The Great British Bake Off is a popular BBC reality TV series showcasing contestants’ baking skills as they advance through a series of challenge rounds. The final baker remaining after weeks of elimination stages is declared the winner. It’s a grueling competition requiring culinary dexterity that encompasses numerous skills & techniques. It’s also a microcosm for the future of work. In the 4th Industrial Revolution, professionals (like bakers) will need to expand their repertoire of expertise in order to acquire the digital dexterity enterprises will need to compete & win globally.
London-based Kieran Gilmurray is an internationally recognized intelligent automation expert. He’s been preaching the gospel of digital dexterity for some time, and has some dire predictions for organizations failing to heed his advice. He joins us to share his insights, and along the way we learn why implementing a Center of Excellence is Automation 101, what the minimum ROI percentage should be to justify automating a process, and what some of the biggest disruptions will be due to digital transformation over the next few years.
Guy Nadivi: Welcome everyone. My name is Guy Nadivi and I’m the host of Intelligent Automation Radio. Our guest on today’s episode is Kieran Gilmurray, Global Automation Lead and an internationally recognized intelligence automation expert, who writes and speaks extensively about the subject. Kieran is prolific in the amount of content he puts out. He publishes great articles on LinkedIn about best practice tips and general guidance on automation. We’re always on the lookout for that kind of thought leadership to expose our audience to, so we’ve asked him to come onto the show and he’s here with us today. Kieran, welcome to Intelligent Automation Radio.
Kieran Gilmurray: Fantastic. Absolutely delighted to be here. Thanks for asking.
Guy Nadivi: Kieran, how did you end up in the field of intelligent automation?
Kieran Gilmurray: Gosh, Guy, I started out in technology and business about 25 years ago. Always been fascinated by both. Love the technology but more often than not, or in reality, love what the technology can do for business. I’ve just been fascinated with, from the very first computer I had, to gosh, go through all the usual stuff, DOS, Windows 95, all the Windows products, all the Apple’s products, you name it. Just always, always, always been an enthusiast. Got excited by it and just stayed in the industry for years and years and years despite, or I say tech and business industry. But I’ve moved between different businesses that have all managed to use technology to really drive value, really make the lives of staff and customers that little bit more interesting and hope to goodness to be in the industry for the next 20 years.
Guy Nadivi: In your writings, you often use the term “digital dexterity,” which was coined by Gartner but as yet, has no consensus definition. However, for the purpose of our discussion today, let’s agree that digital dexterity means people in all manner of work roles need to get more technically proficient in a variety of skills, as organizations digitally transform. We know that this is going to be very challenging for many and for some will be a bridge too far, so to speak.
One extreme example has been the efforts in the Appalachian areas of the U.S., to turn coal miners into coders. That effort hasn’t gone well, yet the best jobs of the future will in fact, be the ones where people can leverage technologies like automation and AI, to achieve order of magnitude improvements in their performance.
Aside from the fact that many automation vendors are moving towards, or have already achieved no code low code platforms, what else can be done to enable digital dexterity in the workforce?
