Prosperity is always driven by technology. No – it isn’t better management, financial management, control of money supply, or any of the things we think we have control over – it’s plain old technological innovation. If innovation stops, a business (or nation) perishes. And so we have witnessed the boom brought on by information technology, and the associated efficiencies which have benefited most businesses. But the old use of IT is starting to look past its sell-by date. Yes there are still efficiencies that can be realised, but they are fewer and fewer.
The past 50 years have seen businesses automate their processes using technology with the simple (often unspoken) aim of displacing labour. If technology could process invoices faster than people then it was used. But we’ve done all that – where to next?
Well the ‘next’ is already with us, it’s just that the vast majority of businesses haven’t caught on yet. Senior management is many large organisations is fixated on the use of technology to improve process efficiency – but the notion of what a process is has become quite limited.
In all businesses there is a whole new class of processes waiting to be automated – and specifically those processes which involve decisions. Loan approval, hospital admission, fraud detection, machine maintenance, customer targeting, employee renumeration – in fact every decision that needs to be made in a business is candidate for some level of automation. As always the financial services industry leads the way, and is automating the decision making processes associated with customer recruitment, product promotion and detecting illegal activity. A new raft of technologies are facilitating these applications, and specifically machine learning, data mining, statistics and predictive analytics.
This is the next big thing – that businesses automate decisions using technologies that are new and innovative. It’s just starting to catch on, with copious amounts of hype coming from the IT industry. Once the hype has died down the real work can begin, and many businesses will see themselves transformed by more accurate and more efficient decision based processes. Unlike the process automation that went before, decision automation improves not only efficiency, but also efficacy. It’s a brave new world and it will reshape commercial activity along with most other areas of life. The slow and the conservative just won’t get it – but then again they never did.