Automation should be an A

A lot of Executives ask ‘what should be a key priority for my Business?

I know they are generally concerned about high order issues – such as growth, sustainability of their business model, customer intimacy, disruption and transformation.

But my initial answer goes to a lower order fix – that saves money, creates capacity and helps set the base to tackle transformation and the higher order challenges.

The ‘fix’ I talk about is automation – ensuring that critical processes and activities in their business are streamlined, codified and automated.

Automation, and particularly refining and documenting the processes and activities to enable automation, ensures that the organization has a standard way of doing things. If done well, it eliminates unnecessary activity and duplication. Digitizing activities sets the base for transforming the organization to a more digital future and creating new online business models to create better customer knowledge and intimacy.

But to date, their is a surprising reluctance to really embrace automation in many organizations.

I hear a range of reasons:

1. A lack of understanding by senior personnel

2. A fear that it will eliminate roles and create people concerns

3. That documenting what is done will highlight the inefficiencies that sit within the current system

4. That people are so busy doing the everyday that capacity can’t be devoted to automation

5. That existing systems are old and creaking and their is concern to ‘tinker’

6. That the new systems we are putting in will have all that!

7. I don’t want to make investment right now.

A well structured approach to automation solves all these issues – with generally fast payback. Investing in additional capability to get going will create money and capability and staff generally respond well. They realize the flaws in existing processes and in the main are pleased to be part of an organization that is modernizing.

And both old and new systems are not a barrier or replacement for automation.

So to me, Automation should be a A priority issue for most.

AI – not for fast followers

AI has been spoken about for quite a while and you hear people say that ‘they have not yet seen the benefits’.

As with all new technologies, there is often a period of ‘over-hyping‘ – but for organizations that have been investing over a period of time, they have generally come through the period of disillusionment . To me there is no question that AI is starting to, and will continue to have a major impact on all businesses.

Below is a link to a great report by Deloitte colleagues looking at the State of AI by country.

A key thing for me is that in most situations, I don’t believe you can afford to be a fast follower when it comes to AI. Sure, for some of the simpler or ‘commoditized’ processes it might be ok to not be first.

But to truly gain competitive advantage in your core business from AI, there is a requirement for considerable investment of time and resources  – ensuring the right data structures, algorithms, evolution of machine learning and determining how the results can be applied.

And while I am not a fan of the word exponential , there is no question that there is an exponential improvement in the benefits that accrue once an organization ‘gets it right. An organization that has truly started to reap the benefits in their core business will be difficult to catch.

Money and mission

This week I gave a talk to 120 young people on strategy, innovation and purpose – all critical topics in today’s world.

A lot of the questions were around purpose – and what Deloitte was doing to ensure purpose and better the community across the globe.

The great thing is that we can be very proud of what we are doing – in terms of diversity and inclusion, improving the lives of 50 million underprivileged people through creating opportunities in education and providing money and expertise to help an array of ‘for purpose’ organizations.

However a lot of the questions were about why weren’t we doing more on this cause or that cause. And all of the causes were worthy.

However, I always return to my two key principles:

1. There is no mission without money – the businesses that can afford to do the most in terms of social license and the community are the businesses that are financially strong in the long term. So getting the basics right on financial performance is vital if you want to be a great social contributor

2. Like strategy and innovation, purpose and social license are about choices – being clear about what area and how you will make an impact – making sure you are not spreading your focus and capabilities (and money) too broad and wide. Just like strategy there are many initiatives you can back – but it really is about having clarity on the choices you make

Interview on Innovation

Yesterday I was interviewed by John Durie a senior journalist at The Australian on innovation, disruption, Asia and what is happening globally.

Word on research

The Australian, Australia  by  John Durie 03 May 2019Business News – page 26 – 323 words

US companies account for 57 per cent of US spending on research and development, but in Australia it’s just 34 per cent.

The good news is this means the universities and others are filling the slack, but the Deloitte figures show corporate Australia has some heavy lifting to do if it wants to remain competitive.

Deloitte’s global strategy chief John Meacock is in town to spread the word and the Australian native said in an interview that perhaps Australia’s record 27 years of growth had made companies too conservative.

Asia is high on his to-do list, saying everyone talks about the region, but the key is to shift from a trading relationship to building business.

Ironically he is not the only one to raise this issue, with no one in business calling a recession, but noting there is a new generation in the workforce who have never lived through a prolonged downturn.

Deloitte regards itself as a professional service firm with just 13.5 per cent of Australian revenues earned from traditional audit work. Instead, Meacock says the firm has extended and developed its strength to partner with clients to help them transform their business. Deloitte itself has partnered with companies such as McLaren to tap its expertise on a range of issues – including, of course, using data.

He has noted that compared with his new home there is more discussion about policy in Australia, and while President Donald Trump has divided the US he has been positive for business, with the past four years seeing less regulation, with red tape now at just one-third of European levels.