Kieran Gilmurray:Brilliant question and it’s interesting because lots and lots of the vendors in different parts have described wanting to develop digitally dexterous AI ninjas, or citizen developers or citizen analysts. And I think for some that’s the equivalent of a citizen dentist and it would be nice if everyone could fix their teeth, but not feasible. I’m a personal fan that all these technologies are developing. I do believe that not everybody can become a developer, for want of a better phrase a specialist skillset, at home over years and years and years. But it doesn’t mean that folks, Guy, can’t become part of a digital transformation effort of a firm. Firms will always need developers but they’ll also need business analysts. They’ll need process SMEs or technical managers. They’ll need SEO specialists and so on. This has been driven by changes in customer expectations, consumerization of technology, technology leaps, and what’s going to have to happen is that all these things are impacting firms and people are going to learn or need to learn these technologies. I think someone quoted the other day that this will be the first generation born that will work until they’re 100 and then have a whole lot of careers. And if that’s the case, there’s going to be a whole lot of lifelong learning as a necessity and therefore, in addition to lifelong learning of anything and everything that’s digital, AI, low code, or whatever else, we really, really need to have HR plans that help folks develop these skills. We’re going to have to have really joined up thinking on future thinking, as to where organizations are going to go, where they’ll need to bring data, where they’ll need to bring digital automation to. Not just small IT teams who couldn’t possibly cope to feed what I would describe as a digitally hungry workforce or digitally hungry consumers. There just isn’t enough time. But all of these tools, all of this learning, all of this direction, all of this forward thinking, in the best organizations, is going to have to be brought together to harness people in technology, to reimagine work, to unlock new ways of working, to deliver value. All these things need to come together to augment staff, to allow them to solve problems creatively and effectively. I don’t think there’s just one thing they can do, to make all of these things happen but definitely pass over the technology, provide the training, provide the direction, and that’s where the business is going and how organizations can do it. Get everybody involved in the effort, including people who can’t code. And that’s not to say that the coders are the most important people in the world but not everybody can. There’s lots of roles. And then allow people, and this is culturally, to make some mistakes. Allow them to be agile, allow them to be innovative, allow them to better succeed with digital transformation efforts, break down those silos and get the organization, particularly the executive team behind them, to help drive and remove any barriers to doing digitally dexterous work.
Guy Nadivi: The prospect of working till 100 might be alarming to some but it’s actually a good segue to my next question for you. As you know, sometimes introducing automation into an organization can trigger some resistance from employees, due to fear of job loss or radical job change. We refer to that resistance here on the podcast as robophobia and it can in fact, pose a serious cultural obstacle for enterprises deploying automation on their journey towards digital dexterity. Kieran, what tactics have been most successful for you in overcoming robophobia?
Kieran Gilmurray:Yeah. Fantastic phrase, Guy. I don’t think robophobia is a surprise, to be absolutely honest. I’ve used the phrase, “the lazy media”, you know, been full of stories about massive job losses. And then I think vendors themselves have presented how easy technology is to executives who’ve eagerly drank at the foundation of job losses and millions saved, only to discover the jobs haven’t disappeared. And therefore, before you attempt to look at digitization and automation and organizations, people have got fed up with it. They’re up in arms. They’re either actively or passively blocking it. And if you’re one of those folks having seen the news, heard the stories, maybe not been truthfully spoken to, then why would you want to do something or help out in a way that’s going to kill you, without any plan or succession plan or progress or idea what the future looks like? And this is the bit, all the same, we have to remember that jobs have always changed or roles have always changed. The clickety-click, in other words, the repetitive mundane, dull tasks have always been there. They’re essential, but dull and boring and low value. The thinkety-think tasks, the bit where organizations are willing to pay money for. The creative, intuitive, and empathetic. They’re going to be very hard to replace with robots anyway. And this is the bit where we need to make sure that organizations are explaining, number one, the people at the center of all of their business, that they’re not just going to kill jobs and robots aren’t going to be able to do that anyway. They need to have honest, unvarnished, truthful conversations about the need for change. They need to paint a bright and shiny future to help people understand the disruption and the investment is going to be worth it, not that they’re going to lose their jobs and just go. They need a HR plan to develop and grow talent internally. Very often you see new shiny people coming in and been told that they’re great and the message is obviously by imposition, the existing staff are bad. But this not having talent inside of an organization that’s digital, that understands how to use robots and data and intelligent automation tools is a sign of HR failure. That’s to align the business strategy and understand markets. I would recommend organizations have an executive sponsor with money and time to invest. Has to be a top five initiative. I would make each executive explain and own each transformation initiative inside of the organization. They’re not allowed to sit in an ivory tower, not wanting to get their hands dirty. They need to own it. They need to deliver it. I think organizations not only should develop their own talent, but they should bring in talent where there’s a shortage but make sure they codify and share that knowledge throughout the organization. They need to listen to people, when they’re asking how we’re challenging change. Not everybody will understand, and very often executive teams do a very poor job of explaining the what, the why, and the how, and what it means in terms of that bright, shiny future for people, or have a plan for those impacted. I think organizations need to make it fun. Change is difficult. It’s hard. So do stuff like have a robot building competition, a naming convention, all sorts of things that you can do. Reward innovation. But that’s all nice stuff but I would also urge organizations that if people can’t change, then they need to exit. It’s as simple as that because organizations must change, and they can’t navigate around people, to their ultimate demise. But ultimately one thing I would say is build a business case that stacks up. So it’s all very well getting excited by all the technology, everybody owning their initiatives, bright and shiny plans and put out across the organization and everyone telling everyone else that people are centered to business. But if this plan does not stack up, and that’s the wringing of cash tills that earns the company the right to play on the playing field tomorrow, then you’ve got it wrong, right at the very starting hurdle. So I don’t think there’s one thing to get organizations over robophobia, or to get this bright, beautiful future in people’s minds and in their line of sight. There’s lots of things that need done but ultimately one shift of phobia and everything else are moved and everyone excited about it, just make sure it all stacks up financially, otherwise, don’t begin in the first place. Take the money and do something else with it.
