Automation has become one of the biggest business trends of recent years, with Gartner predicting adoption rates as high as 80% in areas such as finance. However, while the technology is an appealing prospect for many businesses, it can also be a risky one.
According to research by Ernst & Young, as many as 50% of automation projects fail to meet their initial goals. There are a range of possible reasons for this, but many can be traced back to a common underlying thread—a lack of cohesive planning.
Too many organizations are enamored with the possibilities of automation and fall into the trap of treating the software as just another tool to add to the technology stack. They don’t reflect on how it will impact staff, how long it will take to implement, and where they’ll go once the initial project is complete.
This is why we’re exploring three of the key principles you need to keep in mind from the moment you start planning your automation project.
Automation isn’t just about tech — it’s about people
It’s easy to think of automation as something that exists entirely independently of human workers. However, unless you somehow manage to automate an entire department out of existence — not something that’s practical with current tech — the reality of the situation is that automation needs to be treated as a tool that’s going to be used by people and teams.
It’s vital to maintain awareness of the relationship between your technology and your employees. Rather than taking a top-down, prescriptive approach to automation, speak to the staff whom the project will be impacting. Chances are, they already have a very good idea of which tedious, repetitive aspects of their role are ideal for automation, and how the technology could improve their workflow.
Consider your workers’ goals, and then choose the solution that enables them to do it faster, more accurately, and more efficiently.
Beyond this, try not to forget that introducing automation will represent a major change to the way that your team members spend their days. This change needs to be carefully managed, or you risk impacting job satisfaction and contentment.
Start small and build momentum
Once an organization recognizes the advantages of automation, it’s easy to start seeing countless different use cases to which the technology could be applied. However, as tempting as business-wide automation might be, trying to overhaul every possible process in a single mega-project is a recipe for disaster.
Fortunately, one of the great advantages of automation is that it’s comparatively modular. While different systems can work with each other—the bot that automatically pays invoices may send information to another tool that lets suppliers know that they’ve been paid, for example—you can easily deploy them one at a time.
This means that rather than getting over-ambitious, it’s usually best to begin your automation journey by identifying the low-hanging fruit —relatively simple tasks that consume a large amount of resources. In the financial industry, for example, account opening and loan origination are usually prime candidates.
By focusing efforts on a single area, you can deploy the necessary IT resources needed to counter any teething problems and work with the frontline staff to ensure that the technology meets their needs.
Not only will this project deliver clear benefits, it can also act as a learning opportunity for the next one. This allows you to build momentum based on your success, and safely move toward widespread automation.
Don’t just automate existing workflows
It might sound obvious, but when we’re introducing automation to an organization, the aim is to make improvements to the existing workflow, not maintain the status quo.
This can mean making some sweeping changes to the way things work, for the simple reason that a workflow based on human workers might not be efficient for robots. Rather, we should redesign the existing workflows to fit the needs—and benefits—of a hybrid human/automation workforce.
For example, if a current workflow involves several steps where the work is checked and approved by a manager, look to see if you can eliminate any of them. This might mean automatically paying invoices below a certain dollar value, or having the HR software grant any leave requests so long as the department would still meet staffing levels.
Granting this kind of power to a computer can be anxiety-inducing for professionals used to keeping a firm grip on every file and process to pass their desks. However, there is little benefit in investing in automation technology if we insist that it must play by the old rules.
As part of this, you must shake off the idea that automation is limited to the back office. While it’s certainly true that many of the technology’s use cases are internally focused, this isn’t a universal rule. There are several areas where the scope of automation can extend beyond internal stakeholders, such as automated customer service bots.
Less haste, more speed
Automation can be an incredibly powerful tool for any business. However, like any powerful tool, it needs to be wielded with care to avoid causing more harm than good.
While it may seem contradictory to emphasize a relatively slow, measured approach to a technology whose main benefit lies in its speed, real-world results show that careful planning and thoughtful implementation are the best way to deliver a successful automation project.
Bart Peluso III is Vice President of Marketing at KnowledgeLake. He joined the company from Microsoft where he introduced & led ‘Hyperautomation’ across the company’s 15 global regions. Prior to Microsoft, Bart was the Global Head of Product Marketing for Blue Prism, where he drove the creation of the RPA Market along with Gartner’s RPA Magic Quadrant. Bart has managed Product Marketing Strategy, Competitive Intelligence, Technical Alliance Partnerships (TAP) & Customer Advisory Groups in the ‘Automation / Document Processing space since 2010. He led Product Marketing for disruptive new technologies at Cisco, Dell & the revolutionary start-up Mesh Networks.