Tag Archives: IoT

Citizen-Centric Smart City – What does it take?

Even as the ink was drying on my previous blog about Blockchain in the context of Smart Cities, I had the opportunity of attending a workshop on the evolving IoT landscape and the practical implementation opportunities and challenges associated with it, to deliver an enhanced city experience.

This got me thinking – while there are multiple “new-age technology initiatives” that hold a lot of potential, how does one narrow down to the right technology that must be adopted. We are all aware that cities do not have an unlimited monetary supply for them to be wishful in their approach to exceptional service delivery; on the contrary, most cities today are struggling with funds available at their disposal. This calls for due diligence and deep thinking from a customer perspective – what does a good city service mean for your citizens/residents? A city resident anywhere in the world has minimal expectations that must be delivered against and once this is achieved, the city executives can drive further initiatives to deliver a signature city experience that sets their city apart from the rest. The focus of this blog will be on the former – what does a citizen/resident expect from a Smart city service like public transport, utility payment, land registration, public safety and security, traffic management etc?

The following graphic represents the 3 key attributes of a Smart City Service and the citizen/resident’s expectations against each of them:

expectations-from-smart-city-service-level-1

From the perspective of the City Administrators, these statements represent the voice of their customer. So, this provides direction for them to shape their service delivery in alignment with citizen expectations. While each city is different in the way its city agencies/departments are structured, the leaders within a city administration needs to put their thinking hats on and figure out what do they need to deliver against these citizen expectations. The following extension to the graphic represents this at a broad level. The city administration should delve deeper and evolve their master plans against them.

expectations-from-smart-city-service-level-2

To achieve these capabilities, there are multiple measures that could be taken – Operational optimization, Organization restructuring, Performance monitoring, Peer Benchmarking, Citizen Engagement etc. The one initiative that will have the highest impact (in cohesion with the above measures) is adoption of relevant technology. City administrations are not new to technology and most of them have already adopted technology in some form or the other. However, these technologies are predominantly inward-focused (easing operations, publishing reports, regulatory obligations etc.). Today’s world demands city administrators to look at technology through an entirely different lens that has a strong emphasis on customer expectations. This requires some thought on how technologies can be leveraged to deliver a positive city experience to its citizens/residents. It is in this regard that the relevance of new-age tech initiatives comes to the fore. The graphic below extends the story further and details my point of view on the technology initiatives that could be embraced. It needs to be noted that these are not a replacement for existing systems but need to be used as a complement to leverage the true potential.

expectations-from-smart-city-service-level-3

Reliability is established on one simple premise – having access to the right information at the right time. The mapping of IoT (Internet of Things) as the technology of choice for this service parameter is based on the same principle. For example –  Mr.A wants to travel from his home to a Convention Centre to speak at a conference being held there. Considering the importance of him being there on time, he wants to know the best way to get there – drive down vs hire an Uber vs take the public transport. Considering that he has travelled extensively on this route, he is concerned based on his past experiences. Most often than not, he has experienced heavy traffic on this route. Recently, he struggled to find parking for his car and had to eventually park far from the conference center and walk back all the way. During another instance, on his way back from the Conference Centre, there were unexpected rains that lashed and his favorite car bore the brunt.

So, his expectations of a reliable travel from home to the conference center is dependent on him receiving the right information about the real-time traffic situation, parking availability in and around the convention center and weather forecast for the day. This can reliably be achieved through deployment of sensors across the city and then feeding the data generated by these sensors into an IoT platform operated by the city administration. Further, the IoT platform can draw correlations and run prediction algorithms (needs analytical capability) that will eventually provide contextual information to Mr.A to plan his travel.

City administrations also need to establish a level of transparency that builds trust and has the citizen appreciate the efforts being put in by their city to make lives easier. Today, every city agency has an IT system(s) that is used to record all the operational activities (meter reading, bill payments, maintenance schedules etc.) that the respective agency is responsible for. In a few cases, such information could be recorded on paper or a rudimentary spreadsheet. However, these records are not available beyond the boundary of the owner city agency and this results in lack of visibility to generate a city-wide operational view – a Common Operating Picture. This is where an initial version of an Open Data Platform needs to established to drive exchange of Government Data between agencies. This needs to be supplemented with reliable recording of cross-domain operational activities on a common ledger that can be trusted and accessed by every party based on their access permissions. This is where Blockchain comes to the fore. Considering the case of Mr.A who travels regularly between his home and the convention center, he wants to know of the work that the city is doing to make his travel easier. So, if city agencies could extend the open data platform to its citizens (sanitized to ensure that sensitive information is not being shared) so that Mr.A can also gather a true and transparent view of the relevant work being done by his city administrators.

