Digitalization Power Automate

Why automate: the lawnmower example

If you are considering whether or not to automate that recurring process that you or your team need to do every now and then, this post could be intended for you. Maybe you have never automated anything before, and daunted by the upfront investment in time and resources, you simply don’t understand how a robot can outperform your skilled team to the degree where it would be worthwhile. Then this post is certainly intended for you. Here’s an explanation of why robots are better.

The robot lawn mower

Mowing the lawn can be a deeply satisfying act of garden work. It can also be a real burden, keeping you from more important things like hanging out with friends and family, or simply enjoying a cold beverage in the shade. For those times where lawn-mowing is a burden, humanity has developed mechanized and motorized lawn-mowers, that garden owners push and pull across their lush front- and backyards. The motorized mowers require some degree of human steering, and human operators maneuver their tools with impressive skill across the lawn, cutting an even and neat surface that feels great below our bare feet.

Lately, a new player has emerged on the rural and suburban lawn scene. A mindless little box, endlessly pacing across the lawn, seemingly not doing anything. But the lawns that they inhabit are flawless, and the robot lawn mower is here to stay.

Husqvarna Group connected robotic lawn mower 450X - Telenor Connexion
One of many robots that will shape our future (lawns)

Worse execution, better result

John Henry beat the steam drill, and any human operator would beat the zig-zagging of a robot lawn mower. The human moves deliberately and methodically across the lawn, with evenly spaced lines to cut the grass as resource efficient as possible. The robot? It rolls straight, bumps into something, turns a little and rolls on until it bumps into something else. No method, no care for efficiency, just mindless rolling. Still, the lawns cut by robotic lawn mowers are flawless, usually much more so than their manually mowed peers.

Optimal Lawn Mowing Patterns | WIRED
Methodical but manual will always lose to manic mowing

This is because the robot’s stamina is infinite. It does not long for socializing with family or cold beverages. It mows the lawn, it’s all it cares for. Some models run back to their charging stations every now and then, only to be able to get back out there. I have never met such a manic human gardener.

Since it can spend so much more time mowing the lawn, the robot does not need to be more efficient – time is on its side. Chances are its random bumps and turns will get to that patch it missed in half a day or so.

This is one of the great benefits of automation. Robots will never take a holiday or even a break – they will carry out the task you asked them to, every time you ask them, until that task is complete. The robot does not need to be more efficient than a human on a single occassion to be more efficient than a human.

New tasks, not no tasks

If the human lawn mower operator was only capable of operating a lawn mower, for some reason, his/her profession would be threatened by the emergence of a robot lawn mower. It’s likely the human operator would come up with reasons why a robot couldn’t mow their specific lawn, to justify their position. Fortunately, no or very few operators are only capable of operating a lawn mower. One or two things will happen, as the robot replaces the human operator:

  • Trimming and landscaping beyond the robot’s reach: there are always going to be tricky patches that the robot for one reason or another cannot reach. Areas that the operator now can tend to with great care, as the robot takes care of the easy bulk work.
  • Maintenance and repair: the lines that outlines the area that the robot should cut must be the most fragile thread known to humanity. I believe a robot lawn mower owner spends as much time repairing broken lines as they previously did mowing the lawn
How To Find And Repair Perimeter Wire Of Your Robot Mower - My Robot Mower
The tasks of a robot owner becomes more qualified and the overall result is better

Here, you may stop and think wait a minute, if I’m still cutting the tricky parts and spending as much time on maintenance, what’s the point? Remember that these tricky parts previously did not receive as much attention, as your attention was split on the easy and the hard parts. Some were perhaps overlooked. And remember that the robot mows your lawn better than you do, over time. So you are spending the same time on more qualitative tasks, with a much better result. That’s the point.

Upfront investment

Now, a robot lawn mower is a luxury beyond most people’s budget. Similarly, RPA has until recently required a very high technical knowledge, too cumbersome for most professionals to attain and too expensive for most organizations to profit from. Power Automate fundamentally changes that. Available in most M365 plans, it’s easy to get started with automating tiny administrative tasks with pre-built schemas, and easy to get hooked to keep expanding the applications in your own, your team’s, and your organizations processes.

In defense of lawn-mowing

Finally, as a person who finds great satisfaction in the smell of freshly cut grass, and methodically tidying up an overgrown lawn, I must speak out in defense of lawn-mowing. Processes that some find tedious, may be rewarding for others. Focus on automating the processes that does not develop your ability of performing your key tasks, and that you don’t find rewarding. It’s likely that you have a buffet of administrative tasks that can be automated. Start with the ones you don’t like, so you can spend more time doing things you like. Maybe hang out with family and friends, enjoy a cold beverage in the shade, or mow the lawn.

Data Digitalization

Data and oil

It’s fascinating how very quickly most of today’s tech giants have moved from start-up’s to world domination (see image below of largest market cap companies 2010 and 2020).