Guy Nadivi: Let’s talk about some of the tools and technology you alluded to. We’re hearing more and more about process mining and other AI-based discovery platforms being deployed as part of digital transformations. How do you think these tools are impacting adoption rates for automation? Kieran Gilmurray:Well, let me begin Guy, by saying, firms have to be careful with new shiny AI tools. AI is now the buzzword that gets executives excited. Not all of these work and not all of them work for the organizations with their existing tech either. You know, that’s true of a lot of AI tools and it’s particularly true of process mining technologies. But these tools are becoming more successful. They are growing in number, which can only help drive automation. Because remember with the greatest respect to people in the world, people inherently don’t understand the processes they’re automating. That’s not meant as a criticism. It’s just meant as a broad statement. Over time people unconsciously or develop unconscious competency, having practiced or delivered the process for so long, we do things without thinking. So when it comes to being asked to describe a process, it’s nuances, it’s exceptions. The detail that we need for robots or AI or data analytics programs to understand, we struggle. And that’s where this tech comes in to help. But sticking process mining software on the desktop and believing it or other AI tools is going to be capable of answering every question, is where people go wrong. Ultimately organizations are a collection of processes and all of us sort of wonder why we talk about automation COEs or IT COEs or whatever else. I wonder why we don’t have process COEs and then wrap everything else around it. But simply automating or identifying the as is process is the equivalent for many organizations. They’re then going to automate it, using AI. It’s like putting a Ferrari engine inside a very small car engine. It just makes no sense. So whilst these tools are growing in adoption because they help organizations describe the as is, probably better than the people in the organization themselves. No criticism. I mentioned unconscious competency. The real bit here is how do organizations map where they are today? That’s the use of the tool, but more importantly, where they want to be tomorrow? Where digitally they want to be tomorrow and draw that to the digital automation nation plan out and use the where we are map to work out the gaps between as is and to be, to help organizations get there. So in summary, yes, the tools are growing importance. No, they won’t work for everything. Treat them with an air of caution but design for digital and then work your way from where you are, to where you want to be, at a rate of knots, so that you end up in this digital future that really should be the only thing that executives are talking about at this moment in time.
Guy Nadivi: Since you mentioned them, let’s talk about COEs. Just about every automation vendor advocates for organizations to create an automation center of excellence as part of their digital transformation initiative. However, EMA Research reports that only 7% have done so, despite there being some good anecdotal evidence that a COE plays a major role in an organization’s automation success. Now you’ve recently written about the importance of COEs and what role they should play. Why do you think they haven’t proliferated as widely as they should?
