Innovation or Dishwashing Robot?

January 15, 2018 by

The start of a new year is often accompanied by commitments for change and improvement, both business and personal. We’re all striving to innovate, “to introduce something new; make changes in anything established”. In business, this often involves technology. How you approach the introduction of technology could be the difference between realizing true innovation or ending up with a “Dishwashing Robot”.

Dishwashing Robot Image Source: Popular Science 2010

A friend introduced me to the expression “Dishwashing Robot” as a way of describing what happens when you apply new technology to an old way of doing things. It seems innovative on the surface, but it doesn’t bring true, impactful change to an organization. “Innovation” (e.g. a dishwasher) occurs when you leverage the full potential of new technology to change a process and realize optimal benefits. So my challenge to you, and myself, is to consider how we can change processes in our organizations to maximize the benefits of any new technologies we introduce.

A common “Dishwashing Robot” in O&G producing companies

A common focal point when introducing business intelligence solutions to an Oil and Gas producer is to replace the tedious task of assembling the Weekly Production Report – delivering it faster and more reliably. Unfortunately, the resulting report often still incorporates the same report layout used in Excel since 1985. Don’t get me wrong, automation is great, better information reliability is great, and drill-downs in reports are great… but they’re still just the Oil & Gas versions of a Dishwashing Robot.

Production reports provide summary information, but typically lack clear actionable insight. A common tool my clients now use to focus their efforts where they count the most is a Diagnostic Workflow, used for Production Performance, Financial Performance and Performance to Plan. Visual analysis tools can convey so much more than a report. Reports are still useful tools for packaging up information into an organized and consumable format, but they are typically constrained to a moment in time. For example:

1) A monthly report might show that last month’s Production is 62% above Forecast.

2) A chart comparing the trends of Production and Forecast will communicate the same thing and it will tell you that Production was below Forecast for the first few months. It also provides a visual trajectory that suggests production will remain above Forecast for the foreseeable future. But is it enough to make up for the early shortfalls?

3) A second chart comparing the cumulative Production and Forecast will tell you that Production, for the year-to-date, is below Forecast. The trajectory of Production is converging towards Forecast and will likely exceed it at the end of the 12-month Forecast period.

These two charts, relative to the report example, illustrate a different approach for consuming the same data, in a visual form that communicates more information and nuance than could ever be achieved with a report. In fact, reports often represent the greatest opportunity for producers to introduce visual analytics tools. They can create significant innovation in how producers deliver, interpret, and ultimately act on, information.

Are your reports delivering the impact your business needs? Or are they just dishwashing robots, with their mechanical hands in the sink?


Technology on its own is not enough to guarantee innovation. Innovation typically relies on changes in Technology & Process happening in concert. This invariably involves people and all the complexities associated with change management and the Status Quo (Cognitive) Bias. Innovation isn’t easy, so go into your improvement initiatives with your eyes wide open and be prepared to address all aspects of what is required to truly innovate.

Wishing you a happy and prosperous new year!


Thanks for reading. We welcome your questions and suggestions for future blogs.