To​ Be - or Not To Be

We have to look at describing business the way it really works if we want automation to succeed.

That is the question...

We’re often asked, especially by consultants, how the AptumX Digital Twin handles “as is” and “to be” or “future state” definitions. And it’s a question we’re always happy to be asked, because our answer always gets a reaction: typically mystification, then pushback, then intrigue leading to acceptance and even enthusiastic endorsement.

The answer we give is: “there is no as is or to be. There is only now.”

OK, so we do word it like this somewhat for dramatic effect, but here’s why we do.

Plan to succeed

We’ll start with a few givens. Change needs to be planned, whether it is a minor tweak to a process or a fundamental event such as a restructure, introduction of new software, opening a new location, changing the business model. Planning is more important than ever in the fluid, ever-changing Post-industrial Age. The old adage “fail to plan, plan to fail” still holds true. Planning involves having a view of what you’re working towards. But it also requires an understanding of where you’re starting from. I can’t tell you how to get to Paris until I know that you’re starting from London.

Consulting firms and their clients experience much angst and disagreement about “as is” and “to be” analysis. Typically, business people will be impatient with extensive “as is” analysis: why spend time on a process map that you are going to throw away? Consultants can be accused of over-egging the “as-is”. Sending a team of analysts out around the business to do detailed mapping is a good earner.

Keeping it real

In our book, the problem isn’t with capturing an understanding of how things work. It’s with every aspect of how this is done. Commonly the outcome is a detailed, multi-level process analysis that provides a conceptual representation of the business, whereas what’s needed is the replication of what actually happens in a real world in which there are just two types of process: transactions that create the value for which the business exists, and actions whose activities support the business but add no value. You can read more about this here: www.aptumx.com/keeping-it-real

Accuracy for automation

In fact, obtaining a 100% accurate understanding of how things are done currently is essential if automation is on your agenda – and it’s on most agendas. Automating against less than 100% accuracy is as certain a recipe for failure, even disaster, as it is to leave out a metre of track on the railway line between London and Paris.

So the need for an accurate understanding of how things are currently done is beyond dispute. What has held us back is the technology used to define business operations. It is not designed to cater for change and this makes alterations complex, costly and almost certain to introduce errors that erode the confidence of the information users …who very much need to rely on its accuracy.

Enter the Digital Twin Model

Rather than the two-dimensional picture of a process map, we are working with a three-dimensional model of business that is fully extensible and maintainable. Being a model, it can check the content of a change to ensure its integrity is not affected. This means that the errors that bring live processing to a halt in other systems cannot occur in a model-based system.

The “out-of-the-box” AptumX Digital Twin Model contains a framework of how an organization operates and a set of operational components that when attached to the framework describe the unique workings of the organization …either at a high level or in detail, depending on what’s needed.

A Model Enterprise

The framework has three main elements:

• The Organizational Structure and Locations in which the business takes place

• The Activities that comprise the transactions and actions that the business undertakes,

• The Resources that are employed in the Activities – people, products, money, customers,

Once a Digital Twin Model is populated it is easy to keep up-to-date, provided procedures are in place to spot the changes. At this point the need for “as is” analysis goes away - there is only now.

But what about “to be”? How do we successfully realise the plan we made to restructure or to implement new software?

To be perfect

Since you know the model faithfully replicates the business as it is today, you can create a copy of whatever parts of the model are affected and apply changes to them. Because the copy is retained within the model, the impact your changes may have on another part of the business are checked for integrity as soon as you make (or try to make) a change. If, for example you try to delete a Task that is used elsewhere in the organization you will be stopped, or if you try to change a Task that is used in multiple Locations you will be required to create a new instance of the same Task, so that you don’t cause the other users a problem.

Once a Digital Twin Model has been altered, helping people affected by the changes to come up to speed with their new environment is aided by the ability to link altered components to material that can help them – ranging from written or video instructions, to direct access to a new or updated piece of Enterprise Software or an application training program.

Beyond to be: Automation

A huge advantage of the Digital Twin Model is its ability to link to the Real World with relative ease. Unlike traditional software development in which much testing and validation time must be invested and errors still encountered, the content of a Digital Twin Model, with the addition of some relevant data, can create automation software with which to integrate with the Real World – at the push of a button …and free of errors.

The main benefit of this automation software is managing the flow of work through an organization. The reduction in transaction processing time and the drop in mistakes is very significant. The Tasks presented for staff to complete, whether manual or digital, can be sequenced automatically and in the case of digital tasks the function that is presented for action may come from a system function defined in the Digital Twin Model or from a corporate Enterprise system such as SAP.

The big picture

In fact the Digital Twin Model has a critical role in the success of business automation. Historically it has been popular to automate processes on the periphery of a business, based on their “process maturity”. But without the organizational framework of the Model these incidental processes can become “islands of automation”, not integrated with other processes or the business as a whole – once again making change very difficult.

The whole to be

A final point: one of the main challenges of “to be” processes is identification of exceptions and how they are handled. In a pre-Digital Twin world, knowledge of what exception a process may encounter and how to get around them lives in the brain of the staff person responsible for the Task. It is often termed “tribal knowledge”. This tends not to be exposed during a fleeting “as is”’ discovery session, so it is not until the process “goes live” that the “to be” is found to be lacking. In the case of systems that are automated the process halts, while manual work-arounds are concocted and made.

We should not expect that all these exceptions are found prior to an automated system going live. The benefit of a Digital Twin Model is that once discovered, fixing the problem and giving people an updated system can be handled in a matter of a few hours …or less. Problems are fixed in situ.


There is only Now

This is all a far cry from mapping “to be” processes in Visio, which at the very best will define the changes required to attain the future state. And that’s why we say that there is also no “to be”. By the time it has been designed, it’s in place. It’s the reality of the business today. There is only now.