The last few years have seen tremendous growth in the possibilities of digitization in our everyday lives. What was a mere possibility for a sci-fi movie, is now a wish away. This has created a great impact on all aspects of the industry. However, like most revolutions, this has started with confusion more than real impact.
Amazing cases like Zerodha can prove the point that meaningful investment in technology can revolutionize the scene for companies working in non-technical domains. However, many others have failed miserably in this experiment - because of "half-hearted" attempts towards digitization.
Everyone has a vague idea that technology is an integral part of the future. They want to invest in it to ensure they are ahead of the competition. At the same time, the mindset prevents them from taking real, educated steps in that direction. Most of the CEOs and CTOs are under pressure to digitize their operations, reduce costs, and improve throughput - by using the latest technologies. However, they are clueless about how that could happen.
In these circumstances, they end up with a slogan - "Just do something, but don't spend much". Unfortunately, it leads them to half-hearted experiments that fail in no time. Moreover, a lot of this "do something" is focused on doing what everyone else is doing. In fact, nobody cares to face the fact that "everyone" is doing it because "everyone else" is doing it!
Very few have the confidence to understand that "my problem is different from theirs - so my solution has to be different". Very few have the courage to walk on the conviction that you can not lead by following others!
Well, we all know the problem. Nobody makes deliberate uneducated guesses. The root of the problem is that the world is changing so fast that nobody has the time to educate themselves. We cannot expect all the CEOs and CTOs to go back to CS101! That is not the way out.
However, it is important that people understand the potential of digitization. If we understand the scale of ROI that is possible, with such an investment. Once we understand the magnitude of returns, our mindset falls in line without a problem.
Foremost, understand that you are different from the rest of the world, your business is different from the rest of the world, your market is different from the rest of the world, your processes are different from the rest of the world - naturally, your problems are different from the rest of the world, and their solution has to be different from them.
Spend some time on understanding your problem, and try to solve that - not by imitating what the world is doing.
Your business is unique, and you need a unique process and a unique automation for it. Put in some effort on defining it formally and understanding what steps can be automated.
A lot of half-hearted automation requires an operator to run it. A lot of people end up automating the work of a blue-collar and then have to employ a white-collar to manage that automation. Such automation only increases the cost, without any meaningful gain in the throughput.
This happens when we just imitate others, in deploying generic solutions to your business. This is a result of the half-hearted, uneducated hurried decision to "do something". A generic solution can never solve specific problems.
Work with the specific problems in mind, and deploy solutions that will solve them. When you solve specific problems, you get complete solutions that can really reduce your workforce, freeing them for better, more productive tasks.
When we think of digitization as a cost, when we do it for the heck of it, we tend to make blind guesses. If we look at it as a cost rather than an investment, a lot of our decisions are naturally focused on reducing the cost.
The costliest is certainly not the best. Nor is it the cheapest. When we make an educated decision, it has to be based on the expected return on the investment, not on the cost. That can happen only when we understand that we are investing to get an improved throughput - not just spending to reduce the effort.
Technology provides many different opportunities for automation and digitization. The most quoted example is Generative AI. A significant part of your effort is spent on documentation and communication. We all know that LLMs like ChatGPT can help us with this. However, it makes no sense if we subscribe to the low-cost bot, and then recruit a prompt engineer to make meaningful use of the LLM. Automation is meaningful only if it happens with minimal or no human intervention.
If the system can sense the need for an email and generate it without any elaborate prompts, that is real automation. Such investment will have a good ROI. Else, it is only a waste of time and money.
Sensors, IoT, AI... these technologies have immense potential, only if used meaningfully. Otherwise, they will only add to your complexity and running costs.
Generative AI, IoT, etc have brought in amazing possibilities. We have all heard about them. However, the industry today has a lot to catch up. Without setting up the basics, we can never dream of getting to the peak. And that is the reason, a lot of us are too scared of moving forward.
Based on my experience with the industry, here is a basic list of initiatives that everyone must take - to enable elegant and error-free processes. Very simple, low-cost setup that can help you scale up several times, reducing dependency on individuals.
For a simple example, consider this. Every business works on communication among individuals. Any activity is based on changing decisions that get communicated across layers and verticals. When we have too many communications, and messages going to and forth, it naturally leads to confusion, and loss of revenue, followed by ugly blame games. Every business has seen this.
The root cause is that they do not have a clear, visible final decision. It is very easy to miss emails, WhatsApp chats, or phone calls. A low-cost mobile app for the business can easily address such a problem. The final decision on any active task can easily flash on the screen, instead of expecting the user to dig into generic, noisy communication modes. The information remains secure, visible only to those who need to see it.
This does not require extreme investment, It does not require costly technologies, however, the return on such investment is amazing clarity in the business process.
Every business has an immense potential for digitization. We just have to identify critical areas and work on them. As we saw, a generic approach will never pay off in such cases. You need to introspect and identify what is going to work for you.