‘Companies must understand their operations before building shiny new tools’

18 Oct 2022

Tony Kerins. Image: OpenSky

OpenSky’s Tony Kerins says a lack of understanding of internal processes is one of the biggest pitfalls when it comes to digital transformation.

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Digital transformation can solve countless business challenges in a wide range of industries.

One of the most common applications is using automation to eliminate manual, repetitive tasks to free up employees for more strategic and creative work that only a human can do.

But in the rush to ride the digital transformation train, companies can introduce changes before making the necessary preparations, leading to challenges and problems down the road.

According to a recent survey by IT services company Auxilion, failed digital transformation projects cost companies in Ireland an average of €323,143 over the past year.

Tony Kerins is principal automation advocate at OpenSky, a Naas-based company that provides IT and consultancy managed services to clients across the public and private sector, extending to AI, robotics process automation and information intelligence.

Kerins advises senior leaders in businesses of all sizes about robotic process automation, business process automation and digital process automation.

‘You simply cannot put a layer of digital paint onto bad, ineffective processes and hope that new technology will fix it’

He said the two biggest pitfalls in digital transformation projects stem from a lack of understanding of internal business processes and poor execution of change management.

“Companies need a comprehensive, detailed understanding of how their operations currently function on a process-by-process basis and fix broken systems before they build shiny new tools,” he told SiliconRepublic.com.

“You simply cannot put a layer of digital paint onto bad, ineffective processes and hope that new technology will fix it. Digital transformation must always be highly strategic and implemented after scrutiny of your business operations.”

Kerins added that companies also don’t always recognise the significant changes that can come with digital transformation.

“Building these kinds of massive, business-altering systems takes time, and change management doesn’t happen overnight,” he said.

“It requires close attention, planning and consistent preparation to ensure you’re earning institutional support, providing training and communicating with affected employees to allay their fears of change in their careers.”

Changing the jobs landscape

Automation can be used to make certain jobs much easier, from reducing paperwork to streamlining applications. However, there has long been a hesitancy and a worry around automation and digital transformation in terms of how these will change the jobs landscape.

According to a report from Forrester at the start of this year, around a third of jobs across Europe could be at risk from the rise of automation and 12m jobs will be lost across five European countries by 2040.

‘A bot is no stand-in for the innovation, creativity, adaptiveness and human connection of a person’

But Kerins said these fears don’t tell the real story. “There might be specific tasks that get taken over as automation becomes more advanced, but history has shown time and time again that the jobs market and workforce will evolve to meet these changing demands as people are freed up to do more meaningful, skills-based work,” he said.

“Think of any common automation tool we use these days, like marketing or sales automation software. Account managers and salespeople did not go out of work because of these things; instead, their roles changed, and their productivity skyrocketed.

“Moreover, these modern technologies create skills gaps that need highly skilled personnel to maintain and use them. At the end of the day, I think we should always remind ourselves that there are some things that robots simply cannot do. A bot is no stand-in for the innovation, creativity, adaptiveness and human connection of a person.”

The future of digital transformation

We’re in the midst of a digital transformation wave following the acceleration of technology tools and automation during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Kerins said businesses are now moving into “a second phase” of transformation, where new functionality and systems are being built to deliver faster services to the public.

“The other [trend] will be a renewed focus on interoperability. We have seen this in the work we have been doing into vaccination systems, the technology will increasingly change to reflect and facilitate the human connection and cooperation that gets things done,” he said.

“Platforms, coding languages, APIs and data connectors will be the greatest tools we have to develop systems that deliver incredible results, no matter your location or country.”

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Jenny Darmody is the editor of Silicon Republic