Kieran Gilmurray: Yeah. Great question. Automation, and we’re all talking about it, this moment in time, it’s a relatively new technology or again intelligent automation, hyperautomation, robotic process automation, whatever flavor you want to call it. Lessons with all technologies need to be learned and they’re normally learned over time and best practices are formed. The old, many eggs have to be broken to make the right cake side of things. Now after three, five, eight years industry experts and there’s very few of these automation industry experts, now understand the rules. And that’s the bit where they now understand that COEs have to be part of the plans. The vendors, the business themselves, now understand what works and what doesn’t work. And particularly with COEs. No project takes care of itself, just as no cake makes itself and therefore teams need leaders, they need direction. Automation is a massive team sport. It’s taken time to realize that from failing projects, that drifted off into the sunset and got nowhere. So therefore a COE and a capable automation leader who can weave magic, and recognize that COEs cost money. Firms recognize that they need to pay money for quality people and quality teams. And you can’t do this at scale with a desktop PC and plenty of the right intentions but no real money, limited knowledge, and a lack of IT support. If you want to get transformative, you put a COE in place, you understand the rules, you get a person who understands or persons who can drive this. You invest in it, you fund it well. All those things are true of automation or any other technology you’re rolling out. Put the right group in place, fund it, support it, politically cover it, do whatever you need to do, but create those groups. A COE is what I would describe as Automation 101. Get behind it, make it happen and good things will happen. If you expect something to happen without direction, without sponsorship, without ownership, without paying the right money and the right number of people to do a job, it just isn’t going to happen. It’s just a bit sad that it’s taken three, five, eight plus years to recognize this but I expect that 7% to go up higher, if firms are willing to pay the money to allow it to happen. If they’re not, automation won’t work. If they build a COE and invest, automation does work.
Guy Nadivi: Kieran, one of your articles earlier this year provocatively claimed that if your automation program isn’t making money, then it’s failed. Now you didn’t specify how much money it should be making, presumably leaving that up to each organization to decide for itself. But that left me curious, when you evaluate a process to be automated, is there a minimum ROI you need, in order to justify automating it?
Kieran Gilmurray: I think there’s a few industry stats and as you say, they’re all different. But in my mind, any automation and digitization programs worth its salt, ought to knock 30% off the cost base. Now that’s target number one. And number two is it’s not only about knocking cost off because any organization can do that without too much difficulty. This is about transforming your organization to generate a new business and therefore new revenues. And the minimum at that, or minimum ROI you should be expecting is 15 to 20%. Otherwise, why bother? We’re talking here about the need for deep all-in transformation, or the kind that excites and scares in equal measure. And firms need to understand that if you want an exceptional program, you’re going to have to go all in. You can’t go in half-heartedly. You can’t set up an average program and expect exceptional returns. It’s a bit like paying to go to an average cinema, to watch an average set of actors and actresses perform in an average movie while you eat average popcorn and come out, why you didn’t have the time of your life? Firms need to get in. They need to get out. Anything less is meaningless and prone to failure. So I say 30% knock off your cost space, at a minimum 15 to 20% by transforming very, very quickly and then you can expect the numbers to go up on that when you’ve truly digitized and automated your organization.
Guy Nadivi: With all the automation projects you’ve overseen, are there any particular ones that stand out as the most successful business process you’ve automated?
Kieran Gilmurray: There’s probably the ones that stand out best are the ones that have gone well and the ones that have majorly not gone well, as well. I have a different programs now, a lot in the organizations but they’ve delivered just under 5 million of revenue in two years with two bots. I’ve had three bots saving an organization 10 million a year, so those are fantastic. And we implemented, in one organization, more than 120 bots to do really transformative stuff. But I’d love to sit here and claim victory every time I’ve ever done something. But I give you one absolutely crazy failure, which was a POV that failed so badly. It’s hard to look back without being embarrassed. We looked at too complex a process. Not all the business partners were engaged. There was relatively weak vendor talent, if truth be told. The technology landscape underneath was shifting. The IT team blocked it passively aggressively and, and, and. So it was nearly every classic mistake in the book. That sticks out in my mind as well as the successes. But it’s like everything in life. My experience is unique and now valuable. If I don’t make mistakes, I don’t learn lessons. If you don’t learn, you don’t improve and if you don’t crack eggs, you can’t bake. All the things that have gone well over the years, absolutely delighted. All the things that haven’t gone well, I’ve learned lessons and put it in the back of my mind, to make the next project work better. But automation can deliver huge savings, huge incomes and huge headaches. You just hope that you have more savings and income than you do the headaches over time. So probably both, Guy. Both good and bad.
Guy Nadivi: Let’s talk about a particularly big headache, the COVID-19 pandemic. From your vantage point, Kieran, how has COVID-19 impacted automation initiatives?
