RPA not a fad

One of the things I heard when I first learnt about Robotic Process Automation or RPA was “Automation is not a fad”. I strongly believe it is not a fad and here to stay for a long time and will evolve into something bigger and better. The more and more I learnt and studied about RPA I am convinced. There are a number of RPA software products like Blue Prism, UIPath, Automation Anywhere, WinAuto, WorkFusion and many more. I have personally used Blue Prism and WinAuto for use cases on my projects. It was unbelievable to see the RPA being able to login to VPN / applications, monitor alerts / batches, read excel sheets, read emails and make phone calls depending on the time of the day to the right person just like a human being would. We have RPA on my projects for other use cases to do application sanity checks, monitor and take corrective actions for failed processes like restart, retry etc. The possibilities are endless. It’s super easy to learn and I can vouch for it as I was able to learn 2 RPA tools all on my own watching video tutorials and developers using it and of course hands on experience.

Many years ago, it was not uncommon for people in IT to list MS Word, Excel, PowerPoint as skills on their resumes. Today, no one lists these as skills. It’s assumed everyone knows it and really everyone does or at least figures out. Today people do list RPA software as skills on their resumes. I foresee that in a few years’ time, RPA software will also be a skill that all IT professional will stop listing on their resumes just like what has happened to MS office tools. Everyone will know one or more RPA tools as a basic minimum. RPA tools probably will be installed on all enterprise laptops or desktops as digital assistants for all employees just like MS Office tools are today.

Comments and thoughts welcome.

Loyalty programs

Major retailers, airlines, hotel chains, gas stations, restaurant chains, credit cards, movie theatre chains etc all have loyalty programs. Each business entity has their own rewards cards either physical or digital or both for their customers. These rewards cards need to be associated with the in-store or online purchase for customers to accumulate points which can be redeemed later for a value that could anything like a gift card or cash back etc. These programs have been used for customer acquisition, customer retention, increasing customer wallet share and of course to reward loyalty. The loyalty programs have existed for almost 50 years and in my view are here to stay for a long long time. Most customers end up having 5-6 loyalty cards from the retailers, airlines, hotel chains, gas stations, restaurant chains, movie theatre chains etc that they most regularly do business with to get additional value. Having multiple loyalty cards is a pain point and a turn off for many customers. A few players like Plenti card from American Express have attempted to create a coalition of loyalty to ease the pain with a network of partners (major retailers, hotel chains, gas stations, restaurant chains etc) but have not found very enthusiastic acceptance from the business entities themselves. There are a few more successful loyalty coalitions or micro loyalty coalitions that have done well like shared loyalty program of Delta, Lyft and Hilton or Matas in Europe or Payback in India. Small businesses, pop and mom stores etc do not have the machinery nor infrastructure to run loyalty programs.

Wouldn’t it be helpful to have universal reward points balance account linked to all reward cards that a customer has? Accumulate points in a single rewards point account for all purchases made with all business entities that the customer does business with and redeem the points anywhere amongst these entities? An illustration would be, if I have a loyalty card each with Delta, Target, Macys, Starbucks, Mobil, Landmark theatres and be able to accumulate all rewards points for transactions with these businesses in one account and be able to redeem the accumlated points for rewards at any one or more of them? And have the flexibility to map more loyalty cards from other business entities to the account?

There will be challenges because there are several types of loyalty programs today – the plain points system, tiered programs, value based loyalty etc. And each of the business entities may have different flavors of loyalty programs and may have a different way of treating their customers. I think these challenges are not insurmountable. Small businesses, pop and mom stores etc can be brought under the ambit of this universal loyalty program once a solution is found.

Perhaps a visa or master card like gateway to link reward points to customer purchases with a single repository of points. Or perhaps something else and it will need a concerted effort from large influencer or a consortium of influencers. I envision someone coming up with a solution in the next few years for sure.

Comments welcome.

Words matter

This is a post that I had written a couple of years ago and never published it. Here it comes as my first post on my site

Words make a big impact. Some famous words have inspired generations and shaped history like that of Neil Armstrong “A small step for man is a giant leap for mankind” or Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream….”.

I had one of my work-life changing moments too with one statement made by a leader several years ago. He probably does not know his words made such a big impact on me. I never have met him again nor could I ever tell him that. I am very grateful to him for saying those words and changing my behavior at work place.

My Manager and I met this leader over a meeting that was quite late into the night. After the business meeting we had a few minutes of gossip time. My Manager was friendly with this leader as they had spent some time together on an international assignment. This leader led an important function of the company that I worked for in the past. He had several hundreds of people working in his organization mostly working in the night shifts from India catering to US clients. My Manager asked him as to why he had to work late into the night when he had the option to delegate tasks to many of the managers working for him and end his day earlier. The leader had to also attend executive meetings early mornings on most days which meant really long days for him. I couldn’t disagree with my Manager’s observation.

This is when the leader uttered those impactful words that altered the way I approached work. He said “Naukri karni hai toh nakhre kya”. This is a Hindi language statement which means “Why throw tantrums or carry baggage when you got to work“. Honestly the English translation does not do justice to the Hindi context of the statement. After he made this statement, he added that it was his need to work, he had bills, he had loans, he had to take care of his family. So when he had so many needs he better be dedicated and work without tantrums or baggage or ego or personal constraints. Until then I would throw the occasional tantrum or carry some baggage of ego or arrogance. This one statement changed my work behavior for life. I have never since thrown a tantrum nor been inflexible.

Most people who worked in my teams have heard this story and some have told me it changed their approach to work as well. This statement made me value my job more than I ever had in the past and to not take things for granted. And also the words we utter make a big impact on our teams and we don’t realize that often. It reminds me to be careful with words to my teams.