Automation and Customer Experience

Peter Schooff: Hello, this is Peter Schooff, managing editor of And once again, I am very pleased to be speaking with Neil Ward-Dutton. He's the director of MWD Advisors and one of the keynote speakers at the upcoming bpmNEXT. Neil is one of Europe's leading enterprise technology advisors and researchers and he has a long history with BPM, as I'm sure you're all aware. In this podcast, we're going to discuss what this next wave of automation means for companies today. And that's also what he's going to be speaking about at bpmNEXT.

So Neil, I'm so pleased to have you on another podcast.

Neil Ward-Dutton: Oh, it's a pleasure to be here as always.

Peter Schooff: So one of my favorite things at bpmNEXT is your keynote kickoff speeches that you've been giving regularly, sort of an update on current business technology. So what are you going to be speaking about at this next bpmNEXT?

Neil Ward-Dutton: Yeah, so this year really is like a continuation from the last two years. And over the last two years at the event, I've talked to the attendees about how new technologies are entering the automation landscape and how this is changing people's expectations about what tools and platforms should be able to do.

And this year, I'm just taking it a step further really. And the title of the talk is A New Architecture for Automation. And really, this is pulling together really findings from a number of conversations and consulting engagements we've done. Which are really all about answering a question that we get asked over and over again which is there's all these automation options, right? So everybody's talking about RPA right now but then we've got AI technologies. We've got decision management and case management and BPM and yadda yadda yadda. How does it all fit together, right? When should I use one or the other, right? Does one substitute for the other? What are the best ways for me to look for ways to put all this together?

So we've been doing a fair amount of work over the last year trying to help clients work through this question. And that's really what I'm going to be talking about is helping people figure out what the landscape looks like and how these things in practice really do add value to each other and where they kind of cross over. So that's what I'll be talking about.

Peter Schooff: Excellent. Now one of the first things you brought up was automation. That's still pretty much on most businesses' radar. Do you see this automation affecting most businesses in the near future?

Neil Ward-Dutton: Well, yeah. And I suppose it's just zooming out a bit, it's important to realize that automation has been part of almost all industries and all businesses for decades really. But what's been happening, of course, is the scope of that automation and its focus has been changing. So for many decades it was manufacturing and industries like that where of course we had automation in the core processes. But what we're now finding is organizations are really embracing automation throughout the front office and the back office, in management and support processes.

So whether that's processes that are all around compliance or around finance and accounting or around customer onboarding or account servicing or supplier onboarding or supply management. You know, all of these things which are they're not the core of the value stream of the enterprise but they're all the stuff around the edges. That's now being subjective to new scrutiny around how we can automate.

So it's really ... Automation is going to continue to impact organizations across industries. And what we're really seeing is it's not that this is new, it's just about new approaches. It's about new licensing models. And particularly, tools that are now easier to use. And that really is opening up more opportunities to automate cost effectively. And of course, that's always what it comes down to, right? We can always try and automate many things but does it make sense? Does the cost benefit really make sense? And what we're seeing is that equation is starting to tip in an awful lot of scenarios.

Peter Schooff: Interesting. And where would you say customer expectation fits in in all this?

Neil Ward-Dutton: Well, it's something that is really, I think, moving up the priority list in terms of the driver. So if you think about a kind of like automation agenda that organizations might set themselves. They may not explicitly call it that but a more formal thinking about, we really need to automate more of our business.

What we're seeing is that oftentimes that starts out as a thought that is all around efficiency. Of course, how can we do more for less? Or alternatively, how can we scale our business without necessarily scaling our workforce at the same rate? It oftentimes starts out with that kind of lens. But very quickly, it also expands to take in questions around customer expectations and customer experience. And also, as a side note, compliance.

But let's focus on your question, around customer expectation. Really, what this comes down to is changing landscape. Whether we're looking at financial services, retail, utilities, travel and transportation, logistics, all of this, wide variety of industries. We're finding that expectations that customers have really spill over from the expectations they're now very used to having through dealing with very mainstream online brands which are ... Whether we're talking about Amazon or Apple or Uber, or any one of these other brands. They stand for, among other things, transparency and immediacy. It's about getting information, getting service, getting a result very, very quickly. And it's about doing that across all kinds of contexts. And this really educates us all in a subconscious way to really expect that kind of transparency and immediacy wherever we turn.

And so, there's a premium attached to any business, really, that can deliver in line with those expectations. And what we've finding is organizations, like I say, whether it's in banking or retail or insurance or wherever it might be. We're seeing that organizations are realizing that it's not enough just to focus on the kind of shiny front end of the way their business looks but to really look at how that joins up with all the operations that make the engine really run internally.

Because unless you're really making those links and doing it effectively, you're going to end up with broken experiences. This new drive for automation really is a trickle down effect of the huge interest we've seen in customer experience improvement over the last three or four years.

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Peter Schooff