The Hackett Group, in conjunction with Symphony Ventures, recently published a whitepaper regarding Robotics Process Automation (RPA). (You may recall that Symphony Ventures conducted an excellent RPA proof of concept at the SIG 2017 Spring Summit with American Honda.) In this whitepaper, the authors provide a blueprint for selecting sourcing opportunities appropriate for RPA. Any sourcing professional worth their salt, should be considering RPA as a viable strategy after reading this statement, "Individual tasks of such processes may be fully automated with RPA, eliminating 100% of labor and up to 90% of cost. The total efficiency improvement achievable through holistic transformation using RPA across end-to-end transactional process can add up to 50% to 75% of baseline cost."
Mary Zampino, Senior Director of Global Sourcing Intelligence, SIG
When people discuss the Internet of Things (IoT), you often hear them talk about the doomsday aspect of being hacked. I understand their concerns but prefer to see the way my life has become exponentially better with my connected devices. I took a quick inventory—I currently have 44 IoT devices in my house. I was shocked at the number, I thought maybe I had 10—a dozen at most, but when I started counting I quickly realized I had many more. I started with the obvious ones: Amazon Echo (Alexa), three Nest thermostats, three Nest security cameras, six computers—wow, I got to 13 quickly. When I started to really think about it though, I realized I have many more. I also have Alexa-controlled lighting, a web enabled garage door, a Tesla, three televisions, two Apple TVs, three Fitbits, a Fitbit synched scale (Aria), a Sonos system, an Amazon Echo Dot, three iPads, two tablets, three Kindles, five cell phones and even a smart meter for my daughter’s Type 1 Diabetes glucose monitoring and insulin system, and the list goes on. I am waiting for my Spinn coffee maker to come (that will reorder beans when I am low and which I can control from an app while still in bed), and already have four Amazon buttons that reorder everything from laundry detergent to paper towels to dishwashing liquid and cat food. Oh, and how about my ADT security system? Wow…I am overwhelmed by how many ways my life is connected to the internet, and I suspect that I’m forgetting some of my devices.
It is increasingly difficult, with jam-packed workdays and busy personal lives, to dedicate time to growing our skill sets. More and more, we are turning to online training or "e-learning." With time at a premium, it is critical that once we do dedicate the time to e-learning, that we gain the most we can from the experience. You can't just click through and hope to magically improve your knowledge and skills. I mean if you are going to take the time and effort to enroll, shouldn’t you engage and maximize your experience?
In my career working with adult learners and technology platforms I have noted a few characteristics that separate the high-achieving student from the just-clicked-through-every-slide student. I'll share a few best practices here.
Guy Hanna, Leadership and Higher Education, PhD (ABD)
I used to have many phone numbers memorized. It was second nature to pick up the phone and dial someone’s number. Now the term “dial” even seems a little obsolete when it comes to phones. How many millennials have even seen a rotary phone with an actual dial? But it has made me start to wonder…is the ubiquitous use of smart devices making us actually think less?
I suppose that in some ways it was inevitable. Calculators made it possible for people to quickly arrive at answers to problems that previously took a lot of time and many steps to complete. And in much the same way, every technology that connects to another technology to give us immediate access to information we weren’t easily able to get otherwise, eliminates our need to use our brain to find it. Now I'm not saying this is a bad thing…but I do think it makes us a little lazier.
Case in point…one of my daughters has Type 1 diabetes. When she was diagnosed, we agonized over every meal; figuring out what she was planning to eat, counting the carbs in the meal, factoring out the fiber and then calculating the amount of insulin she’d need based on her current carb-to-insulin ratio to keep her blood sugar levels in check. In the beginning, I incessantly worried that we would give her too much insulin and send her in to diabetic shock or worse. Over time, we learned how to do it and got pretty good at calculating math in our heads…especially helpful for my then-11-year-old daughter. But as soon as she went on an insulin pump, we stopped having to actually do the math, and now if she takes a “pump break” I find myself having to really think…and it makes me nervous.
Disruption. Until recently that word meant something negative. It was a nuisance…a disturbance…an interruption…it meant trouble. In fact, if you look at synonyms for disruption, every one of them paints it negatively. But lately when you hear the word “disruption,” it generally means change—and even positive change. Disruptive technologies are in essence solutions that are changing the future of work. They are challenging the status quo.
I was recently reading an article about Amazon potentially purchasing Slack. (Ironically one of my colleagues sent it over in a “Slack” which we use for internal communications at SIG.) As my colleagues and I reminisced about our first use of Amazon, it made me realize what a pioneer they were in disruptive technologies. The term may not have been widely known, but they certainly paved the way for it to be put into ubiquitous use.
I can’t really remember when or how Amazon disrupted my life…but it did. Somewhere along the way I went from being skeptical about purchasing things online to almost exclusively shopping with Amazon—and Prime no less because I want the immediacy of it. Don’t get me wrong—there are certain items I will never purchase on the Internet, but if I am going to shop online, I ALWAYS check Amazon first.
What does going from three to eight billion connected human beings mean to the global economy? Companies like Facebook (Internet.org), SpaceX, Google (Project Loon) Qualcomm and Virgin (one Web) are in the process of rolling out the connectivity to every human on earth.
