Get Real: Managing in real time is within reach

We talk about decision-making in real time, but in reality, enterprise systems aren't geared for this - yet.  AptumX has both the solution and a low-risk pathway to embedding it in the core of your busine​ss.

There’s plenty of chatter about the increased speed at which business has to operate in today’s world, about the need to change and adapt at pace. It’s a phenomenon that touches every aspect of business activity. Strategic horizons are shorter and strategic objectives change more frequently than ever before. Product life cycles are shorter. Customers demand greater responsiveness. And that’s just thinking about the kind of change we can expect. If the past year has taught us anything, it’s that being able to respond at top speed to unforeseen events isn’t a subject that is limited to case studies at a disaster scenario planning offsite (remember offsites?)

Clearly, the speed at which businesses need to act depends on the action required. At one end of the spectrum, we still usually get a couple of years’ notice of legal and regulatory change (and look at the pain and grief surrounding the UK / EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement for what happens when we don’t). At the other end, there’s this thing called real-time decision making. The types of decision that have to be taken in the here and now: do I apply the brakes as I approach this tight bend? Do we evacuate a site because a fire alarm has gone off? How can we fix a transaction that is bleeding money?

The illusion of real time

The ground is shifting. Changes that in the past could be allowed to take weeks or months are now expected in minutes or hours. And there’s a fundamental problem with this, one that means that, today, many aspects of operating in what’s called “real time” are an illusion. The underlying systems on which data is generated, reports based, measurements made, insights drawn and decisions taken still do what they’ve been doing for the past fifty years. They tell us what happened in the past. The past might be last year, last month, yesterday, an hour ago, and the significance of the elapsed time depends on the nature of the decisions that are being made; but it’s still the past. When data is only available after the event it isn’t real time, no matter how quickly it is delivered.

The production controller in a factory may be able to monitor machine performance in manufacturing facilities across the world in real time and act the moment a problem is highlighted on their screen. Doing so saves time, money and hassle – this is integrated automation. It is what made Toyota successful - see a problem, stop the process and fix it. The downstream effects of even a minor problem are added cost, complexity and bad outcomes for the customer.

But outside the factory most processes are managed manually, and most activities require some level of manual input. Visibility of activity is historical, based on data collected and reported after the event. The result: we throw a lot of analysis software such as process mining at the symptoms of a non-integrated, non-automated business, each one giving a different, incomplete, non-integrated view of what is happening. And if you have to get IT to do something about it, you will likely be talking months to diagnose the requirement, then design, test and implement the solution.

The solution: business automation

One of our customers, a clothing company supplying Australasian customers with product manufactured on contract in China, used the XSOL platform to automate their complete business - all its workflows and data processing. It meant that the information available to management was ‘live’ – what was happening in the business could be seen in real time, not just through historical reporting. One day the CEO noticed that the company’s real-time gross margin had fallen. On querying the system to see why, he could see that goods were late being shipped and so were being sent by air rather than sea, to avoid profit-eating late delivery penalties. He immediately ordered a change to the process, implemented the same day, so that if anyone switched to airfreight he could contact the customer and renegotiate the contract to mitigate the loss. He was able to take decisions in real time – because that was how the system was replicating real-world activity – not yesterday’s history. Losses were minimized while he dug further into the system to figure out what was responsible for the delay. He quickly spotted a problem with their QA process and fixed it.

AptumX: from muddy track to eight-lane highway

This sounds great, but most CEOs will no doubt say that “real world, real time” sounds a million miles away from their current level of sophistication. The good news is that they’re wrong. AptumX’s approach is fundamentally straightforward. We start simple and build. Imagine being on a muddy path and applying gravel to make the going easier. In the same way, AptumX enables you to rapidly apply high level, light touch process orchestration. From that sound foundation, we upgrade the path to a metalled road, progressively automating individual processes and tasks, avoiding the pain and angst normally associated with such migrations through the built-in change management and engagement processes that will leave staff and management actively wanting the improvements, not fighting them. Once you’ve reached this point you will progressively upgrade the road to an eight-lane highway, a fully automated business in a digital twin that replicates, in real time, what is happening in the business. It may, realistically, take a few years to achieve a fully real-time operation but the increase in productivity, innovation and efficiency achieved along the way is usually mouth-watering. That’s continuous change in action.