Further – Considering that the city is a huge ecosystem, we do not expect that there will be absolutely no failures during operations. What irks most citizens is that it is a huge challenge to identify where the fault lies and they are left running from pillar to post to identify the root cause and plug it. This is when the call for accountability needs to catch the attention of city administrations. Blockchain’s common ledger lends beautifully to this requirement. For example – Mr.A has come across a huge pothole on the roads following 2 weeks of cable laying works. As a responsible citizen, he reports this to the city’s single-window operator. This warrants a deeper investigation and thanks to an existing Blockchain ledger, it is observed that the Contractors responsible for cable laying work have captured the proof of their completed maintenance activities where they mention that the Roads Agency has been informed to complete the road repair as per the contractual clauses in the Smart Contract. This helps narrow down the deviation in service to the right agency and fix this accordingly. There is no longer a problem of each agency having a different view of the truth about what might have happened. Combine this with the transparency that was established through the Open Data platform and the reliability of the data coming from the instrumentation across the city, and your citizen is bound to have a happy city experience.

Remember, the best if yet to come.

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Never-Seen-Before business processes

During the days I was doing my MBA, I was introduced to Porter’s Five Forces analysis – Threat of new entrants, Threat of substitute products or services, Bargaining power of customers (buyers), Bargaining power of suppliers and Intensity of competitive rivalry. While all of these forces are very relevant for any business while defining and refining their strategies, I have always been intrigued by the “Threat of substitute products or services” because it can come from rather unexpected quarters and does not give an established businesses enough time to react.

An interesting case study that we analyzed during my classes was about Cadbury’s evolution in India at the turn of the century. Like everywhere around the world, India loves celebrating its festivals and mithais (Indian Sweets) are gifted and consumed with gusto during the festive season. Over the years, mithai and dry fruits have been in many cases replaced by boxes of chocolates and biscuits. This change was driven by Cadbury’s around 2004 when it started its campaign “Kuch Meetha Ho Jaaye (Let’s have something sweet)” and presented its box of chocolates as an alternate gifting option. This caught the fancy of the urban Indian and soon, Cadbury command a lion’s share of the non-traditional gifting space. This impacted the businesses of the mithai-sellers and by the time they realized the impact of this new substitute, the brand had registered in the minds of the consumers.

On similar lines, you would find numerous examples from the current marketplace – and the underlying theme is that this cuts across industries. The advent of technology and digital transformation has meant that the competition need not necessarily come from within your industry. It is in light of this that Porter’s “Threat of substitutes” gathers more moss.

Threat of Substitutes

The future will unfold numerous interesting shifts in the business landscape – leaving some of the established businesses, and possibly roles, redundant. Consider this –As per a recent announcement, YouTube will be going offline in the coming few weeks, allowing users to save videos. You can download a video once, save it to your phone, and watch it multiple times. This will definitely be a game-changer in countries where broadband internet is a premium and is not as widespread – YouTube offline will allow users on data network to watch the same videos over and over again without having to bother about data charges. Another recent report by Nielsen found that YouTube reaches more American adults between the ages of 18 and 34 than any cable network. Overall, where does this leave the TV media?

The media houses have absorbed some of the effects that YouTube’s popularity has had on their businesses – loss of viewership and reduction in advertising revenues. If they are not jolted yet and have not been working their strategies around this, they would fail to evolve and therein lies the risk of Digital Darwinism.

Some more unusual action is being observed in the Mergers and Acquisitions (M&A) space in the technology world. The big technology firms have surprised the industry with their unique acquisition strategies – possibly taking a long shot on futuristic business models. How else would you explain Google’s investments in wind-energy and driverless cars, Facebook eyeing drones and satellites? Non-technology firms have also moved beyond their traditional industry verticals to drive new business models. It is this confluence of industries that could generate the next big buzz in the marketplace.

