Naga City for the Foodies

My recent trip to Naga City was a pleasant surprise. I will not dwell on the fact that Naga City is an up and coming BPO location with three IT parks – the Naga City IT Park, the Camarines Sur Industrial and Technological Park and the Naga City Technology Center. Instead, I’d like to comment on the cuisine and the pasalubong (i.e., presents, usually food items) shopping.

Pasalubong shopping in Naga City

There were, somewhat surprisingly, many restaurants and cafes that offered flavorful and affordable fare – such as Red Platter, The Coffee Table or Woodstone Kitchen. We managed to try the Bicol Express, the pinangat, and the roast pork. A good friend mentioned that we shouldn’t leave without trying the toasted siopao and the chicken mami but we weren’t sure where to go. (Maybe next visit?)

The quality and variety of pasalubong items that one can bring home to friends and family was fabulous! In the featured photo to this post, there is the Heritage Collection Mazapan with a variety of flavors and the Cream Cheese Brownies. These products are really creative, well thought out and comes in very attractive packaging. This is a far cry from what I had expected to find.

I wish we brought home 3-4 more boxes of the Mazapan…..

Foodie trip_01

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Are you ready to meet your robot?

SGV hosted the EY Round Table on Intelligent Automation this week. The forum featured the Department of Science and Technology’s perspective on the latest global trends presented by the eminent Dr. Carlos Primo David, Executive Director of the country’s Innovation Council.  There was also a heavy focus on Robotic Process Automation or RPA.

There’s good news and there’s bad news.

The bad news is that the concerns raised during the Round Table demonstrate that most Philippines-based companies have really just started exploring or, at best, beginning to implement their Robotic Process Automation(RPA) initiatives. This at a time when Bloomberg reports that the old boys club of bond jockeys, derivatives traders and stock pickers in Wall Street are already being steadily replaced by robots, oftentimes with components of predictive analytics, machine learning, and natural language processing. Indeed, there’s a growing consensus that intelligent automation (i.e., automation with some artificial intelligence) may be the next game changer in financial services and the presents a viable foot-in-the door for many emerging fintech companies.

Robots Are Coming for These Wall Street Jobs

Nevertheless, amidst the success of a few companies globally, a whole lot more of RPA programs are stillborn.  There has been a lot of hype from technology solutions providers that led to over promises and under delivery. Forrester’s Craig Le Clair notes that the early enthusiasm for RPA has led to ” a tapping of the brakes due to infrastructure, business and operations concerns.” Nonetheless, there have been valuable lessons that first movers are learning from quickly.

The good news is that second movers – like Philippine companies – can also benefit by avoiding the landmines that have recently come to light.

Some limitations of RPA

RPA represents significant, if not revolutionary, process innovation but we need to be aware of its limitations at its core, i.e., without the turbo power of AI. It is easy to be beguiled by the power of AI but when we start off on the journey, it is almost always on projects that require only straightforward RPA minus the bells and whistles.

So what do we need to be aware of on day one?

Robots do not understand data

Robots do not understand the underlying data of a transaction the way that human processors do.   It is indeed useful that in many instances, they do not have to – they only need to understand how to execute the process. (In processing an invoice, a robot will not understand that we have bought party favors for the office Halloween get together – which will bring a smile to the human processor. Or that we bought an automated sorting machine that will replace Manong Jose in the Warehousing Department – which will make the human processor skip a heartbeat. The robot will merely systematically sort each invoice according to its amount and product/service category and route it to the authorized approver.)

This raises a key question that needs to be asked before we apply RPA to a process: Does this process require an understanding of data on top of an understanding of process? If the answer is yes, tread carefully.

The typical way that robots manage to navigate a data-rich or information-rich process context is by substituting the need to understand the data with an (often complex) set of decision rules that will guide its processing sequence. The capability required thus is the ability to build those complex rules and to maintain them over time. This can be a big challenge in a dynamic environment and can have significant implications on the size of the RPA support teams required.

 Robots are only as good as the underlying process

The innovation that RPA brings into process automation is the ability to reach into any given user interface – effectively allowing software to drive software within procedural or rules-based processes. This means, though, that the robot is only as good as the underlying process. It almost always introduces massive efficiency but does not enhance the process in any other way.

Some companies derive a false sense of security, believing that robots do not commit errors. This is true only in the narrow sense that a robot will execute a process perfectly as designed – even if the design is flawed. If points of failure exist in the process today, the points of failure will remain. The likelihood that errors creeping into a process will remain unchecked increases exponentially unless the point of failure can be mitigated.

