In this series of articles, we have been developing the concept of the frictionless enterprise, in which processes and people are seamlessly and intelligently connected, as and when needed.
In this article we consider typical instances of friction in an organization, and looks at ways in which they can be smoothed away in preparation for a new, seamless, digital business environment.
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Friction – examples
Where can sources of friction typically be found in an enterprise? Here are some examples:
- Fragmentation – this is where something that started as one major function has divided into a series of related activities, not all of which are harmonized
- Poor data quality – in a world in which we’re moving towards the Frictionless Enterprise, the integrity of the data on which the enterprise is built is even more crucial. If it’s not robust, everything falls apart
- Silos – this is fragmentation, but on a macro scale. Major functions build walls around themselves and become citadels within an organization. Entire organizations within a global enterprise might do this, too
- Broken processes – this is also fragmentation, but on a micro scale. Individual routines simply don’t work as they should. They’re not fit for purpose
- Shadow IT – where parts of the organization have broken away and done their own thing. Perhaps they grew tired of waiting for sign-off on a new system, not realizing the delay was because central IT was planning something enterprise-wide – and now this has created a mismatch
- Technical debt – this is the consequence of choosing a quick fix over something that would be better in the long term. Let’s say a workaround is already in place, but it’s slow – so you streamline it by introducing an extra tool. The immediate problem is solved, the original patched-up workaround is still in place – and now it has layers
- Onion effect – layers again. In fact, layers upon layers, often blurring any clarity the system core may once have had
- Inertia – the continuation or repetition of an approach that is inadequate, purely because it’s the norm – “we’ve always done it this way”
- Inconsistency – both between processes, and within them. There is no unified logic, no single source of truth.
Willpower, vision – and a plan
That’s quite a list, you’ll agree. Addressing it requires a fair degree of honesty. Before anything can happen, organizations need to acknowledge the presence of problems such as these, and that isn’t always easy – which is why many of these cans have been kicked down the road for so many years.
Maybe the COVID-19 pandemic will finally give us the impetus we need to bend down and pick up these cans. The health crisis has shown us that we can undertake massive change, putting all our doubts to one side and acting quickly and effectively. Tackling these sources of friction demands a similar mindset, a similar can-do attitude. Yes, it will be difficult, and sure, it will cost, but the benefits will be massively significant. In some senses, it is the only way to become a true digital business.
It’s not just about willpower, though. What’s also needed is a vision and a plan. The vision is of the new digital core of the enterprise, in which main functions are defined, and safeguarded, and developed using a comprehensive, and consistent, and flexible digital architecture. As organizations launch themselves into this major refresh, it’s easy to be sidetracked by the issues that arise. It’s the vision that keeps things on track.
That’s the vision. The plan that accompanies it needs to be systematic and structured. Capgemini’s platform to deliver on the frictionless vision is the Digital Global Enterprise Model (D-GEM), which encompasses the tools and techniques for reshaping and streamlining processes. The enterprise clients with whom we work have found considerable success with it.
When organizations are assessing the many sources of friction I outlined above, they will be looking at many ways in which they can be addressed. The boldest course of action is likely to be to remove that sticking point altogether – to eliminate it. It’s a move that takes real bravery, because it’s disrupting the norm. It’s a trade-off: on the upside, it’s forcing you to innovate; but on the downside, it may go irrevocably wrong.
The digital twin
Fortunately, as Bing Crosby’s old song says, there’s a way to accentuate the positive and, well, eliminate the negative – and that’s to make use of a digital twin. As my colleague Marek Sowa explains in another article in this series, a digital twin is a comprehensive model of operations that can be explored offline. It’s a great way to find all those sources of friction, and to develop a strategy that simultaneously removes them, while building a new and consistent digital core (read my paper “Digital twins for business operations“ for an in-depth look at the digital twin).
So, what if eliminating a problem causes another, greater one, elsewhere in the system? It doesn’t matter: you didn’t break anything in the real world. Instead, you learned something – and you can put that newfound knowledge to good use.
What will emerge from all the vision building, troubleshooting, and scenario testing is a working, virtual model of the new, digital organization – a model that can be rolled out into the real world with a good degree of confidence.
Armed with the virtual models of a frictionless business, the changes can be made with the application of our D-GEM platform. Of course, we do not underestimate the delivery challenge, but when executed well, with the following characteristics, the outcomes are significant:
- Intelligence – real-time operational and predictive insights to speed decision-making
- Workforce – traditional operating models built on people that drive processes are morphing into an AI-augmented workforce, where AI drives the process and harmonizes with employees
- Proximity – breaking down barriers to enable digital integration of customers into a business ecosystem that makes it as simple as possible to transact
- Controls – as cyber security technology evolves; traditional controls are built into and monitored by core processes and infrastructure. This is resulting in enterprises focusing on protecting the most important element of their business – proprietary data. This means they will have greater control over the financial rigor of results, and in particular over sales, working capital, governance, and business continuity
- Technology – the Frictionless Enterprise needs the right technology foundation. It is the enabler that is both a robust foundation but also the means by which continuous innovation is introduced. The technology ecosystem is key to breaking down barriers, streamlining processing, harnessing data, and eliminating exceptions.
Bringing it all together
Today, all established organizations suffer from many of the example frictions. In the other articles in this series, my colleagues explain how we apply frictionless approaches to finance, supply chain, and the digital employee experience. And while each of these functions is unique the ambitions are common.
One thing is clear. If we break down the barriers and create an environment where employees only focus on the tasks that play to their creativity and problem-solving skills, augmenting their ability to process and make decisions, we are creating a workforce with the key skills needed to succeed in business today and tomorrow.
Lee Beardmore has spent over two decades advising clients on the best strategies for technology adoption. More recently, he has been leading the push in AI and intelligent automation for Capgemini’s Business Services. Lee is a computer scientist by education, a technologist at heart, and has a wealth of cross-industry experience.