Kieran Gilmurray: Oh gosh. It’s massive, isn’t it? It’s a sort of a soccer game of two halves, isn’t it? Those who invested in the past in automation are winning by a country mile. You look at the classics like Amazon, or Starling Bank. They’re just racing ahead. Those who did not, are in danger of being relegated or going out of business. It’s interesting because the one thing about COVID at the moment is that the key thing is digital and automation are now on everybody’s radar. In the right firms and those that are investing and have the money to invest, projects are getting funded. Things that would have taken years to do or years to get people’s backing, or minds around to them, are now happening in weeks and not met, are months but not years. But COVID is just driven massive change in how we think and where we’re at, how we work, how we consume. Look at the number of people who are now buying online. It’s massive. Those who’ve invested will survive and thrive. Those who’ve not invested, I hope to goodness they survive the pandemic. Certainly interesting times. But it really is winners and losers. Invest in digital and automation and you will come out of this doing really well. Don’t invest, don’t play the digital game and I don’t think you’re going to survive much longer. You’re going to get gobbled up or the market will have moved on. Interesting times. I just pray and hope that everybody comes out of this on the right side of that equation.
Guy Nadivi: As a global intelligent automation expert, Kieran, I’m eager to hear what you think are going to be some of the biggest disruptions we’ll see, in the next one to three years, with respect to automation, AI and other digitally transforming technologies.
Kieran Gilmurray: That’s a bit of a dangerous question. You make predictions and they’re liable to go wrong. But it’s a massive question, so let me have my goals and let me try and split it into short term and medium term because after that, it’s too hard to see. And by medium term, short term, one to two years. Medium, two to four years. Let’s talk tech here, that will drive massive change because I’m very much a fan of… We’re going to swing. We’re going to swing hard and we’re going to swing high, otherwise, we stay off the field. So short term, and this is the stuff that’s already here and no, maybe we haven’t been using it to the best of organization’s abilities. Maybe organizations just haven’t quite got round to understanding it entirely. Those that have, are just exceeding. But I would say, look – mobile, anything. Mobile anything that’s connected. So to other websites. To CRMs. To deliver joined up multi-experiences. 5G, I don’t think folks understand the power of that yet. That is literally anywhere operations at pace. AI and that’s AI everything. It’s happening. I just don’t think folks realize how much AI is happening. And I’m not even going to pick industries because AI is happening in everything that we touch and we need to be really careful with that as well, to make sure we understand the risks, as well as the tremendous benefits. Cloud computing. I call that again, anywhere operations. Firms are now getting this, now that COVID is forcing firms to rethink how they work and where they work and understanding, gosh, I can’t get into a building or a cloud. It’s not as prolific or as proliferated as we think. Certainly the future looks bright for that. Intelligent automation. That’s bots and beyond automation. All of the toolkits that organizations need to make at digital organizations, or highly automated organizations. Voice agents, that do more than order milk. Voice agents that will go everywhere with us, like in the car, on our watches, in our homes. It’ll just be a seamless, connected experience. Chatbots that actually work. That would be amazing. I think that’s getting better. And then the big thing is doing all this in a secure fashion. So I’m expecting to see even more, because this already exists. Machine learning, AI-driven security, or technology security or algorithms so that it attacks before being attacked. We need our data guarded, so all those things now are short term. They will just accelerate at the rate of knots, and firms that invest in that tech are going to just go beyond anything we currently expect. Medium term. So bigger stuff at Hyperloop. Absolutely. Transport is changing. Interesting bit, at a time when transport’s getting faster and faster. And again, the last couple of weeks, you’ve really seen Hyperloop starting to appear in volume. You sort of wonder, will actually people need it because AR, VR, anything immersive, allows us to attend meetings. And for example, Canada, this morning, India tomorrow afternoon. Our virtual digital twin or self can be in any of those meetings and if we join up haptics with that, then we can feel as if we’re shaking hands. We can look around the room, so those who want to get places physically, Hyperloop but those who want to go virtually, AR and anything immersive are VR. I think drones, driverless cars, absolutely will take off. I think they’ve been slowed because mainly because most people just worry about psychologically, how they’re going to work. Government rules and roads will have to catch up and they’ve sort of fallen behind as well. But when