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Today’s business environment faces growing challenges; supply chain issues, talent shortages, rising transport costs, ever-increasing customer expectations, and a myriad of other issues. These collective challenges lead to different, and sometimes severe, impacts on business. However, we also live in a time where technological advancements are acting as a catalyst for the evolution of ever better and optimised business processes and activities. Relatively early adoption and the continuous pursuit of effective utilisation of technology is often reflected in significant business growth. Technology applications have increased the pace and output of various business activities such as marketing, advertising, sales, and accounting. From internal operations to the external outcomes of activities - from minute processes to large-scale activities - many aspects of modern business demand the use of technology. However, the fundamental concept remains that technology is merely the means and rarely, if ever, the actual solution.
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There is a long-running debate whether project management is an art or a science. The leadership and ‘people’ aspects are akin to an art. In contrast, the approach, and techniques to manage a project are a science often honed and matured through experience.
Irrespective whether it is more of one or the other, project management is today undeniably a core component of every Information Systems (IS) implementation initiative within business organisations.
The cost and complexity of modern-day IS implementations, when assessed against the background of ever tighter corporate budgets, renders the how to implement successfully and why things should be done one way and not another, ever more critical.
Unsurprisingly, the role of the project manager is particularly challenging. To the uninitiated the role may appear to merely require someone who ensures that all that needs to be done is done. Such a blinkered view fails to take into consideration the project management challenges that arise from the:
- Corporate culture.
- Organisational structure.
- Resources available.
- Project team composition.
- Technology available.
Above all, effective project management requires a persistent and factual assessment of the running context against the project’s ultimate objectives. It is a constant juggle between planning, steering, and accomplishing on a day-by-day basis.
Unfortunately, the track record for technology projects has not been as successful as one might expect, and the underlying problem is often the modus operandi with which such initiatives are managed.
The textbook definition of a successful project is often touted as delivering a technology implementation on time and within budget. The onus is unfortunately placed squarely on the technology feature.
However, IS projects are all about the business organisation and less about technology. The primary objective should unfailing be to achieve effective business results, such as improving operational effectiveness, increasing sales, digitalisation or even enhancing overall quality.
The challenge is consequently to successfully implement the project by achieving the defined outcomes in order to render value and benefit to the organisation.
The real measure that a project is successful, therefore, is when it manages to meet, or even exceed, the expectations of the business and all its stakeholders.
We are today living in a time of huge advances in technology, from the ubiquitous smartphone right up to the awesome capabilities of Artificial intelligence (AI) that are revolutionising the business scene.
It is a world of ever more-advanced computing and processing capabilities wrapped within an era of ever astounding technological developments.
Futurists are already predicting a future in which the traditional business organisation will be characterised by a synergy based on interactions between employees and AI-driven machines that exploit knowledge to assist and support operations.
The current decade has been largely characterised by a global pandemic that disrupted quasi-all socio-economic activities with long-lasting implications. By 2022, just as global trade was approaching pre-COVID-19 levels, war in Europe shook the global system of trade – adding to the operational challenges faced by every business organisation.
Every business organisation today faces a myriad of challenges, from supply chain disruptions, rising cost of logistics to a severe shortage of talent; often dubbed as a ‘War for Talent.’
Another pervasive challenge is the need to adhere to an ever-growing compliance requirement, particularly within regulated sectors such as finance, pharmaceuticals, online gaming, and insurance, to mention just a few.
Advances in Artificial Intelligence (AI) and robotics have rendered these two technologies a ubiquitous part of our day-to-day. When combined together they provide business organisations with the specific type of digitisation known as Robotic process Automation (RPA).
RPA is most commonly used to automate repetitive routines within any conventional office environment. Additionally, this very same automation can be enhanced through the use of artificial intelligence so as to augment the learning capabilities of technology.
Business organisations can exploit the power of RPA across three ever-increasing potential categories:
- At its basic, fundamental level, RPA is used to automate routine office assignments, previously carried out through human effort. This basic level of RPA exploits a complex business rules engine which often includes image and character recognition as well as the capability of managing process workflows within and beyond the organisation.
- At the next level, RPA is used to automate and process the handling of exception cases and aspects of the organisation which extend beyond the standard and routine. Such capabilities use a learning-based approach to analyse (unstructured) data and gradually acquire skills and capabilities to process exceptions through cognitive AI.
- The third and highest level of RPA is characterised by advanced AI that not only uses automation of process analysis, but additionally uses complex processing to gain a measured degree of (autonomous) decision-making related to the processes being managed.
Irrespective at which level of RPA an organisation may be operating, the technology broadly delivers a number of crucial benefits:
- RPA provides a business organisation with tangible efficiency through the use of available technology.
- A key feature of RPA is the speed with which all forms of processing and decisions are carried, without any form of traditional human constraints.
- When combined with AI, RPA enhances the quality of service, less prone to human error and with higher reliability.
- Business organisations can start using RPA at a basic level but gradually scale up and find other areas of the business that can benefit from this technology.
When, in the near future, scholars decide to write the annals of the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, there will undoubtedly be a footnote dedicated to the impact of this contagion upon the business world.
Although the technological capabilities to simultaneously operate a business in an onsite and online manner was widely prevalent at that time, various business organisations were still caught unprepared when the inevitable lockdown was declared. In contrast, many others shifted the balance from the physical to an exclusively digital environment in a relatively seamless manner.
In hindsight, today we recognise that the speed with which an organisation can rapidly respond to unexpected circumstances – COVID-19 being just one example – is a direct reflection of the level of inherent digital maturity within the organisation.
Digital maturity is generally defined as the capability and rapidity with which a business organisation recognises, responds, adapts, and potentially even exploits disruptive, ever-changing, market dynamics. It is a planned and holistic strategy towards attaining a dynamic, data-driven, and fundamentally a drive towards a holistic, digital, business environment.
This is a far cry from an ad-hoc, often reactive, approach demonstrated by several organisations when they implement technology solutions as a retrospective, knee-jerk reaction to emergent business challenges.
To attain digital maturity, business organisations need to adapt to an increasingly digital market environment – irrespective of the sector – and take the maximum advantage of digital technologies to improve key pillars within the organisation.
The challenge is to tightly link the business and digital strategies in order to spur organisational change. In this way, the requisite to persistently re-think the business is aligned with the corporate strategies and focused towards developing robust corporate resilience within an ever challenging and tumultuous business environment.
The essential solution is to understand the core business objectives and develop an effective digital strategy and linking it to innovative improvements in operations, clients, employees, and data governance, and underscored by robust technology.
In this respect, digital maturity differs from digital transformation, because it is not a singular drive towards becoming a data-driven organisation as much as a focused initiative towards identifying important opportunities that have the potential to impact on profitability.