I too am an early adopter – of anything that smoothes the customer journey and delivers added value to my experience. In 1988 I was straight on to the 0345 number when Next Directory launched with a major media campaign. Growing up with a low expectations of remote retail shopping (allowing 28 days for deliver), being able to speak to a knowledgeable customer care team up to 10pm at night and have the items delivered within 48 hours was pure ecstasy. In 1991 it was First Direct that caught my eye. Until that point banks were cold and unwelcoming environments that did little for the customer and had elevated form filling to an art form. Out of nowhere came a call centre that just happened to offer banking services, 24/7, 365 days a year. By 2001 I was running domains and web sites and had shares in Autonomy while our business was consulting for Lastminute and Boo.com (the original).
Unsurprisingly then I have enjoyed the evolution of automation and self-serve in banking, public sector services and even GP surgery apps, while watching keenly to see when this would offer a cost-effective solution to the exponential growth in customer contact channels driven by smart mobile device ownership and the ubiquity of broadband.
On reading an article on AI recently which discussed the inevitability of domestic BOT ownership, I couldn’t help but see parallels with the challenges faced today by many organisations wishing to adopt and adapt these technologies to the benefit of their business.
In my view, there are 7 stand out areas that need to be addressed:
Where will you store your BOT? Similarly, both physical and virtually, automated systems demand storage. Everyone knows that tech companies have an abhorrence for agreeing among themselves even the most simple of concepts as a universal charger let alone operating systems, protocols and patches. Whether on site or in the cloud, the system will require a coherent solution to storage demands – security of location, bandwidth, ease of access and business continuity – all line items eventually in a cost proposition and associated budget.
There’s no doubt discussion about automation and AI is ‘of the moment’. And one day there will be a conversation in many homes – “well, shall we buy one?” However the adoption of automated solutions and AI in particular by any organisation must be seen in terms of the overall cost to the business financially, in resources (or loss of them) and in terms of the impact on current operations and any degradation of service as automated channels, cognitive or not, are integrated. Bringing AI into the organisation or embarking on a significant programme of automation will need cross-hierarchical buy-in from all stakeholders to succeed.
Maintenance & Management
Whatever BOT you buy for the home, like a car, it will begin to depreciate from day one. Any system that is in constant use requires a great deal of maintenance. Data, software and firmware updates, physical wear and tear on components will require investment in suitably qualified and experienced staff as well as components and replacement kit. These are not simply individuals who can read the manual and keep things ticking over. Data scientists, data journalists as well as executive and senior management who understand the technology will be needed to maintain the value proposition and ROI in automation and AI to the business.
It’s expensive, it needs to be handled with care and ultimately, it needs to be secure especially from hackers. The article I had been reading on AI was pointing out that any system can be hacked and that may lead to unforeseen dangers in the use of domestic BOTs. It sounds a little ‘Doctor Who-esque’ but not all damage needs to be physical. Businesses today already need to protect themselves against the misappropriation of personal data, bank details, passwords and so on as well as the potential for unsolicited intelligence gathering that is no different than all other operational systems connected to the world wide web.
Just like the family car, at some stage the needs of the domestic unit will change and with it the type of BOT that meets their needs. In business, like CRM, and every platform since, there is no such thing as ‘one size fits all’ or a solution that will remain fit for purpose long into the future. Having integrated every channel with some degree of automation and AI, the long term commitment of an organisation to keep on top of further advances in these technologies, associated platforms and added value elements needs to be written into and accommodated by all relevant business plans.
At some point in the future, the ‘face won’t fit’ and the flip side of upgrade is what to do with the old kit. Besides the BOT in the kitchen corner, this may also refer to the automation and AI champion in the business. It might be driven by customer activity that means the monthly licences and maintenance costs for existing systems no longer stack up. Blockchain for example may in time make redundant a brand’s commercial proposition or need for contractual engagement with its customers. Sure, an upgrade programme will help but if customers culturally and practically move on to other platforms and channels that bypass a need for a relationship with this or that business altogether, the expense of running a redundant system, no matter how pretty it is, won’t wash in the board room.
There are other parallels which go way beyond the reach of a blog or short article. Just like in the home, there is the psychological impact on the culture of an organisation where automation and AI makes certain roles and associated work force obsolete. This is a largely ignored yet serious aspect to the adoption of such technology in the work place. Devaluing the employee population is a risk that every business needs to fully explore and resolve to retain specialist knowledge and skills within their organisation. Often these attributes can be overlooked yet are usually irreplaceable and hidden forces that consistently and without notice contribute enormously to the success of the brand. The Governor of the Bank of England recently commented that the challenge collectively for the economy and the country at large was the impact of the speed of adoption. Unlike other evolutions before like the industrial revolution, it will happen over a much shorter period with few opportunities for people to re-skill or find new jobs. That could lead to lost incomes and popular unrest much like the closure of the mines in the 1980’s. It would be interesting to research the correlation today between the slow growth in salaries with the quiet adoption of automation in many sectors.
Like all step changes in technological evolution, there will be good and bad applications. In the workplace I recommend that before a business commits to the significant change that the arrival of comprehensive automation will require, they need to understand where the beating heart of their organisation and culture truly resides before replacing it with a high maintenance battery operated device that may have all the allure of perfection but lack emotional integrity, initiative and warmth – so fundamental to great customer management.