The Next Big Thing
Posts about next generation technologies and their effect on business.

Experience optimization and a new wave of value

 

Waiting-for-the-Great-Leap-Forward.jpgI’ve mentioned before the waves of computing that have taken place over the last 50 years. When I think of it from an impact/value perspective (rather than one based on technology) the waves look a bit different. The first wave was the automation within the enterprise, addressing billing, inventory and even design automation. The second wave was automation and facilitation of personal activities. These included things like personal budgeting, on-line shopping…

 

The next wave is likely to be as different from the previous ones as the second one (focused on personal value) was from the first enterprise wave. This new wave is about automation and optimization of environments.

 

Technologies like IoT will shift both what and how we value. I was talking with another technologists the other day about the impact of automation at the macro level. A simple example is: What if a smart city were self-optimizing? Talking with the autonomous cars (which optimize at the micro level) while optimizing the environment of the city itself. Would that shift what people value and therefore what should be optimized? We can all recognize that all those individuals that make up the city are driven by different motivations --Will this new age of value be able to take these variations into account? I think that is part of what will make this new approach so compelling. We’ll have the abundance of computing capability to tackle it.

 

From a service futures perspective, the shift will likely be profound, since a new ability to derive behavior and goals will shift how value is assessed. Those organizations that can provide a better experience will outshine those that optimize based on someone/something else’s needs. It may not be so much what I own but what I can optimize – it will not be about mine, but about me (and what I’d like to accomplish). Start thinking about your organizations services from this perspective and it will likely change what you expect from your organizations IT.

 

Automation prioritization

 

Since I have been putting out some posts on automation, I’ve been getting some feedback from coworkers. One was a post titled: 8 Questions to Ask before You Automate. It holds some useful perspectives to evalutate if automation is even applicable to a situation.

 

Back in the early 90s, I led a project called Knowledge-based Tool Design focused on improving the productivity of tooling designers for automotive manufacturing. We used the capabilities of CAD tools to try and automate as much as we could, related to the creation of the machines that facilitate car assembly. This was a high value effort, since late stage engineering changes in the car parts themselves have implications on the tooling and can delay the startup of manufacturing. Anything we could do to address the reengineering of tooling had a direct effect on time-to-market.

 

We would load the car component models that need to be clamped and welded into the CAD system and try to create automated techniques to define and design the tooling needed. After firing rays all over the place to determine entry routes for robotic arms holding the clamping and welding tools, it became clear that people can look at parts and tooling and determine routes for entry very easily compared to doing this programmatically. Creating these designs well definitely involved creativity and intuition.

 

What people could not do reliably was define the underlying Bill-of-Materials need to create that robotic assembly, physically. So yes, I learned back then that it is very useful to understand what people and/or computers are good at, when defining the right approach to address repeatable, higher-value, computationally capable tasks with automation first.

 

Whether it is designing tools, answering calls or writing software – even though the automation capabilities are radically improving, this assessment is still required. I usually think of it as a 3 dimensional matrix and the further away from the origin, the more likely the automation effort will be effective.

 

 automation axis.png

Just because we can do something, doesn’t mean we should do something, especially when there is a constraint on the effort available to tackle a set of tasks. We need to prioritize.

 

 

Transformation, roles and digital technology

leadership.pngA coworker forwarded me an article titled: We Need Better Managers, Not More Technocrats from Harvard Business Review. It seemed a poignant perspective to add to my post yesterday on automation.

 

The article makes the statement: “digital technology is not the true story. Digital transformation is.” To me this means that organizations are going to need more proactive business and technical leaders who are willing to question the very foundation of “we’ve always done it this way” and make transformation happen.

 

The article goes on to state that those companies that get the greatest benefit are those that:

  • Make smart investments in digital technology to innovate theircustomer engagements, and the business processes and business models that support them
  • Build strong leadership capabilities to envision and drive transformationwithin their companies and their cultures

I personally think this is going to take more than just what have been traditionally called managers, since it involves a broader range of stakeholders and interactions than organizations of the past, to take advantage of the range of their employee’s capabilities. Automation should actually enable that focus.

 

Whether the people who lead the effort are ‘managers’, ‘technocrats’ or something else altogether is irrelevant. What is definitely true is change is coming and those that prepare will have an advantage.

What is automation?

IT automation.pngLately I’ve been talking with teams about ‘automation’. I am beginning to think that automation activities are a lot like innovation for two reasons:

  1. The definition is very dependent on the role of the individual
  2. It can be identified by: I’ll know it when I see it

My definition is:

Anytime a computer/system can do something where a person adds little to no value

 

It’s not just robotics or cognitive computing, it can be as simple as automatically updating information between systems (e.g., master data management) -- so people don’t need to swivel between systems to perform updates.

 

IT related automation can range across a variety of areas:

  • Plan
  • Define
  • Build
  • Run

The role of people and their expertise is critical and one of the things we need to determine is where their attention would be better served and how automation can enable us to maximize the value from it. Each of these areas has a range of tools that are related to incremental or disruptive improvement.

 

The computational capabilities are there to facilitate significantly greater automation, we just need to understand our options. Strategically the options and impact are going to be immense. Cloud computing is essentially enabled by the automation of infrastructure deployment and management. We now need to take it deeper into the Application Portfolio and the business processes themselves.

 

A little bit of the Internet of Things

invention.pngThe Internet of Things doesn’t have to be only about new things, it can also be about adding automation capabilities to existing devices. Makers have been playing with this for a while, but littleBits electronics is the first set of components I’ve seen that addresses both the consumer and education markets in such a broad fashion.

 

It reminded me of those 101 electronic projects kits that were around when I was growing up. I’ve never touched this product, but it does show how wide the exposure is likely to be, in a relatively short time. It will be interesting to see what kinds of innovative solutions people will generate with a modular approach like this that hides some of the more difficult ‘plumbing’ issues.

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About the Author(s)
  • Steve Simske is an HP Fellow and Director in the Printing and Content Delivery Lab in Hewlett-Packard Labs, and is the Director and Chief Technologist for the HP Labs Security Printing and Imaging program.
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