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Technology and operations: The orchestration dream team

Whether the unit of time is two years or 10, there are countless views on how much the pandemic has accelerated digital transformation. I believe it was Microsoft that was the originator of the initial prediction and sponsor of this great report - ‘The transformation imperative: Digital drivers in the COVID-19 pandemic’, with other parties adding years in an attempt to create new headlines. Either way, the world has come on quite a way in a hurry.

It’s not been a new dawn entirely, much of what we are seeing was present and bubbling under the surface. It turns out that if you want to get sign off on pilots, plans and proposals in a hurry then a pandemic is quite handy. But before COVID was part of our vernacular, AI, automation, and advanced engineered systems were doing their thing in improving safety, simplifying routine tasks, and driving higher productivity levels across organisations.

The next shift - the one happening now - is moving from task automation to full orchestration. This is where the need to coordinate automation, RPA, AI and ML initiatives is critical for continued business success. 

The sky's the limit

The reason this is becoming a major theme for business is that the use of AI technology goes hand in hand with increases in the use of automation, which will permeate to numerous areas, functions and jobs throughout a business. It’s happening at such a rapid pace that, left unchecked, will be much more difficult to reign in, break down silos and ensure transparency than it otherwise would have been from the get-go. We also need to consider the evolving role of humans in all of this. More pertinently, the people best placed to act as the conduit between those augmenting their role with technology and those parts of the business that can be passed over to technology completely. It’s a subject this WEF report (‘The Future of Jobs 2020’) covers at length, which is well worth a read.

To give some idea of scale, the demand for workflow automation processes is expected to spike to $26 billion by 2025, up from less than $5 billion in 2018. More than 25% of companies already use automation in their hiring process, and by 2022, 70% of customer service interactions will leverage some sort of AI automation technology - and this is just one facet of operations. Ladder this up across a company and then multiply it by the volume of companies. When you consider it like that, $26 billion feels conservative.

As a result, it’s going to thrust two key business centres to the fore in realising the undoubted vision of orchestration - that of operations and technology.

What’s op doc?

It’s an easy - and over-simplistic - assumption to make that for operations centers that have already gone down the path of automation, it’s just a matter of “ready, set, orchestrate”. After all, a McKinsey article found that, by automating manual and repetitive tasks, successful operations centers are reducing costs by 30 to 60 percent while increasing delivery quality so hitting the button that says ‘orchestration’ is a logical next step.

Process orchestration allows users to orchestrate and optimise workflows that involve many steps across multiple entities in a way that extends the capacity of existing tools; connects formerly siloed technological environments; and enables users to focus on high-value work for which they’re uniquely qualified… as opposed to having to spend so much time working manually bridging the technology gaps and delivery issues the apps we rely on force them to do today. In this sense and implemented correctly, it is the dream for a head of operations role. 

But by its nature, orchestration means efficiently connecting separate parts, which means success depends on IT, just as much as operations.

Intention and purpose

For a business to be successful, it’s essential to avoid making changes for the sake of making changes. Every decision, every process, every alteration to the current way things are done should have intention and purpose. Step forward those responsible for technology - and while the implications of orchestration may not universally fall as the responsibility of the CTO or equivalent, it is this role that will not only have ownership of technological investment but also a hand in how its implication runs through the organisation.

The CTO must have a big picture vision for orchestration to have the desired results. They will have to embrace the vision of creating more user-friendly processes that optimises the organisational workflow. Nowhere more so than when it comes to employee-centric change management. The fear that automation and robotics will replace the need for human employees (the old “robots are stealing our jobs” narrative) is becoming more prevalent as AI and automation evolve. But this is precisely why the deployment of orchestration is so critical as the CTO is the totem to which the employees look to for clarity and reassurance while the operations team do the work of bringing this vision to life.

The orchestration dream team

In this regard, the leaders in technology and operations form something of a dream team. Successful orchestration will not happen without this dual approach. But the question is, what next? When we consider the speed and scale of this change - alongside all the other elements that these heads have to contend with on a daily basis - it begs the question around how to best manage the orchestration process moving forward if that market growth of $26 billion is accurate?

It points to an evolution of these particular roles in order to accommodate this pace of change. Indeed, only two weeks ago, this piece on IT Pro by the widely respected tech journalist, Rene Millman, looked at the possibility of organisations creating the role of a chief robotics officer to tackle the growing use of robotics, automation and orchestration within the workplace.

Views on a postcard, please!