you look at the statistics, driverless cars are actually more safe or less unsafe than we, as tired humans can get. And drones, they’re starting to take off, but you’ll start to see those flying everywhere, once the rules catch up. Digital assistants and twins, absolutely love the idea, that. So I love coming in, that kind of Jarvis moment, where a digital twin will allow me, or twins, allow me to be twice, three times, or four times as productive as I am. And we’re not just talking about here, the mundane, repetitive stuff. You can get automation to do that now, but something that’s truly cognitive that can work out my day, that if I want to go somewhere, it’ll have already thought about, what way do I want to travel? Is it by plane, Hyperloop? Is it that I want to go on a driverless car? Is it that I want an AR virtual experience? It will work out what’s best, it will have organized the meeting, it will have sorted everything I want, it will have produced the deck that I want to talk about, having looked at the data and the background. All those things will be possible in the next couple of years. IoT-connected devices. They’ve been taking off for a couple of years. I think, now, that’s really going to take off. And I think AI, the internet, 5G, is going to accelerate that. And one of the biggest ones will be quantum computing behind all this because the amount of data that’s getting put into the ecosystem is absolutely massive and I see quantum computing in the next couple of years becoming standard as well. And if you start to combine everything I’ve talked about in the short term and in the medium term, this is going to be at a massively different world that we will live in or feel or see, in the next three or four years’ time. Massively exciting, not without challenges, not without some element of rigor or control, put around it. You’ll have seen all the conversations around social media and its impact, and, and, and, and the dangers of AI. But look, if we’re learning, that’s the thing about technology. We should leap but leap cautiously but move at pace. And if all those things come to pass. that power is just going to change how we live, consume, vote, you name it. Work or don’t work, as the case may be. Absolutely exciting. Can’t wait to see what’s going to happen. And that’s one of the reasons why I got into this industry. All that change is just amazing and invigorating, when done right.
Guy Nadivi: Amazing times we live in. Kieran, for the CIOs, CTOs and other IT executives listening in, what is the one big must have piece of advice you’d like them to take away from our discussion, with regards to implementing automation at their organization?
Kieran Gilmurray: Gosh, good question as well. Biggest one is commit. No half plans and this is digital transformation we’re talking about, not digital incrementalism. Invest. Get an executive team behind it. Pay the money, put in the effort. Pay for digital tooling. Pay for talent. Own it. Don’t pass it down throughout the organization. Make sure that you commit to owning the initiatives, explaining the initiatives, delivering the initiatives, building the business case around them. But do this in a really well communicated way, as you’re running it this hard. Bus silos. This is about cultural change as much as it’s about business transformation and technology change, so therefore, you’re going to have to get into agile and failing fast and not allowing anyone or anything to block it. That’s not to say you don’t listen to dissenting voices. They sometimes keep you on track and remind you not quite to get excited and run off a cliff but to think through things. Put you’re… As part of this commitment program and there’s no half plans, give KPIs to everyone or put them in everyone’s goals for automation and digitization. And ultimately, as I said, when you’re doing all this, go back to the advice, as I said earlier on, Guy, don’t just rush in without a business plan. Plan with your CFO. Ensure there’s good governance around it so the savings are going to be there and the incomes are going to be identified. But swing hard, swing high, or get out of the game. Don’t do it bit by bit by bit, hoping something’s going to suddenly miraculously happen. You’re either in or you’re out and my preference in this one here, when you’re talking about transformation, is really transform. Don’t try tiny, tiny bits hoping world is going to change around you, the organization is going to change, if you’re not putting in the effort.
Guy Nadivi: Fantastic advice. All right. Looks like that’s all the time we have for, on this episode of Intelligent Automation Radio. Kieran, it’s great for me personally to finally have you on the show and get some insights from you directly, after enjoying so much of the outstanding content you’ve posted on the internet. I’m pleased to learn you’re just as interesting in person as you are in print. Thank you very much for coming onto the podcast.
Kieran Gilmurray: Oh, absolutely delighted. I appreciate you inviting me here and I hope to goodness, this helps organizations out there.
Guy Nadivi: Kieran Gilmurray, Global Automation Lead and an internationally recognized intelligent automation expert. Thank you for listening everyone and remember, don’t hesitate, automate.