Intelligent Automation: What It’ll Take to Win the Battle for Digital Transformation

Clay Richardson, Co-Founder, DigitalFastForward

First published in 2017, this conversation with digital transformation expert Clay Richardson zooms in on the convergence of BPM, RPA, and low-code automation and how it helps companies in the battle for digital transformation.

Richardson, Co-Founder of Digital FastForward, a firm that delivers consulting on design thinking, digital innovation, and lean startup strategies says that automation isn’t just about process anymore.

It’s about freeing up workers to focus on high-value tasks, he says. Automation, says Richardson, has become more of a battle cry for driving more revenue and not just cutting costs.

Even amid the economic downturn of the coronavirus pandemic, companies aren’t putting their automation plans on ice. Grocers and big chains are deploying robots to clean floors, stock shelves and deliver food to shoppers.

In transportation and financial services, we’re seeing digital leaders  embrace AI-powered image recognition, document classification, data extraction, and translation services to make employees far more efficient at processing data and making decisions than ever before.

Automation Doesn’t Have to Be Scary

Not if it helps us adapt to change. At a macro level, the whole economy is fighting to adapt to unprecedented volatility. Turns out automation has played a major role in this evolving story. Five or 10 years ago, businesses were using very sophisticated BPM software and integration technology to automate massive amounts of work like financial processing in banks, or provisioning of service in huge telecom networks. These were enormously complex challenges.

Fast forward to 2020. With the changing economics of automation, the convergence of AI and workflow automation and the rise of low-code platforms, even business power users can get involved in building enterprise automation solutions and testing them out with customers.

“…Part of that (transformation) is about using various technologies in your BPM platform in different ways,” says Clay Richardson. “But the main idea is that you have to move past process as your primary focus for design,” says Richardson.

“Whether you use BPM technology, Robotic Process Automation (RPA) or other complementary technologies… the focus should always be on the customer and the customer experience.”

Formerly with Forrester Research, Richardson oversaw research and client advisory projects there, focused on digital innovation, digital automation, design thinking, and lean startup practices. He is a frequent keynote speaker at industry events, technology conferences, and customer forums around the world. In this remix of a previous Digital Masters interview, Richardson gives us the lowdown on:

  • How not to fall prey to digital predators.
  • Why combining BPM, RPA, and Low-Code will drive digital transformation across your organization.
  • How and why digital automation is shifting from efficiency and costs savings to revenue, productivity, and top line growth.

Hope you enjoy the conversation.

Appian: You were with Forrester for over seven years. Now you’ve co-founded a new company called Digital Fast Forward. What is Digital Fast Forward about?

Richardson: We’re focused on helping companies make the shift to digital transformation. Many companies lack the digital skills to do that…

Appian: So, from a digital skill standpoint, what’s the biggest disconnect you’re seeing out there? And what can business and IT leaders do to bridge the gap?

Richardson: The biggest gap I see is around creative thinking. My background is computer science. So, in IT, we were taught to approach problem solving in a very logical way—relational databases, Java development and so on. Which is a great skill to have if the problem is static.

But in the digital economy, we need creative problem-solving skills for problems that are more dynamic. We need to be able to compete against competitors that we didn’t see before.

Think about Blockbuster and Netflix. Blockbuster was aware of streaming and related technologies. But they weren’t able to reimagine their business model to adapt to a fast-moving market. So, the skill gap I’m talking about is the need for creative, more abstract problem-solving skills.

Appian: The World Economic Forum reported that by 2020, the skill set needed by companies to be competitive in the new digital economy will be completely different than what it was in 2015…What do you make of that argument?

Richardson: The research is showing that this new revolution is a big challenge for IT teams, particularly given the speed that innovation and disruption are taking place. It means that our business models, talent, culture, and organizational structure will have to be rethought.

Digital Migration and Wildebeests

Appian: In a recent BPM interview, you talked about digital predators and digital prey…and you gave a wildebeest analogy. How does that analogy apply to the competitive environment we’re experiencing with digital transformation?

Richardson: The wildebeest analogy came from a trip I took to South Africa. We were on a safari, and we got to see the annual migration of wildebeests. And it made me think about the many BPM teams that are migrating to digital from the traditional BPM world.

But there are crocodiles in the water, if you will, when it comes to making this transition. The thing is, not to just focus on the process model. And I think this is where many companies fall prey to digital predators.

When you’re transitioning from traditional BPM to digital, you have to focus on the customer experience, empathizing with the customer, and building solutions that meet customer expectations.

And part of that is about using various technologies in your BPM platform in different ways. But the main idea is that you have to move past process as your primary focus for design. Whether you use BPM technology, Robotic Process Automation (RPA) or other complementary technologies, when it comes to digital, the focus should always be on the customer and the customer experience.

Low Code Fulfills BPM’s Promise

Appian: Let’s talk about the convergence of robotic process automation (RPA), BPM, low-code, and other complementary technologies. What’s driving this convergence and what role is it playing in the digital transformation story?

Richardson: It’s about enabling the entire organization to get involved in digital transformation and digital innovation. The key is that, historically, BPM has been sold as a platform that business analyst and pretty much anyone could use. The reality is that, in most cases, developers are required to do 90%of the work.

What we’re seeing now with low code is that the vision for BPM is now becoming a reality… Non developers can now get involved in building solutions and testing them out with customers.

And so, the takeaway is that digital transformation and innovation can’t just be in the hands of a few people in the organization. That’s a recipe for failure.

Appian: In what way?

Richardson: I’ve seen this scenario play out with customers, where you have a handful of people on an IT team that do all of the innovation. Pretty soon the team becomes a bottleneck. And people just see digital transformation as just another buzzword, and nothing gets delivered.

But low code allows non-developers to design, build and test new ideas with customers, so they can validate changes to products and services that can have a huge impact on an organization.

So low-code provides a platform that you can put out to all parts of the organization to amp up innovation and creativity.

Where RPA fits into the picture is in being able to have a simple way to bring robotic automation in to help clients. People tend to think of RPA as a complex implementation. But low code simplifies the automation process. Which frees up developers and back office and front-end workers from doing menial, routine tasks…so they can focus on high-value tasks instead.

(Be sure to tune in next week for the final episode of our two-part conversation with digital transformation expert Clay Richardson. Meanwhile, learn more about intelligent automation here.)

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