A few years ago the Economist published an article describing the similarities between this development and the growth of giant oil companies during the earlier part of the 20th century. The main topic of the article is how to ensure a competitive market. But it is interesting to note that this time the hot new commodity (data) is an abstraction created by humans, not a natural resource such as oil. Let’s hope that means resource scarcity will be less of a problem and that data can be a source of prosperity all over the world. In other words, you or your company probably have access to unique and valuable data. Try to make use of it.


Digitalize your financial processes

Finance professionals have operated digital tools for decades. Accounting and ERP systems were early applications in the digital era. But without the information in your organization, their data is nonsense. Therefore, tools like Excel and Powerpoint have become essential for gathering and presenting analysis of information.

This leaves your organization with scattered and unstructured data, unsuitable for the automated BI-reports you would like to roll out.

Traditional IT development is too expensive and generic to justify digitalization of smaller processes. But the progress within low-code application-makers, like Microsoft Power Apps has changed that.

Invisible Hand helps your organization design, implement and take ownership of your development pipeline.

Digitalization Manifest

The Manifest

A spectre is haunting business – the spectre of digitalization. All the old powers have gathered to profit from it: management consultants, IT behemoths, and bestselling futurist soothsayers alike wield the buzzword of the day to pierce their way into companies’ IT budgets. Where is the company that refuses to invent new jargon to push the promises of a new digital era, and instead delivers digitalized processes with existing tools, working as smooth as a Big Four pitch sounds.

Two things result from the current state of affairs:

  • Organizations want to reap the benefits that is being promised to them. The problems organizations want to address is to reduce internal and external transaction costs, i.e. allowing their business to focus on just that – the business – and not the needless inefficiencies that is a reality for companies today.
  • The gap between theoretical digitalization and its prophets, and the business’ reality is wide and widening. The snakeoil peddlers dream up new slideshows with little practical connection to the trenches. At the same time, highly effective, widely available, and tragically under-exploited weapons are readily available for the corporate soldiers. The wise leaders that employ these tools will get a more productive workforce that also serves vital business information to them on a digital, fully automated, and transparent silver platter.

To this end, the Invisible Hand have assembled to sketch the following manifesto. It outlines.

On the ladder of digital transformation, they flatter you by reckoning that you have taken the first necessary steps toward the digital avante garde, and their particular transformation journey/catch-all system/methodology will propel your organization above and beyond Silicon Valley. In the future everything is digital, they say (as they continue to pitch their monolith ERP system). By going down that trodden path, your organization adjust their digital capabilities to the technical specifications that comes out on the other end of a multi-million, year-and-a-half implementation project. It is the lowest common denominator functionalities that The Leviathan IT Company thought you, and a hundred other businesses bearing no similarities to yours, might find useful.

After some training, your talented and excited workforce gets a good grip on how to perform their old tasks in the new environment. Some feel recognized because the organization has invested in a glossy interface for them. Some find it easier to perform previously time-consuming tasks. Many will say, “wouldn’t it be nice if we could do [insert brilliant idea] as well”, and at best be told that the Leviathan engineers might look into that in the future. No one has been given the tools to explore these ideas themselves. No one has been digitally transformed. As the new system’s lifecycle rapidly closes in on a new multi-million upgrade, the excitement morphs into envy of some other department’s seemingly cooler IT tools and frustration of those long-forgotten specification requests.

In the middle ages, religious acolytes and feudal warlords had monopolized the written word. The immortalization of ideas – a revolutionary invention enabled by pragmatic Middle-Eastern accountants in the dawn of civilization – had been bastardized as propaganda and delusion. But things evolved. Replication costs plummeted with the printing press, and the We, the people, demanded access to education. The pedestals of the litterate class finally became crowded, and prosperity ensued. Similarly, the codification of processes were invented by brave academics and engineers in the 20th century. At the advent of the digital age, the new litterate class of IT professionals entrench their positions, not with brute force, but with impenetrable jargon and perpetually increasing air of complexity in the upcoming theoretical concepts. Nonetheless We, the people, are kept at arms lenght from the tools that can propel us to never before experienced levels of wealth and wellbeing.

The deep moat of code litteracy has given rise to a new societal function: the pseudo-litterate consultant that bridge the moat: a fragile bridge of vague understanding of both your real problems and the jargon. This highly specialized creature has evolved to first create an urge in your organization to embark on a digitalization journey. Then, it can freely charge you for running back-and-forth with liberally interpreted messages in languages it does not fully master. The digital age has lowered informational transaction costs immensely, but transactional costs in creating sound processes for capturing said information has risen at the same pace as the interpretor-consultants’ bank account.

Our epoch, the epoch of digital promises, deserves something better. It is time for us to arm ourselves with tools tailored for our specific circumstances and requirements. It is time for us to be empowered to customize and add to these tools as our circumstances change. It is time to yet again crowd the pedestals of the litterate class, and tear down their monopoly of information creation. And it is time to rid ourselves of the yoke of expensive misinterpretators of our problems. Wield your no-code pitchforks, and take control of your own digitalization adventure.