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Do you work in a belt factory?

This is a belt factory from the late 19th or early 20th century. In the basement of the factory is a turbine powered by steam or water power, and torque is passed through the factory via long shafts and belts, driving every machine in the factory. It was noisy, dangerous and the belts broke every so often, bringing production to a halt. But it still gave the machines a completely different power compared to hand-powered tools. When electricity arrived, many people were reluctant to replace the equipment they had invested so much in. Some brave people who were open to trying the new simply replaced their steam engine with an electric motor, leaving the belt system in place. And unsurprisingly, they didn't find the electricity thing all that remarkable. It still slammed just as much, was still dangerous for the workers and was still just as troublesome when a belt broke. As we know, living a hundred years later, the full benefits of electricity only came when every machine in the factory was rebuilt or replaced to run directly on electricity and cables were run to carry the electricity directly to the machine.

What can we learn from this?

How can a dusty museum example be relevant in today's high-tech age? Well, it teaches us something important about human behaviour, something that hasn't actually changed much despite the great leaps forward in technology.

When we humans get hold of a new technology, we don't always grasp its full potential at once. Often we try to do the same thing, but with the new. For example, why do cars have four wheels? Probably because it provides stability, but perhaps originally also because horse-drawn carriages used to have them (and why are we talking about horsepower?! What modern person who is not an equestrian can seriously relate to the power of a horse to measure how powerful something is?). When we end a phone call we say we're hanging up the phone and modern electric cars often have a radiator grille at the front even though they don't have the same cooling needs as cars with internal combustion engines.

New digital technologies

The same is true of new digital technologies such as artificial intelligence. Replicating an existing process, doing exactly the same thing, only with a machine doing the work instead of a human, will bring some benefits, but nothing overwhelming. But that doesn't mean you should just wait and see and let someone else figure out all the clever stuff, because then you risk missing out on great value. If you don't try, you won't learn anything and the big opportunity may be just a few failures away, so can you really afford not to even try?

To get the most out of the new technology, we will need to redesign many processes and activities. Examples of things that may need to be redesigned are control functions - there are other things to be controlled when people are not doing the work. Perhaps log files will become more important or we will build controls into the process in other ways, and in some cases probably remove the control steps altogether. Something else that may need to be redesigned in a process is the order in which things are approached. Certainly the order may matter less as more and more steps are automated, but there may also be benefits in doing things in a different order. If the process still requires some human intervention, the computer can be made to do all its steps first, such as testing whether the case meets certain criteria. Humans should only be needed when creative thinking is required or for specific special cases.

What "belts" do you have left in your organisation that will need to be redesigned and replaced with something more modern as you introduce more and more AI? AddPro works strategically with our clients to identify new opportunities and new ways to use technology. This includes redesigning processes that are aligned with legacy technology. If you want help with your "belts" contact AddPro, we can help!