What do all these industry shifts mean to the BPM practitioner? Essentially, it means that one needs to be prepared to study the client’s business without preconceived notions of the business processes within the enterprise. You may not only come across the traditional business processes but some rather unique ones given the fact that the businesses are constantly venturing into new spaces.

For example – a present day Telco firm need not necessarily be restricting its business services to Voice and data-based services but can expand into mobile banking and retail sales, an e-commerce player could go beyond retail sales and establish payment gateways and mobile wallets, a health insurance vendor could go beyond issuing and servicing insurance policies and establish health monitoring practice to track their customers’ health using M2M technology. The examples and possible scenarios are endless.

One needs to be well-aware of the confluence of industries and constant shifts happening in the marketplace. The confluence will be more evident now – thanks to digital transformation drastically pulling down the entry barriers of the past. As a BPM practitioner, it is imperative that you are aware of the “never-seen-before” business processes in the context of your new-age client.

Disruptive forces and new-age BPM thinking

Change is commonplace. However, the forces driving change in the marketplace have never been as disruptive as they are today. Businesses have to be nimble to adapt to and adopt these inevitable changes. This process of adaption and adoption calls for a shift in the Business Process Management (BPM) landscape as we know it. Convenience and engagement are now prioritized ahead of automation and standardization as the core values of BPM. This blog discusses the impact that the disruptive forces – mobile, cloud, social, big data, internet of things – are having on business processes and shifts that the business have to make to ensure there are no tremors.

Reality of Disruptive Forces

While we all know that change is inevitable, it is the speed of change that has taken some of the less-nimble businesses by surprise. Widely available broadband bandwidth has led to explosive changes. As the marketplace changes rapidly, business strategists realize that they need to constantly reinvent themselves to overcome these VUCA challenges. So, in light of these disruptive forces (see graphic below) – Are you prepared to navigate the dynamic and rapidly changing landscape of Business Process Management?

Disruptive Forces impacting BPM

Cloud 

With businesses steadily opening up to the cloud model, we are witnessing business processes move to the cloud – especially the ones that do not deal with sensitive data. Businesses are increasingly turning to dynamic hybrid cloud to reduce costs and enable more scalable and flexible business processes. This means that the new-age processes could involve process orchestration between an application(s) sitting on-premise and another application(s) hosted on the cloud. While the BPM process engine functionality should be able to drive that orchestration, this also means that businesses have to think beyond the “process optimization” principles that have been at the heart of process improvement approaches. This does not take away the significance of all that has been done till date for process improvements – it just requires businesses to think differently about ways to drive efficiencies. Most of the process improvement effort till date has been relatively ignorant of the hosting location of the business applications. However, this rewiring of businesses will make it necessary to start considering hosting options as well because they drive down costs substantially and deliver a much better end-user experience. Innovative thinking around this could lead to the evolution of new business models driven by business processes that are remarkably different from the ones we have known in the past. Consider this – till a couple of years back amazon.com would have meant ordering your favorite book, an electronic gadget online. The fact that they realized there is inherent potential in their huge IT infrastructure that can be tapped into – and came up with Amazon Web Services – leading to a new business model. This innovative thinking means that Amazon today has business processes around remote computing services that were non-existent a couple of years ago.

Mobile

With handhelds (mobiles, tablets, phablets) replacing the desktops and laptops as the preferred gadgets to stay online, they are driving businesses to think. Mobile enterprises can attract new customers, transform their business and IT infrastructure, develop mobile apps to boost enterprise efficiency, and improve customer service and interactions.

The new-age mobile enterprise is opening up to the concepts of BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) and COPE (Corporate Owned, Personally Enabled) to deliver an experience that is employer-friendly. With handhelds being commonplace in work environments, the business processes stand to benefit from them – if leveraged the right way. The fact that a customer’s loan could be approved by a credit manager on his ipad while he is waiting for the boarding announcement at the airport means that the end-to-end process execution times are ready to be redefined. In today’s business-in-motion environments, workers expect to be connected to their critical business processes while on-the-go. It is imperative to deliver more meaningful user engagements by extending business processes to the mobile working environments. However, one needs to note that handhelds are not just another device to access the same service – they are a different form factor and that means that they need to deliver an experience that is substantially different from the web-experience. Boilerplate solutions that are clones of the web applications will not work here. So, while defining business processes for the new mobile world and defining the user interfaces along the business process, one has to extend their horizon to think of delivering the “right” experience across form factors.

