The Service Science Society of Australia’s newsletter interviewed Founder of Open Orbit, Niranjan Deodhar a leader in algorithmic technology for process improvement. This interview encompasses the journey Niranjan undertook prior to his development of Fintech company Open Orbit. They spoke about being in perpetual problem-solving mode – “If we only take instructions, we are no better than machines! But if we take what needs to be done, and also look to improve upon it, our work gets so much more interesting.” The discussion also sheds light on how technology is saving time and transforming practitioners into mentors, increasing their capacity and skillset. They discussed how some professionals are not yet realising the opportunities at present, and how Open Orbit can enable them to do so by giving them the right tools.
What got you interested in business process and business service management? Was it the lessons learnt from your long and distinguished career in senior management of well-known consulting, IT and BPM companies?
It was the ethos that attracted me. When you look at the science and the art of processes – yes it is a bit of both – it is about always looking for better ways to do something. Always be in problem-solving mode, in improvement mode. If we only take instructions, we are no better than machines! But if we take what needs to be done, and also look to improve upon it, our work gets so much more interesting.
I first found myself thinking and working like that quite early in my career when I was writing software. Instead of just writing more code that looked almost the same as the code I had just written, I wanted to write a code generator that wrote the new code. This was before object-oriented programming, so it needed some doing! Script generators that automatically created test jigs, and so on. Thereafter in management consulting, I worked on data warehousing programs, and we were not just building warehouses and reports, but improving how reporting got done in the business.
Later on, when working with a BPM major, I came across Lean and Six Sigma and immediately took a liking. Now I step out of a conference hall and without stopping to think, I can see how they could change the layout of the tea and coffee station to reduce the queue length! It’s like a bug that gets you. Now everything is a process.
What do you find most exciting in what you do at Open Orbit?
The very purpose of Open Orbit is to apply Lean Six Sigma back onto itself. To improve how improvement is done. So in that sense, it is the ultimate recursive loop and hence doubly exciting for me.
If you look at an improvement project, you could almost draw a value stream map of the project itself – look at all the value-adding workshops where new insights got created, and compare it to all the non-value-adding waste in between….waiting for data, creating status reports, pointless meetings about meetings…the business having to explain all their work in great detail to an external ‘change agent’ or practitioner. And then the inefficiencies in producing deliverables, getting approvals, dealing with resistance.
At Open Orbit, we change all that, by turning Lean Six Sigma into common sense and putting it in the hands of the business user. The change practitioner then becomes the mentor – quite like the doctor reading an x-ray. The technology enables the business user to prepare their own x-ray of the broken process, and the doctor can quickly comment on the analysis. You wouldn’t call a doctor in to live with you for 3 weeks and give you a spiral-bound report – so why do that with a consultant or a BA?
How technology can get inside the mind of the business-user-turned-problem- solver, and always be there like a mentor with the next relevant suggestion – that is the most exciting part of working at Open Orbit.
More specifically, during this COVID-19 lockdown and work-from-home era, we are finding clients are benefiting greatly from how we enable remote, dispersed groups to come together into the same thinking space and solve problems together. Enabling clients to solve problems despite these constraints, and also to keep teams engaged and cohesive because they are solving problems together – that is also very rewarding. We are helping build resilience of teams in the face of this disruption.
What keeps you awake at night?
It doesn’t get that bad! But there are things that get in the way and keep us from growing faster.
In the first place, not all managers are ready to turn their people into assets, into problem solvers. They just want to see people as cost and reduce their number. A company going through a painful and drastic reduction in head-count will not have the management headset to do something that empowers and builds capability.
Then there is the occasional defensive reaction from practitioners and consultants. They reject the idea that their thinking pattern can be algorithmised. That is starting to change – many now see the potential to be at the head of the disruption that is going to happen to management consulting anyway, and want to be the winners from it. But some still resist.
Then there is the usual background of change resistance in any large enterprise. But that is not unique to us – all enterprise software companies have to find ways around it, and there are many tried and tested tricks to it!
What are the most compelling opportunities for professionals in this space?
To be at the head of this curve of disruption! We should not see ourselves as building process maps or RPA specs. We should see ourselves as doctors who can read the x-rays self-administered by the patient – the business user in this case. There is plenty of work out there, and this way we will address a broader scope of problems, and earn higher rates in the process. The doctor charges – what….$80 dollars for 20 minutes….but patients don’t complain because they only need 20 minutes. With us, it won’t be quite down to minutes, but it can get down to hours, and at a significantly better rate than is presently the case when we sell at ‘daily rate’ and do jobs that go over months.
Does the coronavirus crisis present special challenges for BPM professionals?
Yes – our profession has traditionally been seen as a contact sport, and you can’t play contact sport right now. No workshops, no sticky notes all over the wall…
It has also been seen by some (though not all) as somewhat optional in a time of crisis….so something like “let me just get past today, I will worry about improvement tomorrow”.
However as they say, every crisis has an opportunity. Under lockdown, we can, if we want to, show that our work doesn’t have to be a contact sport. And when done right, it can create immediate relief in times of crisis, rather than get in the way of survival. For that, we have to be orders of magnitude faster – create change in hours and days, not weeks and months. And we have to do it with less intrusion on the SME’s time than the traditional workshop method. So it is a win-win situation.
We enable this and know it can be done. Our clients will back up this statement. It would be great to see the profession as a whole embrace this new method of getting patients to self-administer x-rays of their broken process so we can (remotely if need be) read them as doctors would, and advise on the course of action.