There is often an inordinate rush to implement RPAs to resolve growing bottlenecks in operations and to relieve delivery teams from their daily stress points. The haste will unfortunately lead to much waste unless an end-to-end process review review precedes the introduction of RPA. This should be strictly adhered to as part of RPA governance.

Robots are not a panacea

While different RPA software offer a variety of functionalities on top of the core robotics capability, all are designed to take on manual, routine, repetitive and high-volume tasks. This creates a tempting proposition of trying to apply RPA to all tedious, manual work. An old adage says that if your only tool is a hammer, you tend to view all your problems like a nail.

The end-to-end process review should provide a better view of the automation that fits the requirements and is another reason why this step should precede a decision to employ RPA. Some of the likely  misapplications of the technology include:

  • Downstream manual processing results from upstream data capture errors: Is it better to use digitization technology upstream instead of RPA downstream?
  • Non-integrated applications in the process: Is there an ESB  that can perform the export, transport and load (ETL) function? Alternatively, do we use an API to connect the systems instead of creating an RPA overlay?
  • Downstream data consolidation and reporting from multiple systems: Do we use desktop automation tools such as Open Span instead of an RPA tool?

Organizing for RPA

There has been much speculation lately that BPO jobs are at risk. The consensus within the IBPAP is that the transition from a human workforce to robots is inevitable for much of the lower value work that we handle, although there is little clarity on the possible timelines. The best time to get started, of course, is now. Mary Beth Jameson of RSM Consulting (RT & Co. in the Philippines) provides some guidance for mid-sized companies seeking to get started with RPA on the right foot.

Five guidelines to get started by RSM Consulting

In addition to these guidelines, let me add a few more:

  • Getting the most bang for the buck

A process with fully digitized inputs will enable seamless automation and optimize the reduction of manual work. Conversely, if not all the process inputs are digitized beforehand, the upside potential for workforce reduction is limited.

In turn, full digitization requires that the minimum upstream controls should be in place. Otherwise, it represents an enticing invitation to fraudsters to test their mettle.

  • Robots on the loose is dangerous

Forrester Research observes that RPA Management and Governance is typically an afterthought even though it should be a primary concern for the enterprise embarking on automation. The company rightly points out that governance should be anticipating the time when human process knowledge has all but disappeared as this knowledge is programmed into a robot.

  • Managers shouldn’t play the blame game

Managers should avoid the temptation of forcibly squeezing out the targeted FTE saves for any particular automation initiative – in the process making compromised control points more likely. Be mindful not to take the process owners and the transformation team to task in the instances where the original efficiency targets need to give way to more pragmatic and realistic targets. When we view automation as a program, the over and under-achievement of targets will tend to wash out over time.

One of the biggest mistakes you can make is to prescribe RPA as a panacea for an organization’s problems. The solutions that an organization adopts depends as much on the nature of the problem as the existing strengths of the organization.

Is RPA right for you?

Robotic Process Automation 2708x283

I’d be happy to hear your thoughts.

Digitizing the P2P Process to Create Process Intelligence and Better Customer Experience (Part 1)

This is the first of three posts on the Functional Fast Track session that I conducted at the 21st Annual North American Shared Services and Outsourcing Week.

March 8, 2017, Lowes Royal Pacific, Orlando, Florida

Introduction

I have been involved in many transformation projects and have found a niche as a Business Process Management (BPM) professional. Wearing this hat, I have viewed P2P as an area that’s ripe for the introduction of some BPM practices. In the past, the BPM principles were applied almost exclusively to core business processes. The global trend towards digitization brings with it an excellent opportunity for the application of BPM techniques to P2P.

Many procurement or finance professionals are either planning or may have already started a digitization program for their P2P process. Having seen how the digital revolution is disrupting the way business is done across many industries, executives want to be on the front foot as the changes filter into the procurement world. Some may have lingering doubts about rushing with the digitization herd. After all, process improvement fads seem to bring their own set of problems as the “war stories” of many of our managers can attest.

In this post, we will tackle how to look inward at our P2P process, choose the internal information to track for greater process efficiency and, hopefully, bring us closer to the holy grail of customer centricity.

What digitization entails

The best opportunity to digitize data happens with the roll-out of a new P2P system. However, a full ERP implementation that covers the entire P2P cycle takes years of planning and execution and is not a commonplace project. Further for many Asian organizations, the reality is that manual processes endure either because of more pressing budget priorities or a lack of time and people to tackle a full automation project.

