Shortly before the above report was published (2011, to be exact), Walter Isaacson quoted Steve Jobs as saying: “The best way to predict the future is to invent it.”
We’ve now been through a full decade’s worth of admonitions that business processes need to “go digital”. The latter half of the 2010s saw CIOs and process owners everywhere investing – heavily – in RPA software and other automation initiatives to encode (digitally) the rote-and-repetitive work processes of their old, legacy processes. That work continues – and is, rightfully, accelerating.
But how many of us know, intuitively, when we confront a defective process, a bad process, a frustrating process, a blood-pressure raising process, a process involving an equally frustrated, forlorn customer service rep who apologetically, knowingly will quietly admit “we know it’s FUBAR too”. All the while, some so-called “smart IVR” technology is coldly (and accurately) identifying that your voice is “an octave above normative range, indicating agitation and high potential for churn.”
Not good. “High potential for churn”? Not a word any COO wants to hear. Bad for business. Crippling, actually.
Which is why it’s high time -- and for seemingly the 11-millionth time – we need to seriously (and I mean for real) talk about the need to recode the process genome.
For this reason, Walter Isaacson’s excellent new book The Code Breaker is so timely. As he’s done with other innovative thinkers like Steve Jobs and Leonardo DaVinci (and literally writing the book: “The Innovators”), Isaacson turns his gaze to Jennifer Doudna, co-winner of the 2020 Nobel Prize for Chemistry for her work at UC Berkeley (along with Emmanuelle Charpentier at the Max Planck Institute in Berlin) in unlocking the key to CRISPR gene editing technology.
Isaacson’s book isn’t just a great read (in full disclosure, I experienced it as a great listen, on Audible), it might spur all of us to urgently think, in new ways, about breaking the existing bad code on just about everything. And also considering the ethics of why it might be a good (nay, great) idea in some circumstances, but a terrible idea in others. (Just because you can, it doesn’t mean you should...).
This brings us to the question for businesses: Why can’t we have something like a “CRISPR” to fix bad processes? Imagine the octave-inducing, knuckle curling experiences I described above: What if with one or more “flags” (in something like the form of Yelp reviews) from customers, suppliers, partners, or employees (or, indeed, “things” – sensors, telemetry, etc.) it marked out or indicated defective, or malfunctioning process flows. Easy, right? And then with some simple steps, state of the art technologies could then effectively “re-code” the process on the fly to fix it, reimagine it, re-wire it, and replicate it – at scale, quickly – to effectively fix, once and for all, the vexing deficiencies. Not so easy... Or is it? Or could it be? Why not?
According to Gartner, “So far, most digitalization in business has involved digital enablement of the supporting processes of businesses, but not the core ‘DNA’.” We’ve already talked about the work (and work ahead) for RPA initiatives. But it’s important to note that RPA speeds up existing “as-is” processes and doesn’t change the process DNA. Real change — digital change — means not just automating processes but using digital change to totally obliterate legacy sub-processes that get in the way of re-thinking better ways of work.
More recently, one of the most important pre-automation decisions you can make is to use a process mining tools (e.g., Celonis, QPR, ABBYY, etc.) as a “a “plumb bob” of sorts that brings coherence to all interactions for a given process. Additionally, these tools can help ensure achievement of straight-through processing, interaction history and necessary context for process interactions with people, places and things.
By capturing how work happens, including who did it, how long it takes and any deviations from average, process mining ruthlessly exposes bottlenecks, non-compliant paths and other impediments often unseen. Moreover, we’re beginning to see an incipient re-coding (literally) of process genomes pivoting around low to no-code tools that can quickly create and scale experiences that satisfy (and maybe delight) all process constituents. With technology central to almost every aspect of business, this is about looking for the next “positive deviation” versus “the way we’ve always done it.”
Are we getting closer to process-level CRISPR? Perhaps, but as a favorite saying of the CFoW goes, “Don’t over-egg the pudding”.
But still: maybe it’s not “the machines” alone that crack the code. Far from it. It’ll be about people USING machines. Like my example of “flagging” the trouble spots above, humans, and their ability to fix stuff, tinker with it, reinvent it... improve it (a la Doudna and Co.), that’s where we might just be on to something. And, what’s more, it’ll be people and PEOPLE. Imagine my above example of the octave-raised customer, and the forlorn agent on the receiving end; what if, together, at the moment of truth, both knowing something is badly malfunctioning in the process or just plain wrong, could meaningfully “flag-it-and-fix it”? Why can't we simply recode the process? Why can't we do it this month? This day? This minute?
Why can't we CRISPR-it?
You may say I’m quixotically tilting at windmills. But as we’ve long maintained, before it can be built, it has to be dreamt. One of the biggest takeaways from Doudna’s work on CRISPR is her insistence on the power of the team to get great things done (vividly illustrated by her “take the hill” leadership of a full team pivot into COVID-19).
For these reasons, it’s worth noting that one of Isaacson’s quotes in The Code Breaker invokes Steve Jobs: “I once asked Steve Jobs what his best product was, thinking he would say the Macintosh or the iPhone. Instead, he said that creating great products is important, but what’s even more important is creating a team that can continually make such products.”
Get the teams of process owner and solutions architects working on recoding the process genome -- stat. If you need help, call Jennifer Doudna (or at least read, or listen, to Walter Isaacson’s terrific new book) over in Berkeley. Because of Doudna, the real CRISPR needn’t be dreamt. It, and the future, already exists – today.