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Future-proofing: What consumer product companies can learn from agile, DevOps, and the rise of RPA

Deloitte on Cloud Blog

Continuous improvement (CI) is on the verge of a comeback. In the face of slowing growth and ever-more online competitors, the consumer products (CP) industry now finds itself searching for alternative ways to boost the bottom line.

November 6, 2018

A blog post by Habeeb Dihu, principal, Retail and Consumer Products Cloud Leader, Deloitte Consulting LLP

Continuous improvement (CI) is on the verge of a comeback. As expressed via methods like Six Sigma, Kaizen, and Lean, CI had come under criticism as a check-the-box exercise that too often sacrificed innovation on the altar of discipline. But in the face of slowing growth and ever-more online competitors, the consumer products (CP) industry now finds itself searching for alternative ways to boost the bottom line. This has led to renewed interest in achieving a CI mindset – one that can percolate throughout the organization while leaving employees free to focus on key business challenges.

Techniques from the software world

Fortunately, the last decade or so has yielded some refinements that CP brands can adapt to their CI efforts. Agile and DevOps are modern approaches to organizing IT and implementing software that reflect CI principles such as collaboration, rapid iteration, and constant evaluation.

With Agile, software engineers define work in smaller, more manageable pieces. User feedback is captured as each component is ready to ship, accelerating time to learning and allowing engineers to maximize the value they deliver.

DevOps focuses more on efficiency and quality through the integration of software development and IT operations, where engineering teams are given development and operational accountability for their software solutions. This is made possible through the formation of cross-functional teams, as well as automation and self-service capabilities, that eliminate handoffs and make the team self-sufficient. With DevOps, engineers provision environments at will, constantly certify their code in a production-like environment, and release on demand.

Although the modern incarnations of Agile and DevOps emanate from the world of software engineering, they can apply to many of the business processes in an organization. Countless opportunities exist for faster user feedback, more cross-functional teams, and expanded use of automation and self-service capabilities to reduce handoffs, increase efficiency, and improve the overall bottom line. The same basic model applies, as well as the same potential for significant improvement.

Consider customer feedback as an example. Pre-internet, CP companies relied on focus groups and other means to learn what customers liked or disliked about a product. Now customer sentiment is expressed almost instantly over social media, providing CP companies with a continuous feedback loop as they respond. This ability to react quickly to feedback needs to come back in-house and be embraced on the operations side of the business, whether it’s in IT, HR, finance, or other areas.

Making it happen with cloud and RPA

Returning to the operations part of DevOps for a moment, a key facet of DevOps is its generous use of automation. Cloud computing, for example, lets engineers provision environments or add computing capacity with just a few clicks. The result is engineers have more time to spend on building software solutions and making them better. Outside the world of IT infrastructure, robotic process automation (RPA) is a similarly important tool that can be deployed repeatedly elsewhere across a CP business to reduce waste in processes and free people to tackle initiatives that move the needle for the organization.

RPA software robots, or “bots,” carry out routine business processes–think filling out a form or scanning an email for certain types of data–by mimicking the way people interact with applications. With bots taking over many such tasks from one end of a process to another, companies can shed a significant amount of work that does little to improve their sales, profitability, or competitiveness in the marketplace, refocusing their workforce on value-add activities instead. Just as DevOps can improve the efficiency of software engineering and IT operations teams, so RPA can improve the efficiency and value focus of business teams across the board.

Starting the journey

Clearly, CI has been undergoing some continuous improvement of its own, with RPA being just one piece of the equation. The real prize can come by applying learnings from the software world about Agile and DevOps more broadly to the business, whether it’s how automation can be used to improve business processes, how teams can be structured to be more collaborative, or how work can be defined to accelerate learning and time to value. Agile and DevOps aren’t solutions by themselves, but they have significant potential to be applied and adapted to a company’s journey toward CI and ongoing positive change.

So the question is, how effectively are your IT and business teams working together to apply these learnings in order to futureproof your organization? I’d love to hear from you.

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