Happily, digitization is not the same as business process automation. You can achieve meaningful digitization, say, by the creation of electronic forms to receive transaction data without significantly affecting the pre-existing manual workflow.  After all, the idea is merely to convert process and transaction details – whether originally in text, pictures, or sound – into a digital form that can subsequently be processed by a computer for further analysis.

I also use the term digitization to refer to a new ability to tap into previously inaccessible information, perhaps, in some obscure legacy database. I use the term in this liberal sense because we are essentially drawing upon the same principle of enabling data analytics.

There are many other initiatives where digitization may occur:

  1. Earlier, I mentioned the creation of electronic forms to replace physical documents as an example of a pure digitization play. E-forms will typically be dialog boxes in a web-based user interface although we are seeing more and more mobile-phone based interfaces.
  2. Expanding on the concept of e-forms, Vendor Management Portals digitize transactions and other information about the vendor relationship. Vendor Portals also allow self-service for tasks that normally require interaction between a vendor and the company.
  3. In recent times, there’s been a lot of discussion on Robotic Process Automation (or RPA) which together with other desktop productivity tools (like Open Span) provide the ability for screen scraping, copying and pasting, or sometimes even tracking cycle times and volumes;
  4. Reporting software can now combine and connect information from multiple data sources. This will include business intelligence visualization tools such as Tableau or SAP Crystal Reports;
  5. There is an impressive selection of interim options for affordable, off-the-shelf procurement software while we wait for the full implementation of that big ERP project. Many of these applications are now offered as a cloud-based service, and on pay as you go terms, thus avoiding the need for any capital expenditure.
  6. Lastly, electronic invoicing services. This has not reached the Philippine market but I understand that in the USA there are already over 30 service providers.

What can digitization offer?

As you embark on that digitization initiative, the project team should agree on what needs to be achieved. The low-hanging fruit is obvious – to be able to ditch the paper clutter and to simplify documents archiving and retrieval. Beyond this, what else can digitization offer?

Digitization 3.jpg

  1. Creating insight. Digitization offers a chance to create a “single source” of information reflecting an end-to-end view for all the process users. This is powerful because process owners can then easily identify who is performing a particular task, how often, and with whom, as well as delve into the corresponding response and throughput times. A process owner signs up for a prospective digitization project looking for answers to his most pressing questions such as “How can process logjams be prevented?”
  2. Target more effective compliance and control. Digitization also offers an opportunity to optimize controls available in a new system. Discover how to switch these controls on – ranging from validation checks to computer-assisted filters to dashboard warning lights. One easy example of automation-assisted control is using digitized invoice information to identify duplicate invoices or duplicate reimbursement submissions, replacing otherwise tedious and error-prone manual tasks.

Many systems now allow conditional controls including flexible approval processes that enhance process compliance without extending cycle times. By this we eliminate the restrictions that limit the purchasing team’s ability to secure the best price on products and services.

Thirdly, the digitization of information is increasingly crucial for regulatory compliance.  For instance, the US Department of Treasury’s Office of Asset Control requires that all payments be checked against its Specially Designated Nationals list. This is especially burdensome if not chancy if performed manually.

  1. Attaining efficiency. Digitized information offers opportunities for automated routines. With process map on hand, we can configure our applications to enable auto-create and auto-populate functions.  This will apply to tasks like PO creation which can be based on either the PRs or some pre-specified Purchase Order preferences.  Another example is enabling automated accruals for items received but not invoiced.

Automatic warning signals can also be used to avoid lost cash discounts. With suppliers getting increasingly meticulous about rejecting discount claims after the discount date, a fail-safe, automatic flag before the last day can spell a big difference.

Manual tasks often mean processing the same information multiple times. We can avoid a lot of that rework by digitized data capture at the outset. For instance, vendor portals present an opportunity to update vendor contact information otherwise received via a letter or an email. With a trouble-free process, vendors will strive to update their information because they want to get paid promptly – saving the effort to capture the data ourselves. The risk of errors due to transactions mapped against outdated information is also greatly reduced.

The best value from digitization, though, is creating a single, consistent thread of P2P process data emerging from the previously unruly mass of Excel spreadsheets, reporting tools and non-integrated applications that held unusable, untapped or to a large extent duplicative, unreconciled data. This consistency enables cross-referencing, comparing, aggregation, trending, correlation and analysis. The resulting process visibility allows us to figure out conditions or situations that lead to errors and interruptions, where operational gaps and barriers can be removed so that actions and decisions can be made in real time.

