Any business turning to automation must understand one thing - it’s not a quick fix. There are a number of stages a business must go through in order to truly understand the opportunities and impacts.
The first is to take an enterprise view of the kind of problems you are trying to solve through automation. The goal could be increased productivity, reduced costs, improved product quality or better service delivery, but it’s critical to establish what the problem is before you can work out if automation is the answer.
A committee approach, that brings together business function and IT experts, can help companies to understand the interdependencies between their key business processes and functions and to define the required adjustments to their processes, in order to create a feasibility assessment well before a business case is made.
The next stage is to create a clear automation pipeline, using a structured methodology to evaluate opportunities and impacts. For example, when assessing different categories of automation opportunity, ask questions such as:
- Would this simplify or improve an existing business process or function?
- Could this optimize a key function or business process?
- Would this transform a function or the enterprise at large?
- Would this automation have implications on the organizational design or structure?
Assessment of impacts should involve an understanding of how people will be affected across the organization, leveraging cross-industry research wherever possible. For example, the European Robotics Industry’s Good Work Charter sets out some of the principles for how humans and robots can work side by side.
For every automation opportunity, functional leaders must be able to articulate where it sits on both feasibility and risk spectrums. This requires an understanding of both the technical implications (e.g. how it complements the existing IT capabilities and roadmap) and the business implications (e.g. impacts on organizational structure, downstream stakeholders, and the level of change management required to implement and sustain a particular path).
Avoid high-risk, high-return projects to start with
To begin with, it is better to start slow, especially if the business is new to automation. Avoid the urge to embark on projects that have the highest return but also involve a high risk of failure and a high degree of complexity.
Organizations can work towards more complex projects over time, using real-time experience to build automation integration capabilities within your enterprise. One of the issues companies are likely to come across is skills gaps. Taking a measured approach will help identify these gaps and develop the right approach to filling them.
Making a successful transition to automation, however, isn’t just about recruiting or reskilling individuals to perform key functions. There needs to be honesty about whether the capability and experience exists within the enterprise to identify opportunities and select and implement the right technology.
Organizations will have to weigh up whether bringing in full-time expertise, partnering with consultants, or a hybrid approach presents the best path to de-risking the project and delivering success.
The final piece of the jigsaw is sustaining momentum once the implementation is complete. This requires fostering a culture of continuous learning throughout the enterprise, through organizational training and development programs and through capturing key perspectives in areas such as customer experience, analytics and organizational design.
It is important that ongoing requirements and their associated costs, such as maintenance, documentation and training, are established and consistently reviewed. This should include identifying how existing roles may need to be modified (even if those roles don’t directly intersect with the automation application or process) and how key learnings along the way will be captured - especially the root causes of any failures or setbacks.