Self-driving companies — is it nearly unthinkable?

Theo Bergqvist

October 26, 2021

This article by Turbotic CEO Theo Bergqvist was originally published on Medium Aug 31, 2020

Imagine open your laptop, typing — or, better yet speaking — into your company’s operating system interface to monitor all the tasks performed by software robots and artificial intelligence. Your company is driving itself with the latest and foremost of technologies through an Autonomous Enterprise System (AES), a present day super powerful enterprise platform.

As with the adaptation of new revolutionary technology, there will be problems for businesses that aren’t able to adjust fast enough. Futurists estimate that hundreds of billions of dollars (if not trillions) will be saved shifting from a human to a digital workforce. In addition, the 24/7 operation of a company generating more growth and more revenues than ever before. With such a system in place, why continue to run a company in a traditional way with traditional functions?

To some extent, the building blocks of an Autonomous Enterprise (AE) are already here. From RPA robots and AI models that predict cash flow, optimize inventory and prescriptive analytics to plan the future. OCR technologies and text analysis are digitalizing end-to-end contracts and NLP is creating more autonomous call centers and customer support functions. However, in comparison with self-driving cars, we lack a critical component. We have the cameras, we have the sensors and connectivity, but we don´t have the system keeping it all together.

During the past five years, process automation and enterprise AI, have gone from “maybe possible” to “possible” and “commercially available.”, although each autonomous enterprise technology is fragmented and separated from each other, the lack of an operating system to keep it all together makes it somewhat difficult in implementing technologies in order to create the ultimate self-driving company. For some, the idea of a self-driving company is science fiction, and maybe a bit ludicrous to others, just like autonomous cars a few years back.

So, let's start with the most pressing question you would like to ask: When will the Autonomous Enterprise take over? Answer: you´re going in the wrong direction. The autonomous enterprise is not a single system that will someday be ready to ship. It is a collection of systems, methodologies and technologies that will gradually turn a company into a self-driving entity, and it will be alined together with a new kind of operating system, and AES. The takeover depends on technology as well as maturity and insight into the exponential potential in an autonomous enterprise. The maturity and insight part are what will create disruption. Companies that are too slow to adapt to these new technologies will see themselves behind competitors and new companies that utilize the autonomous enterprise technologies in full. Also, this is why you should ask yourself how much you should spend on more “traditional” digital transformation. It may give you some tactical improvements, but it will not transform you in a way that will make you more competitive or prepare you for exponential growth.

Teach software robots and AI models the rules of your company and set them loose to navigate towards the overall KPIs and mission. This simple description includes lots of complexity. To run a company or an organization with its many functions and goals is one of the more complicated activities one can do. Following a list of rules, policies or goals of the company aren't enough to manage and operate as well as humans. Even the simple parts of operating and managing your company — like expense reporting, forecasting, marketing and sales — are actually trickier than they sound. And often when you manage to automate one process it is interconnected with another that is not automated. Eventually, the company’s operating system will combine all the technologies, measure performance and track value as well as make recommendations towards new paths. To support AES, a substantial amount of training data is needed as well as engineered processes..

To prepare for your Autonomous Enterprise (AE) you should look at current technology stack, source systems, APIs and data models thru a completely new lens. Monoliths need to be replaced with open and modular systems, and process needs to be re-engineered with a technology (not man) first approach. Whatever they say, automation and AI transformation is NOT about human, it´s all about technology, and how it can fundamentally change your company. Your operating model is going to be a super computer fed with AE technologies that learn from each other and who's job is to endlessly improve the operation in sales, finance, fulfillment, marketing, HR, IT and additional traditional functions that help keep the lights on. A system that can handle any situation in a millisecond and learn from it in real-time.

It is hard to imagine what employees will do once there is full automation and self-operated systems. But one known fact is that they will have more time to spend on growth and innovation than ever before and when the cost for operation falls dramatically funds can be used to position your company and products.

One question remains open. If the AI is running your company, who is in charge? Let's revisit this discussion later…