If 2017 was the year of digital disruption, then 2018 is poised to be the year of digital dominance. Many of the technological “nice-to-haves” are becoming “must-haves,” as customers now have a clearer vision of the experience they expect – and are empowered to demand it.
Let’s look at five trends likely to guide organizational transformations (and the customer journey) in the coming year:
#1 Digital transformation will continue to dominate.
Digital transformation, digital disruption, digital operations, digital process automation. Regardless of the exact wording, the goal of many organizations in 2018 will be the same: harnessing the power of digital to elevate the journey of the customer and drive end-to-end business outcomes.
Closing the distance between an organization and its customers is where long-term loyalty can be built. This will mean empowering customers to self-serve in a variety of functions without the requirement of visiting a brick-and-mortar office: for example, opening an account by snapping a photo of a driver’s license and digitally submitting a signature.
The understanding of data will remain one of the major cornerstones for measuring an organization’s success in digitally transforming its operations, particularly as related to the intersection of data, robotics, process automation, mobile, IoT (Internet of Things), blockchain and artificial intelligence (AI).
#2 RPA will transition from potential to fundamental.
For some organizations, robotic process automation (RPA) has provided value for many years. During 2017, RPA exploded to the forefront of corporate requirements due to its many benefits providing a fast return on investment. In 2018, the number of organizations (and industries) that gain a clearer picture as to what RPA can do for their businesses will accelerate.
In 2018, we’ll see even more real-world examples of RPA, and organizations will see firsthand where robots fit within the business process automation workflow. Opportunities will increase for savvy businesses to seize the amplified power of RPA when it is combined with other proven technologies in the area of document capture, classification and data extraction, as well as business process management (BPM). On the innovation side, vendors will continue to engineer greater intelligence into software robots to drive greater value on the journey toward true intelligent automation.
#3 AI will be a top topic of conversation.
Though AI is a hot topic of conversation for vendors and industry analysts, a huge gap exists between what is being said and what is being implemented. Often, what is said by vendors is hype or focuses on technical terms few understand, much less put into a useful context, and many define AI differently. Filtering out the hype will continue to be a challenge for organizations, many of whom don’t know what they need or how to apply available AI technology to their operations. However, use cases will emerge that illustrate how AI can be applied to solve real-world problems. Organizations will shift initial customer-facing AI usage, which have struggled to be successful in some cases, toward providing intelligent software robots to assist employees when they are connecting and communicating with customers.
There is so much untapped power and possibility in AI – the conversation will continue to evolve, especially as AI technologies become more embedded into businesses and platforms on the pathway toward a new generation of smart applications.
#4 The entire customer journey is what will be most important.
Early digital transformations focused on the external customer interaction, the user interface. While this is fundamentally important, if an organization doesn’t fix back office processes that affect the entire customer journey, the customer will be let down and expectations won’t be met. The urgency to bridge the gaps between systems, silos, processes and people will intensify. Beyond the initial customer-facing interactions, it will also mean leveraging the power of near real-time content and process data analytics to achieve proactive operational excellence.
Vendors and businesses who approach the customer journey in a holistic way will be the trailblazers in 2018. This means that organizations need to forge this new digital path on the front end, while also framing the transformation in terms of achieving end-to-end process visibility and efficiencies on the back end.
#5 Less dependence on IT will continue to define the new digital workplace.
This year, we’ll see a change in the operating model between IT and business groups. This is already becoming evident with RPA, where ownership of even robot development is often not handled by the IT team, and instead handled by the line of business team. This shift makes sense because the business group is inherently closer to problems and processes, RPA technology is easy enough for non-coder/programmers to use, and IT bandwidth is already stretched thin. Business groups must remain engaged with IT for their expertise and guidance when it comes to technology processes and policies.
Although not a new trend, it’s important to note that Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) application models are increasingly popular, as the cloud enables businesses to virtualize resources, connect discrete systems and crunch data at incredible speeds.