  1. Achieving agility. Process awareness enables us to monitor the process trends, gain insight into evolving organizational relationships and uncover avenues for better cooperation. Regular adjustment or modifications in the process activities become the new normal, leading to a permanent optimization loop. An opportunity like dynamic discounting is almost impossible to optimize without the agility that digitized information engenders.

In short, process visibility brings about insight to engage people in the process in the right way for the right tasks at the right time. This is what we mean with the term process intelligence.

Process intelligence

In the next blog post, we will focus on leveraging digitized process performance information in order to harness process intelligence.

The Chief Chaos Monkey of Spring Valley

This is a happy story of Pisay alumni paying forward.

It is always interesting to bump into Jonathan De Luzuriaga. These days he calls himself the Chief Instigator at Spring Valley. I prefer to call him the Chief Chaos Monkey of Spring Valley.

Chaos Monkey

The CCM of Spring Valley

Jonathan recounts that he had been searching the archipelago high and low for that one place where technology and innovation can prosper. As serendipity would have it, he was invited to speak at an ICT-BPM Roadshow in late 2015 in Roxas City in the beautiful island of Panay. As he was sampling the sumptuous seafood, Pueblo de Panay (where the event venue was located) caught Jonathan’s eagle eyes.

Pueblo de Panay, a 500 hectare mixed use township development, is right smack in the middle of the country. There is considerable development in progress but not at a point where injecting urban planning was too late. A convention center, a mall, several hotels and restaurants were present and the land development (roads and bridges) was already in full swing. Could this be the technology mecca that he had been in quest of for two years now?

Jonathan visited the place once more in early 2016 and noticed the upkeep of the venue was very strong. Unlike in the rest of the country where entropy tended to the maximum, there was a strong sense of order in the place. There was another hotel being built and several IT-BPM locators were already interested. Our curious swashbuckler discovered that all of these developments were being funded by just one family-owned organization.

Without skipping a beat, he met with the organization’s leadership and pushed for molding Pueblo de Panay as the Philippines’ answer to Silicon Valley. As it turned out, Jose Nery “Bub” Ong and Victoria Hariette Ong-Banzon – both Philippine Science High School or Pisay alumni – loved the idea. It was a chance for the Pisay-educated siblings to pay forward.

Road Runner

                     Assembling IT luminaries                  (Photo credit: Warner Brothers)

Moving like the Road Runner in that Warner Brothers cartoon, Jonathan sought out the IT industry movers and shakers and soon enough he had convened an impressive assemblage: Karrie Ilagan and Joel Garcia of Microsoft, Angel Redoble of the Philippine Institute of Cyber Security Professionals, Winston Cruz of the PSIA, Alvin Juban of the Game Development of the Philippines, Arup Maity of Spring.ph and BlastAsia, Joey Gurango of Proxor and Gurango Software, Jay Fajardo of Proud Cloud, Launchgarage and Medifi, Earl Valencia formerly of Ideaspace and the ubiquitous Don Felbaum of the American Chamber of Commerce.

Thou shalt break rules and dream

How did Jonathan achieve so much in so little time? I guess everybody loves an audacious idea. Spring Valley’s avowed goal  is to become the melting pot of all the talented technology experts and innovators in the (Asia) region in order to design, develop and deploy game-changing creations and inventions that will help make this world a better place – Asia Pacific’s answer to Silicon Valley!  Jonathan explains the appeal of Spring Valley further, “The mantra of the place is ‘Tech for Good’. Hence, when we educate and upgrade ‘citizens’ of Spring Valley. We also put special emphasis on the values formation. My favorite statement is – If I teach you how to break into the IT security system of the Pentagon, I also want to teach you that IT IS NOT OKAY to break into the IT security system of the Pentagon.”

Follow Spring Valley in LinkedIn

“Instead of thinking of Silicon Valley as this exceptional place, think of it as a result of the world’s biggest experiment—people running away from the rest of the world, strangers with diverse experience and talent  give rise to  a body of culture and invisible rules  and tribes of trust.”

  • Frederick E. Allen quoting venture capitalist Victor W. Hwang

Many cities have tried to be the next Silicon Valley and have failed miserably. Yes, it is important to have a good location but as Victor Hwang declares it is more important to build a tribe of trust, where like-minded people share ideas and not flash NDAs at each other. Jonathan’s parting words to me in our conversation is that he has high hopes that the rest (of Spring Valley’s story) will be history. Or will it?

