Why I hate robots when they’re red

Posted October 20, 2015

by Richard Frykberg 

Yep, that’s what we call Traffic Lights in South Africa. Robots. Automatons that operate reliably, consistently and tirelessly. Timing their change to my arrival; leaving me fuming as I sit and wait for the pre-programmed sequence to determine how late I’m invariably going to be.

Imagine a world free of red traffic lights! Super highways to everywhere. Unfortunately, as selfish and erratic individuals, we do need a system of governance to avoid the Delhi-like chaos that would otherwise reign.

Human traffic cops establish order and do so with a high degree of adaptability, judgement and experience. It is of course not practical to replace automated process controls with humans at every junction: what we need is commuter-centric solutions that combine the cost-effectiveness of automatic sequencing with the flexibility and innovation of humans.

It is my deep seated passion for eliminating inefficiencies and wastage of precious time that led me to a professional career in Enterprise Resource Planning and Business Process Management. On every continent, in every industry, in every function, opportunities abound to remove the obstacles to the free flow of information and activities to achieve the desired business outcomes. Making more sales, hiring better staff, picking better projects.

Business Process Improvement Managers everywhere have their hands full addressing all the components required to accelerate process outcomes. The first step is providing accessible and intuitive interfaces for process initiation. Paper forms, Microsoft Office document templates and even generic packaged software user-interfaces do not meet the expectations and needs of modern users. Given the distribution and turnover of talent it is simply not economical to continually provide extensive training to employees. Multi-lingual, organisationally tailored, walk-up interfaces are required to unblock transaction initiation. To ensure that process inputs are gathered timeously, accurately and completely a new style of interface is required. Apps.

Apps fulfil the promise of being targeted to a specific purpose, being easy to access in the office and on the road, and like the apps on our consumer devices, being easy and intuitive to use without training and secondary reviews to get things right. The technology of the apps is irrelevant to the users: whether packaged by the current ERP provider like SAP Fiori, delivered by cloud service providers like salesforce.com or custom developed for unique organisational processes by IQX Business Solutions, it is the rich user experience and consistent browser and mobile device platform that provide the required user familiarity.

The second component of successful process improvement initiatives is an effective workflow platform. Select workflow platforms that provide both a high degree of process governance but are also flexible to changing circumstances. Implement workflow patterns that deliver the best of procedural automation for routine tasks whilst surfacing critical business decisions to humans. With supporting information and documentation, humans still make complex decisions best. And as all enterprise software these days embeds workflow capabilities, abandon the Nirvana of a single platform, but rather investigate workflow aggregation tools such as OneList Approvals that combine all executive tasks in a single task list that is accessible everywhere.

The final key component of an effective process solution is seamless system integration. As a consultant I used to believe that this was the most important dimension to a solution. But with experience I have learned that while integration improves productivity by eliminating manual rekeying, relative to the overall process improvement benefits derived from App-style user-interaction and process automation, in many projects this integration is of secondary business value. Therefore, when designing a solution technology approach it is recommended to focus firstly on the best front-end and process components, and rely on industry standard integration mechanism at the back-end. Simply put: in trying to decide whether to build your solutions on a proprietary back-end technology that offers a high degree of core system integration capability, or whether to apply industry standard front-end and process technologies and utilise generic back-end integration services, my evolved recommendation is the latter: the ultimate determination of success will be in the effectiveness of the user-experience and flexibility of workflow management in eliminating process bottlenecks, rather than in the final system integration.

So turn all the traffic lights green in your favour and drive your business processes at full speed with Apps, automated workflow and seamless business system integration. Don’t you love green robots?