue here, you need to so do in the widest of contexts – how will your clients be possibly re-inventing themselves, how will your key suppliers be re-positioning themselves?

In late May I joined a half day workshop – called OAISS – sponsored by the US  RPA (Institute for Robotic Process Automation and Artificial Intelligence), The Outsourcing Institute, and the law firm Morrison Foerster. The focus of the half day was exactly that of my columns, and I joined a panel on ‘The Rise of the AI-Enabled Enterprise:How to Drive More Value Through Your Automation Programme’. My fellow panelists were Gourav Data, Senior Transformation Leader- RPA and Cognitive Automation at BT, and Kalals Kadimba, P2P Process Improvement Manager at NBC Universal. Our chair was Gregory North, President of Global North,

For starters note the job titles of my two fellow panelists – they each proved to be young, expert, articulate and clearly innovative journeymen working at the heart of large enterprises. They told stories of exploration and experimentation in the new fields of RPA and AI. Very clearly the era of cloud compute is now history in both BT and NBC Universal, the ability to exploit systems with cognitive intelligence now defines the way forward.

Our two opening speakers were North and Jesus Garre, Managing Partner of Avasant Spain. Garre’s transformational journey drew on three ‘pillars’: the operational model, the customers, and investment strategy. In the subsequent discussion he said not only technology operations, but also their cultural context’. And, he acknowledged, the security dimension of the operational ‘pillar’ required focus nowadays. In this context he emphasised the current innovative drive in RPA which he sees feeding into the creation of the practice of AI

Gregory North took up the analysis with a particular emphasis on the customer.

His judgement is ‘RPA/AI is now the largest disruptive digital wave so far’. North described latest developments in the use of cobots (collaborative robots) as now passing the Turing test (where the human cannot tell if the conversation is with another human or not). His three anchor were customers, process and culture. His wrong turns were warnings to CIOs and organisations not to develop an overly tech focus or internal focus and a belief in the hype or failure to believe the hype!

North and I took up the issue of customer focus. In my work I  flag an excellent tome by two Dutchman: This is Service Design Thinking (Mark Stickdorn & Jakob Schneider). Stickdorn and Schneider emphasise the importance of designing technology-based services from a full understanding of the customer’s requirements. This is not well understood in the IT industry, where enthusiasm for some key innovation leads to novel services being marketed and then failing to match against real client  needs. 

Pic Vicky Matthers: Digital Delivery Director Rachel Murphy and Richard Sykes talk about the benefits of hackathons and Firebreak methods. The 2017 Innovation Leadership Summit the largest gathering of CIOs and Innovation Leaders in the UK

North emphasised this need for customer focus. My point was that the new capabilities we were debating not only would reshape the enterprise’s strategy and operations, but potentially those of its clients as well  So the need in this new era is to create the means to engage clients in an open exploration of how their business strategies and their business operations are potentially reshaping. And the same logic pionts towards open discussions with the enterprise’s suppliers.

In my May column I wrote about four ventures shortlisted in this year’s UK Cloud Awards. I observed that the common thread that ran through the innovative approaches taken by each of the four organisations was that we are now in the era of virtualisation – the potential of ‘Big Software’ in which data storage, data processing and data networking can all be software-defined – and thus all managed as software. An era of systems transformation, as legacy is reworked to be cloud-native, lowering operational costs and delivering higher operational agility!

So now add the new dimensions of transformational change being brought in by RPA, AI, IoT and so on, and the conclusion  has to be of transformation right across your enterprise’s strategic and operational landscape – and thus of your clients’ and of your suppliers’.

In earlier columns (and a podcast with Mark Chillingworth) the focus has been on the work of the contemporary CIO. She/he has to partner closely with other key functional leads across the enterprise. Here I have set out the reason why!

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About Richard Sykes 11 Articles
I am a businessman with over forty years' experience that spans the chemical & IT industries, and the world of visual & performing arts. I have held senior executive roles in a major global multinational, and non-executive chairmanships of smaller ventures & not-for-profits. I have lived & managed businesses internationally.
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