Companies, he said, now understood they had to be profitable but for a purpose that includes making a social contribution and the key was to get the balance right.

Artificial intelligence, he argues, is the wrong term because machines and people working together is very real and instead we should talk about augmented intelligence.

Business Model change – Impact on the everyday

I’m currently in Sydney for a couple of weeks and staying in an AirBnB apartment. Until a few years ago, the automatic choice would have been a hotel.

During the stay I have used Uber and GoGet (car sharing) to travel around, booked restaurants through Opentable, had food delivered through Grubhub and chatted to colleagues in the US and Europe on Skype.

Most of the interactions have been done using my iPhone – not through a computer. It is all just part of everyday life – seems normal and done without a second thought.

But if you take a step back to reflect on all the names that I have mentioned above, it highlights the enormous Business model changes and how they have impacted our lives.

It really does answer the question I get often from Directors and Executives on ‘how real is technology disruption and business model change?’

And I still believe that the change is just beginning. New technology – AI, cognitive, cloud and big data – will continue to drive change and that change will be exponential. And like my experience in the last couple of weeks, the old ways are quickly forgotten as we race to adopt the new.

How do countries regulate?

IMG_0153Regulation is a major issue for business.

A lot of it is good and needed – to make sure we have standards that all must abide by and ensure fairness in the system.

But increasingly, regulation of an industry is driven for purely political reasons – done to achieve a political aim without really understanding the implications across a system.

While undertaking research on regulation I found that Europe has enacted 4 times as much regulation over the past 4 years as the US. A significant imbalance.

And the orientation of regulation changes by jurisdiction:

– the US generally regulates to favor big business

– China generally regulates to favor the SOEs (State Owned Enterprises)

– European regulation generally favors the individual

None of these are wrong – it just means significantly different outcomes for each piece of regulation – often creating unintended consequences for stakeholders that aren’t the primary audience of the regulation.

Truly understanding the impact of regulation on all stakeholders in a system is not too much to ask – or is it?

I’m back

I am now the Global Chief Strategy Officer for Deloitte based in NY.

So much has changed since I started this blog – with new technologies, new business models, AI and regulation taking hold and shifting the dynamics of our world.

Yet, in some ways – so much has stayed the same. The need for great strategy, the importance of continually innovating and mostly how connecting with people is still the most important determinant of success.

I will be more diligent in maintaining this site to bring relevant insights and views

Best John

The case for innovation 

Today I will be a speaker at the UNSW Innovation summit, sharing some of the insights of a 10 year innovation journey. 

In today’s market, the need for breakthrough innovation, particularly in business model is acute. 

A range of the old truths regarding innovation are no longer truths:

  1. To get breakthrough innovation you need lots of ideas – in fact focused innovation is the key to creating business model change
  2. Fail fast, fail quickly – absolutely you have to be prepared for ideas and investments that don’t succeed. But this statement has become an excuse for indiscriminate and unfocused idea generation 
  3. Process kills innovation- regulation can create a lack of agility but the right processes – processes that create a disciplined approach to take ideas to implementation is what is needed to bring innovation to life. 

For Australian businesses, Innovation is not an option. 

Last year Australian businesses spent $30bn on innovation- sounds a lot but places us 19 on the innovation list (comparative to market size) and we are a poor 76 on innovation efficiency. 

In my view business needs to do more. 

How we approach innovation, how we lead our organisations to embrace business model change and how we drive to make our businesses ‘future ready’ will determine the long term sustainability of our organisation. 

Innovate or copyvate? 

Innovation is now essential for all organisations. 

The rapid changes occuring in business model, driven primarily by new technologies, means if you are not innovating your business model, service and product you are unlikely to be sustainable in the medium term. 

I believe innovation can come from internal innovation (innovate), acquiring externally developed ideas or products (acquivate) or innovations developed in conjunction with customers, alliance partners and your ecosystem (ecovate). All forms are important as you need a portfolio to be effective. 

A traditional school of thought has been to pay attention to competitors and be a fast follower – letting a competitor spend the R&D and rapidly copy any new feature or release (copyvate).  This is a legitimate modus operandi for all organisations- having strong competitive intelligence is essential. 

But if this is your only or primary focus, it comes with significant perils. Why? 

1. Certain of the new models are largely winner takes all. Network or platform models ( think Uber, Airbnb and Amazon) are incredibly difficult to compete with as a fast follower once they have established their base. 

2. Innovation is as much cultural as it is programmatic. Being a fast follower only, does not build the spirit within your people that I believe is needed to keep driving the company forward with new ideas and improvement. 

3. Being a fast follower only means the company is often fixated with the one competitor and fails to recognise disruption coming from other organisations or the opportunities from adjacencies. 

Having a portfolio of innovation, including all sources of innovate, acquivate, ecovate and yes, copyvate, is essential and increasing in importance in today’s fast changing world.