Mrs. Sprat, the AI. Is it time for us to fatten up our lean thinking?

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“Jack Sprat could eat no fat. His wife could eat no lean.” Or so the English nursery rhyme goes. What can this allegorical tale from the seventeenth century teach us about business today, specifically in terms of how we design processes?

Lean Thinking is about ensuring people work in the most efficient way. It focuses on achieving targeted outcomes and cutting out waste in the process. It’s based on the principle that humans have limited capacity to get tasks done (and we are an expensive resource), so we need to streamline how we work.

A taste for more

I think we’ve become so accustomed to this stripped-back diet that maybe we’ve forgotten some of the good things we used to enjoy. We’ve accepted that a lower level of service and a less personal experience is just the modern way. By making our processes lean, some of our outcomes have lacked substance too.

But as we start to design processes for robots, rather than humans, perhaps some of those past indulgences can be brought back on the menu. Because robots can do more things, far quicker, and at a fraction of the cost, there could be an opportunity to add more steps into our operations. We could return to the days of richer processes that leave customers more fulfilled, while still adding value to overall business outcomes.

Adopting a balanced diet

As Intelligent Automation grows within the workplace, we’ll start to see a mix of processes emerge: lean processes for humans, more complex processes done by robots, and some that are designed around both. This will allow organizations to invest in new opportunities and explore new business avenues that were previously off-limits due to capacity and resource constraints.

For example, in the IT space, we recently looked at new approaches to cybersecurity that are helping to slow out-of-control spending on threat prevention. This is an area that can’t afford to be lean and where corners can’t be cut—and Intelligent Automation is addressing the unsustainability of human-led strategies. When the expertise of security professionals is combined with intelligent systems that can process thousands of threats in real time, businesses will have more confidence in their security strategy and consider new IoT deployments or mobile investments in a new light.

Feeding it across the business

It will be interesting to see if this change in IT process will also start to happen in traditional business functions.

Take the example of customer collections. It’s quite expensive for humans to monitor customers and make informed collection decisions. The process often relies on paid-for insights from credit agencies—and the level of bad debt that it typically identifies isn’t always worth the outlay.

But with the wealth of data available online and through social media, it’s now possible to analyze risk in-house using robots—giving businesses a quick and affordable way to make sensible judgements on where to focus collection. This could include a split-testing approach, whereby you adopt a tailored strategy based on audience segmentation. You might even drill down to an individual level, analyzing personal data on employment, health and purchase history to estimate the effort required.

Using Intelligent Automation as a complement to established lean processes will very likely change some of the fundamental ways we do business. I think it will help us re-orient our “cost-out” mentality to one that’s more about “value-in.” If robots offer the capacity for us to do more at less cost, then let’s embrace that opportunity. If Mrs Sprat can bring more to the table, then let’s welcome her to the party.

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