Social

Social networks have invaded our world and are becoming (if not already) an extension of ourselves. Social business has created a new source of human data, enabling businesses to gain greater insight into the sentiment, activities, performance and behaviors of large number of people. These businesses are driving enterprise-wide collaboration and workforce talent optimization by interweaving their social strategy with their overall business strategy. With an influx of millenials into the workforce, social networking is already pervasive and business processes have to wake up to this reality. The new-age workforce wants to use social networks to share content, have livid discussions on communities, share experiences and work cohesively – at scale and without boundaries.

Business Processes stand to gain from this shift. Consider this simple use case – we have seen many business processes that keep looping back and forth between process participants for want of some information/document resulting in a longer execution cycle. Now, if social were embedded in process execution, the process participant can locate an expert in the relevant social community and reach out to him on-the-go over an embedded chat engine to have his opinion on how a particular situation can be handled better. Essentially, collective knowledge is enabling people to rapidly learn, act with greater confidence and influence others in entirely new ways. Business processes have to leverage the immense potential that social businesses can have on service optimization.

Internet of Things

While social networks connect people, Internet of Things (IoT) is the interconnection of uniquely identifiable devices within the existing Internet infrastructure. The term IoT has been around for some years (also popular Machine to Machine – M2M or Cloud of Things – CoT) and is set to transform industries through innovative use cases.

Equipment providers supply physical data – an entirely new and huge class of data – to be mined and to enable intelligent operations through deep sensing and instrumentation. Smarter businesses are looking for new actionable insights to transform their businesses. Integration of the physical world and business enables a new level of actionable insights, leading to new business optimization. IoT is about creating systems of insight by delivering actionable insights in the physical world. Business Processes need to be cognizant of this new disruptive force and rewire the existing processes to be responsive to the insights generated by the devices around. In fact, devices could soon do most of the straight-through processing work expected out of optimized business processes – in ways that have not been seen before. For example, retailers are already witnessing how RFID technologies have driven M2M from the boardrooms to the shop floor and this necessitates them to revisit their existing business processes. Not too far in the distant future, we could have businesses executing their processes through wearables!

What does this mean for BPM practitioners?

BPM practitioners have to respond to these inevitable changes and this means that they have to approach business process optimization exercises differently. This does not mean that you do away with the traditional study of AS-IS processes and brainstorm to arrive at TO-BE processes. What this essentially means is that the practitioners will have to rewire themselves in the way they think of business process optimizations. They need to be constantly cognizant that it is the user experience that is significant while automation and standardization are a given.

Design thinking is a collection of practices that helps teams better identify with customer experiences, and shift from logical problem solving to creative experimentation. With design thinking, the focus shifts from delivering features to delivering experiences. The practitioner should start his business process study by understanding what experience will appeal to the end-user of the solution. This needs him to understand the customer from all perspectives (see graphic below).

Understand the Customer ExperienceOnce this understanding is gathered, you need to be constantly thinking of the end-user experience as you progress through the traditional AS-IS study and TO-BE definition. Importantly, the ideation during TO-BE definition should incorporate aspects that deliver an engaging experience to the business users through the BPM application.

Another important aspect of Design thinking is described by Don Norman – “Designers […] don’t try to search for a solution until they have determined the real problem, and even then, instead of solving that problem, they stop to consider a wide range of potential solutions. Only then will they finally converge upon their proposal.” As an example, if the client’s real problem is lack of visibility into process performance, BPM practitioners are used to prescribing a dashboard that can help them track the process on a single screen hosted centrally on the office floor. While that may not be a wrong solution, it is only one of the ways to achieve the requirements. However, restricting to this one prescribed solution may not deliver an engaging experience for a constantly mobile workforce. So, it is important to understand the end-user experience and consider a wide range of potential solutions before arriving at the TO-BE definition. This is Design Thinking.

The disruptive forces – Cloud, Mobile, Social, IoT – are already impacting the marketplace and these impacts are only going to grow in magnitude and speed. Businesses are realizing this new ground reality and boardrooms are evolving strategies to leverage them to drive growth and evolve new business models. This calls for a new way of thinking around business process management – the design thinking – and practitioners need to adapt to this new imperative to deliver processes that are user-centric. The sooner, the better!