A New Approach Drawing on Analogies from Cosmology
Not Quite Stellar
If something seems too good to be true, it probably is.
This old adage could well have been coined to describe the performance of Digital Transformation over the last five years. The hype surrounding this new, bright, shiny phenomenon has not been matched by reality. Much was promised, but results have fallen short of expectations.
In retrospect, the reasons for disappointment are not hard to find. Digital transformation methodologies evolved from the legacy of Six Sigma based process improvement techniques. Business process maps remain the canvas upon which a palette of optimization interventions are applied.
The palette has expanded to include robotics automation in the first instance, subsequently followed by embedded analytics models and machine learning. The limitations of both of these enhancements have become obvious over time – robotics needs scale and the standardization of processes to deliver incremental benefits, and the effectiveness of advanced analytics is dependent on the availability and accessibility of suitable data.
Further, process maps that depict activity flows are not the ideal foundation to realize the potential of digital transformation. This understanding gave rise to the creation of customer journey maps, but this only partially addresses the real issue. Similarly, redesigning processes by working backwards from the end user is innovative, but not altogether transformative. The basic problem is that tasks and activities are still the elemental units that are sought to be improved.
A Better Way
An essential step to unleash the power and potential of digital transformation is to recognize that it is not an evolutionary descendant of traditional process improvement methods. It is radically different. The focus on process components and activities is misguided, as is a preoccupation with pure robotics.
Data is at its core. Advanced analytics, artificial intelligence and cognitive automation are its mantle and crust.
“Follow the money” became a popular phrase after the success of the 1976 Oscar-winning film -“All the President’s Men”. “Follow the data” could be the winning mantra in digital transformation.
Common impediments in this quest are restricted access to key data, and poorly structured and governed databases that resemble swamps more than lakes.
Look Deeper – Into the Cosmos And Make it Happen
However, what is often ignored is the vast swathes of real-time data that business processes throw off as a byproduct. These data languish in silos, distributed across the innards of each process. They are generated, sometimes stored, sometimes destroyed, but always neglected. They are analogous to the dark matter that supposedly populates the vast majority of the universe. More often than not, this “dark data” contains a wealth of potential raw material for the advanced analytics and machine learning algorithms that power digital transformation. The “dark data” needs to be illuminated and mined by energizing it and setting it in motion.
A logical starting point to do so is to identify stages in the business process that emit data and likely locations where they are stored. Re-enter the ubiquitous process maps. Except this time, they are not to be used as a canvas in two dimensions. Think of them as representing a space-time continuum that can fold upon itself.
Imagine that each symbol in the flow chart that depicts document or data storage (usually a deformed quadrilateral with one or two curved sides) or a database (usually a squat cylinder) is a “black hole”. Now fold the
process map repeatedly such that the symbols mentioned above are aligned one on top of the other. Take a long pointed device (a knitting needle or a sharpened pencil will do very nicely) and poke a hole through the layers of “black holes”, thereby creating a series of “worm holes”.
An astrophysicist or science fiction writer may be horrified by these loose analogies with speculative phenomena from cosmology, but for practitioners of digital transformation this approach can be very rewarding.
Unfold the process map, flatten it and now redraw the chart to link the “worm holes”. The process flow chart has been converted into a data flow tube that connects various nodes in the business process where data is generated and stored. This depiction has meaning and value. Aggregation, analysis, categorization, classification, structuring, extraction and transmission of these data will
enable the creation of rich data lakes that can be mined to formulate machine and deep learning algorithms. Process architecture will be redesigned to facilitate the smooth flow of data into these lakes. This focus on artificial intelligence powered interventions is likely to enrich digital transformation and deliver significantly greater impact.
Finally, Digital Transformation may live up to its promise - with a poke and a prod!
If you stare at data long enough, a pattern will emerge. Digital Transformation will arise from the DaTa. DT is propped by two a’s – artificial intelligence and cognitive automation.