Automation is central to the digital transformation journeys that many companies are currently undertaking. According to a 2020 Forbes survey* about the top ten digital transformation trends, ‘automation’ was at number six. When you dig down into the details, the term covers everything from robotic process automation, to workflow automation and business process orchestration.
As automation can be quite widely defined, let’s consider what it means in terms of process, people and technology as part of digital transformation. Below we’ve summarised the top five tips for each element:
Automation & Process
1. Identify and document what matters: What are your key business processes? Which are the processes that deliver revenue to the business and support operational delivery? Document the end-2-end processes, including: manual tasks, dependencies upstream and downstream, system, partner and supplier linkages.
2. Can it be automated? So many companies try to automate an existing process without ever looking at the process itself. Take some time to evaluate the process and, where necessary, modify it, particularly in areas where automation can streamline it.
3. Start small: Some organisations seek to automate their entire universe, rather than starting small. Choose a discrete area that is representative of the whole – in terms of automation type, benefits that can be identified, and that can be tried without breaking both the bank and the organisation.
4. Identify KPIs that demonstrate success: Isolate tangible benefits to automation, that deliver real business value. Can your automation efforts deliver these critical KPIs? In addition, what is the ROI timeframe? Days? Weeks? Or months?
5. Fail fast: Success automation does not need to take months to deliver benefits – it can be measured almost from the start. So, your KPIs need to reflect performance in days, not weeks and if it doesn’t work, accept it and move on quickly to the next automation opportunity. Some automation challenges work and some don’t.
Automation & People
1. Involve your teams: Automation often starts with removing repetitive tasks, manual activities and ‘make-work’ that teams do. Get them involved to help make automation a success by identifying processes and activities ripe for automation.
2. Team testing: Let the team that is impacted by the automation test and effectively lead the implementation of the automation changes. Their buy-in will help cement success.
3. Adopting automation: Automation only works if it is adopted and embraced by the people who use it. Many people don’t like change, even when it makes their roles easier. Remember to build in change management and training to any automation introduced.
4. Team champions: Involve your teams in feeding back on the success of the automation changes. Get them to be the champions of the automation efforts.
5. Champions, helping champions: Success breeds success. Get the change champions of one automation effort to support the next activity. In effect, ‘Help others help themselves.’
Automation & Technology
Finally, let’s consider the technology solution or solutions themselves. Too often companies focus on the technology first, rather than on the two elements above, before moving on to the technology solutions.
1. Think long-term: When automating, consider which technology solution makes most sense in the long run, in more than just a year or two. Does this solution have the flexibility to grow and adapt to future changes in your organisation’s processes? Can it scale to meet new needs?
2. What is your automation ideal? Some automation projects experience scope creep and go over budget. Instead, create a clear vision of what the automation end state looks and then work backwards, defining the phases needed to deliver this vision.
3. Security: What can be automated can be hacked. Automation makes tasks easier and a thousand times faster; it also does the same for the malicious attacker. In addition, when processes get automated, people quickly forget that they are operating in the background. So, be mindful of security risks and implications, and plan accordingly.
4. ‘Good enough’ tech: We have seen some clients trying to get tech solutions adapted to their process needs. When you are automating, you are driving standardisation and consistency. Instead, it is useful to adopt a ‘good enough’ mindset and even adapt the processes to leverage the automation solutions’ capabilities.
5. Prioritise, prioritise, prioritise: Automating workflow takes a lot of upfront time and resources, both of which you’ll recover exponentially if you do it properly. There’s also a steep learning curve involved, so start by creating a list of which measures will have the largest impact on the company and then prioritise this by how much work/effort/risk is involved in implementing each.
You don’t need to work through this alone. Here at MDB, we are actively helping clients – both large and small – to optimise their existing automation solutions with the goal of extracting the most value from what they have already purchased. Additionally, we are working with other clients on their need to develop business-focused automation services that meet their evolving and future business needs.
• * Forbes predictions for top 10 technologies for digital transformation 2020. https://www.forbes.com/sites/danielnewman/2020/08/11/the-top-10-digital-transformation-trends-of-2020-a-post-covid-19-assessment/?sh=f224d4d77b43
Head of Digital Transformation Services at Ortom8 & MDB Service Consulting Ltd