Robots, overcoming techno-phobia, and toddler time

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What’s changed in process excellence since 2014?

It seems a short time ago but it also seems a long time ago. Back in September 2014 oil was hovering at around $95 a barrel, the Scots were deciding whether to stay in the United Kingdom or not, Russia and Ukraine signed a truce after months of fighting, and US-backed air strikes were beginning in Syria as the White House recognized the growing threat of the group to the region. The outlook for global stock markets was positive with the majority of analysts predicting markets to rally well into 2015.

And amidst that backdrop - having spent the last four years engrossed in process excellence as the editor of this website - I was heading off on maternity leave.

Now, as the oil price remains stuck at a level that makes even the toughest oilman cry and global stock markets are more topsy-turvy than the Kingda Ka rollercoaster, I have a toddler tearing around my house, attempting to assert dominion over everything he comes in contact with. Nothing – toddlers especially – sits still for long.   

As it goes with world events and children, so it does with process excellence. So what’s changed since I last sat in the editorial chair back in 2014?

While I can’t claim to see and know everything that’s happening with process excellence – especially since it’s only been a couple of weeks since resuming my seat – there are two things that have struck me.

One of those is Robotic Process Automation.  Sure, manufacturers have been using robots for decades. And yes, even Robotic Process Automation – which refers to a software that helps to automate manual processes but without the need for complex integration with legacy systems – has been around for many years.  

But something seems to have shifted in the last year to push Robotic Process Automation (RPA) up the agenda. A 2015 market report published by Transparency Market Research, for instance, predicts that the global market for IT robotic automation will reach US$ 4.98 billion by 2020 - up from US$ 183.1 million in 2013 – with growth of 60.5% per year.

 An oft-cited 2013 paper by researchers at Oxford University, estimates that up to 47 percent of total US employment is at risk of automation as advances in Article Intelligence allow automation to move into activities that currently require a human  judgment and decision making (bookkeepers, bank tellers, and telemarketers are among the doomed professions, according to the report).

While that vision of the future is still a long way off, the Institute of Robotic Process Automation estimates that RPA has the potential to reduce labor costs by “25 to 40 percent in both IT and business process environments.”


The second, and closely related, change that I’ve noticed is a subtle shift in how PEX professionals view Information Technology.

Perhaps it’s because IT is unavoidable as part of so many processes within companies. Perhaps it’s because software companies are developing tools that are easier, faster (and cheaper?) to implement that it’s becoming practical to incorporate IT solutions into process improvement. Or maybe it’s because the Millennials – that generation that has never known a world without the Internet - are invading more and more of our workforces both as customers and employees.

Whatever the reason, there appears to be a greater emphasis on IT solutions as part of process improvement. This can only be a good thing as process teams apply their expertise to help ensure that technology truly makes work better for employees and customers.   

But what do you think? What’s new in Process Excellence? Are you working on something particularly novel? Have a new approach you’d like to share? Add a comment here or drop me a line at