Before I end, let me explain why I call Jonathan the Chief Chaos Monkey for Spring Valley. The reference comes from a book written by Antonio Garcia Martinez entitled – what else? – Chaos Monkeys. In the book Martinez describes a chimpanzee rampaging through a data center as an analogy for daring technology entrepreneurs disrupting society’s hallowed institutions and practices through an explosion of innovation. Not everyone will like the aftermath but the disruption is all but inevitable. It seems Jonathan is leading the charge for our little corner of the world.

Boot

I find it amusing and eminently apropos that Spring Valley has chosen a local monkey species as the mascot for the company.

I will tackle Jonathan’s high hopes for disruption in a succeeding blog. In the meantime, I am interested in hearing from the readers what they think of Jonathan’s (and  Bub’s and Hariette’s) audacity.

Spring Valley

Struggles of the Morning Man

She’s working a midnight grind

Dressed in white by the dawn’s eerie light

She reaches my cobwebbed mind

She brews us up some coffee

And pulls the covers off me

Morning man, doesn’t take much to wake me

Just you shake your morning man

I’ve been dreaming of how you’ll wake me

Since this endless night began

Rupert-Holmes

Rupert rising to the 5 am skies

I was listening to a collection of old songs and one familiar tune from 1980 struck me. I guess I was listening to the song with a pair of fresh ears, so to speak. That song is called “Morning Man” and was written by the multi-talented Pointing finger Rupert Holmes.

Morning man

This poignant track was penned long before the era of the Philippine call center but it could well have been written for the couples who live under the same roof but in different time zones just because one spouse works in a call center. There’s an almost aching despondency that you hear in the song.  Couples in that distraught situation must feel it every time they kiss hello-goodbye in the morning and in the evening – being together and yet apart.
DSC_0098

Time for work

Companies may call the extra pay they give their employees “night differential” or some similar name. I think I will call that something extra “Morning Man Pay” or “Endless Night Pay”  to remind us better of the trade-off that families make so that one of the spouses can take a graveyard shift in a call center.

When Patrick Pichette retired as CFO of Google, he wrote in a Pointing finger parting memo that he looked forward  to not having to make tough choices and  constant trade offs, especially between business/professional endeavors and family/community anymore. Amen, say the heroic thousands in the graveyard shift.
Maraming salamat, Rupert Holmes.

The Benefits of LBJ’s Homecoming

There was a lot of talk about how the economy of Cleveland would boom with The Homecoming  of the best basketball player of our generation. Business Insider reports that that hasn’t happened yet and may not happen at all (Why LeBron James’ alleged $500 million impact on the Cleveland economy is mostly bunk). Still, the fact that LBJ has a discernible multiplier effect on the Cleveland economy is remarkable.

image

Photo credit: ESPN

If we were to truly measure Lebron’s impact then, his stats will look something like this:

LeBron James Complete NBA 2014-15 Stats

  • Games played – 82
  • Field goals – 26 points
  • Rebounds – 6
  • Steals – 1.4
  • Assists – 8
  • Jobs created – 192
  • Taxes generated –  $ 14.98 million
  • Capital investments committed – $ 110 million

Another homecoming that happened this month is Kevin Garnett’s and his impact will also most likely extend beyond 94×50 feet of the Target Center court. When the news was first announced, Timberwolves ticket sales reportedly jumped 794% and Ticket King for Wolves ticket sales had its busiest day in 10 years!

I guess the challenge for accountants in the new millennium is how to value “intangible” assets such as TALENT in all shapes and forms. Jobs created, taxes paid, etc. are all measurable – so we have a starting point for measurement.

There are lessons for the Philippine Basketball Association too. If the PBA allows more global talent in, can we see the same sort of economic multiplier?  The drivers of the Philippine economy will then be OFW remittances,  outsourcing and offshoring, tourism … and basketball!

Corporate Services Segment Study – Part 8 (Postscript)

postscript

The results of the study were formally presented in 2013 to the Global In-house Centers or GICs that were members of IBPAP. There was unanimous acceptance of the findings although doubts were raised by some organizations present whether the opportunities for collaboration were not limited by the bespoke needs of individual GICs. The commonality in the staff competencies needed perhaps lay only in globally recognized professional qualifications such as those offered by the Chartered Institute for Securities and Investment and the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants. What do you think?

Network 1.jpg

Pointing finger  Preliminary Study for the CSS Industry ICTO (8)