Future of automation

The Future of Automation is About People

I believe there is a fundamental problem with the way we use software today. Solving it will change the future of automation.

Software has eaten our world. But the way companies approach it, and the way people use it, hasn’t changed much since the early days of personal computers.

Even robotic process automation (RPA), which promised a revolution in the future of automation (boosted with enormous funding and valuations), is only addressing limitations in legacy software. This is awfully short-sighted and is fundamentally bound to the old ways of using software.

In fact, recent studies show only 2.8 hours of an information worker’s day is devoted to high-value work(!); the rest is spent on manual, mundane tasks.

But that finding isn’t so shocking when you consider how many of the software tools you use that require you to manually enter data or copy-paste from one browser tab to another. Or think about how much time you spend each day chasing down information or following up with people. Many software tools provide huge value to the company, but to do so, they still require us, the people, to perform a huge amount of manual work.

The root of the problem lies in how software is adopted.

Companies that want to improve a process will often default to first choosing a technology and then defining the process around that technology — expecting the people to adapt to the change. Each individual in a company has different needs and different workflows, but Software tools aren’t designed to address all the idiosyncratic needs of each of us. Instead, they’re built to address 80% of the needs of most people. That means 20% of the custom work is left to be done manually by people, which creates bottlenecks, prompting the need for more change and the adoption of new tools, and so on. You get it… It’s a vicious cycle.

But this is not unique to software.

There’s a very similar problem in the physical world, which is also caused by the differences in individuals’ needs: commuting.

I live two blocks from a railway station, which would have been amazing if my office was anywhere near a station, too. But it’s not. So my commute is terrible. This doesn’t mean that the train line is bad, or that my office or my house are not in good areas. It’s just that my own personal route is unfortunately on the “20% side” of the transit solution.

In transportation, this is known as the “last mile” problem — and it’s a trillion-dollar problem.

That final, unsolved mile in my individual route between the train and my office is what pushes me into taking my car or an Uber/Lyft every day. I’ll pay more for a solution that takes me door-to-door.

Business processes have the same problem.

The birth of human-in-the-loop robotic automation.

In the past 12 years, I was fortunate enough to lead several different products and teams, of different shapes and sizes. Leading small teams of 5 up to teams of 150+ people across multiple locations, I always strived for efficiency. “How can we move faster? What are we wasting time on? What processes or tasks should be replaced?” And most importantly, “Should this really be done by a person? Can’t we just hack something together to automate this?”

One night, about 4 years ago, while discussing one of our broken processes with my co-founder, Offir (then, the lead architect in my team), we came across a simple yet important realization; the reason that some processes cannot be fully automated is that automation (at that time) can only streamline data between systems, but some information only exists in people’s heads.

We realized that in order to actually gain efficiency in a process that requires a person, the technology you use must adapt to the way the person works. Otherwise, the person just won’t use it. That’s why engineers never update their tasks on time and salespeople forget to update the CRM. To really reap the benefit of innovation and new technologies, companies need to think differently about their processes. Instead of only considering the company’s overarching needs, we must think about people’s specific needs as well.

Put differently — technology should be serving people, not people serving technology. That’s what the future of automation is about.

In order to allow people to focus on the work that matters, we must design our processes people-first and technology must follow suit.

But the tools in hand didn’t cut it. We needed a different kind of automation. A platform to help connect the dots and make business processes easier for people, while keeping humans in the loop.

That’s when Tonkean was born.

An operating system for operation teams.

We believe robotic automation holds the promise of creating real efficiencies without introducing more complexity to the business and its people. But to truly automate a process, it is not enough to automate one task (like what’s done with screen recording technologies in traditional RPA). You need to be able to automate both the execution of tasks (such as collecting and entering data), as well as the coordination of people. And most importantly, it must be easily created and maintained by the business process experts, the specific operations team.

The Tonkean platform allows operations teams to create bots, in a drag-and-drop fashion, that can automate common “last mile” issues in business processes: (1) Routing & delegation of work, (2) analyzing and entering data, (3) collecting, monitoring and reporting information, and (4) coordinating approvals and follow-ups with people.

Our first version of Tonkean was focused on managers, specifically on automating the mundane task of coordinating people and gathering information. From the many ups and downs of figuring out the market, and thanks to hundreds of early adopters using our product, the true breadth of the opportunity has been revealed.

Efficiency should no longer be mislabeled as a matter of individual “productivity.” It’s a matter of company scale.

Put in numbers, research firm IDC says, organizations lose 20–30% of revenue every year due to inefficient processes. And in the last few years, companies across industries started realizing you need a strategy for efficiency, just like you have one for growth, and have doubled down on it by creating internal dedicated teams to own it: operations teams.

From dev ops, to revenue ops (sales, marketing, support), and other types of business ops (legal, finance, HR, IT) — those teams and roles are growing massively in importance, budget, and headcount. The future of automation will be shaped by them. But they are limited today by the tools they have available to them, tools that are focused on addressing 80% of the business needs and not flexible enough to address 100% of needs for both people and business. Operations teams need the right tools to expand their capabilities. This is where Tonkean comes in.

Teams in companies like Google, Salesforce, TripActions, TakeTwo, Hopper and many others, are already working with Tonkean to gain real efficiencies in customer support, sales, marketing, engineering, HR, legal and more. They embarked on a journey of redefining how processes are designed by focusing on people first and are seeing incredible results.

Example of a Tonkean bot

Think people first.

Since we’re a people-first software company, I have to thank the people who’ve made what we’ve built possible. At the top of the list is our amazing, super-star team. I am so proud of what we have built together along with the challenges we overcame. Thank you for all the hard work and dedication in changing the future of automation.

Additionally, I’m extremely grateful for the support of our investors. First, to our lead investor Foundation Capital, with partner Joanne Chen joining our board of directors. I couldn’t ask for a better partner than Joanne and Foundation. Along with Modi Rosen @ Magma Ventures, Sam Lessin @ Slow Ventures, angles Kevin Mahaffey and Yuval Neeman, and the amazing advisors and individuals that helped us in many different ways — Thank you all for believing in us. I am so excited for the opportunities and challenges ahead.

Two years ago, I wrote a blog about how messy startup life is. I had no idea. The next two years would take me on a journey of many ups and downs, crazy highs and lows, and a great deal of self-reflection. Questioning almost everything along the way, one thing remained clear — when you believe in something to your very core, nothing else matters.

We at Tonkean are truly excited about the future. We firmly believe the future of automation will transform how work is done for the better. By leveraging technology to take on the mundane, manual tasks and allowing people to focus on high-value work, operations teams can build a better future: one where technology serves people, rather than people serving technology.

Want to learn more about what we’re doing here at Tonkean to change the future? Click here.

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