They are not rolling it out the way we started either, i.e., with a dial up modem on AOL. Rather, they are providing connectivity to exceed one megabit per second. Imagine when there are more than 5 billion people connected to the internet accessing information on Google, Amazon, artificial intelligence with Watson, cloud, 3D printing and more. Just imagine.
How are they connecting the rest of the world? Through technology, of course…but in ways you may not expect. Project Loon is using a fleet of balloons traveling just inside the edge of space to provide connectivity to remote geographies around the world. “Internet is transmitted up to the nearest balloon from our telecommunications partner on the ground, relayed across the balloon network, and then back down to users on the ground.” The connection speeds are astounding. “Project Loon has taken the most essential components of a cell tower and redesigned them to be light enough and durable enough to be carried by a balloon 20 km up in the stratosphere. All the equipment is highly energy-efficient and is powered entirely by renewable energy - with solar panels powering daytime. Each balloon has a coverage area of 5,000 square kilometers.”
To truly innovate, you need a certain kind of leadership in your organization. I always look for and hire people who have an insatiable curiosity and who become bored easily. I truly believe if you have the desire to constantly look toward the unknown you are a person who does not like executing the existing.
In John Sculley’s book Moonshot he speaks about how the traditional education system harms our ability to innovate. By making students remember and recite, we reward children by giving As for the right answer versus asking the right question. We reward people at work for executing according to plans, not for taking risks and for having a futurist mindset. Instead of thinking about how to do something better, we need to start with “do we even need to do it at all?”
Let’s discuss accretive manufacturing. What? Haven’t heard that term yet? That’s because accretive manufacturing is just a fancier name for 3D printing. You may never hear it referred to as accretive manufacturing, but mark my words…the supply chain industry is about to be disrupted to an unrecognizable extent by it. In 2016, Honda released a single-seat “micro-commuter” vehicle with the body and majority of the panels having been 3D printed. In the meantime, Boeing expects to shave $2 to $3 million off each 787 Dreamliner's manufacturing costs by 2018, thanks in part to 3D-printed titanium. So if Boeing can now 3D print parts to an airplane and auto manufacturers are now 3D printing dashboards—and even entire vehicles—how long do you think it will be until we require almost no inventory because we can 3D print on demand any item we desire?
At home if I break a spatula, I can now 3D print a replacement. Granted, I am only printing with plastic and lack the tools to print an exact replica, but when it only takes an hour to print with specifications that are available for free online at a cost of only 15 cents (plus a little electricity)…isn’t it worth considering? Even Amazon Prime same day delivery (not available where I live) can’t beat that timeline and price.
As I write this, the UK is continuing to gear up for its forthcoming (June 8th) General Election, called by Prime Minister Theresa May only two years after the last one, purportedly to enable the British electorate to give the government a clear mandate for its Brexit strategy. Purportedly this is because many observers believe May's real motive is her hopes of being able to take advantage of the woeful situation in which the opposition Labour Party currently finds itself.
Regardless of the drivers behind the election decision, however, it's true that voters and the country in general continue to wrestle with significant uncertainty regarding Brexit. With Article 50 now having been triggered, there may now be no doubt that Brexit is indeed happening. The UK is leaving the EU in March 2019, but the terms of that departure are still very much up in the air, and the real consequences - economic, political, social, diplomatic - for the nation remain, frankly, anyone's guess.
I recently attended an event in London featuring representatives of local government from across the UK, intended to foster discussion around what Brexit will mean at a local level - and it was immediately clear that at that level as at every other, confusion continues to reign. Again, we have at least the certainty of departure - and the knowledge that a 'Great Repeal Bill' will be drawn up which will ensure that the state doesn't immediately collapse into lawless chaos on Brexit Day by transposing existing EU legislation onto UK law so that the government can then begin to modify that legislation to suit the country's own purposes and desires (rather than having to draw up, ratify and implement thousands of new laws all at once).
As I sit here at my desk listening to the glorious whirl of robotic process automation taking place at my feet (my Roomba is vacuuming diligently), I think back to SIG's last Global Summit in Amelia Island and how RPA was at the forefront of our discussions.
Now, of course not everyone is as fond of certain types of automation. My dogs for instance, who are getting old, a little deaf, a little blind and a little senile, get spooked occasionally by this little disruptive digitalization in their lives. And my 4 year-old daughter thinks it's cool, (calls it her puppy) but if it gets too loud or in her way, its process quickly becomes terminated prematurely.
As I write this my Roomba signals with its happy little tune that it has completed cleaning the room and silence almost ensues, except for the faint hum of my newly installed ceiling fan (it’s a truly glorious sleek modern contraption) and it occurs to me that this too, a more common example of process automation, also brings me great joy, convenience and comfort. At one point both these items were the newest technology and people doubted their need and also questioned how many jobs would be lost at their hands. Not unfortunately, these days you do not find too many personal fanners (picture Cleopatra being fed grapes and giant palm fronds), but in its stead fan designers, engineers, installers, repair servicemen and salesmen. And whereas only a small minority of the population could afford a professional fanner back in those days, ceiling fans are common place and found in abundance due to technology and manufacturing improvements, making them less expensive and more easily accessible.