As organizations begin to evolve and become complex over time, it is imperative for them to be mindful of manual versus automated operational functions and capabilities. Adoption and continuation of a manual approach can take up a significant amount of time and resource, impacting organizations in many ways.
Ever so often, organizations forget about complex processes they currently have in place, which becomes the limiting factor for the organizations’ ability to grow, move forward and gain a competitive advantage. In order to tackle this challenge, automation tools and capabilities can allow organizations to further refine and improve their overall efficiency.
Everything, including the underlying business strategy and organizational transformation, begins at the top. A solid business strategy must incorporate a technology view together with an understanding of resources and capabilities in order to create a competitive advantage. Organizations should be aware of the right mix of resources and capabilities, allowing in return, the right mix of automated vs. manual processes.
Automation and automated tools can further enhance an organization’s capability to grow rapidly and effectively by reducing redundant work and tasks that otherwise would slow down an organization’s speed-to-market model. It is relatively easy to procure and buy an automation tool these days, which can assist to automate structured data immediately and effectively. However, in order to maximize the benefits and increase capabilities including scalability of the automation program, a proper automation approach must be adopted in phases.
The first phase consists of understanding and defining the strategy for the program, developing a concrete business case for the automation program, understanding the efforts required and the business problem that is being solved. This is typically part of the Initialization Phase, where a pilot program is set and a project management program is strictly followed. In this phase the organization is at the initial stage of implementing the core foundation of an automation program, as it is reviewing and understanding the structured data and processes in order to solve business specific process. The business process would be very specific to a single department or a line of business. This is the period where an organization is discovering the initial automation capabilities by defining, designing, developing, testing and deploying a simple automation program. An organization may procure an industry wide automation tool and implement through a pilot program that otherwise would have required someone to manually process. For example, an accounts payable group is looking to automate their batch reporting on invoices that would be payable in thirty days. This would typically involve an Invoice Specialist to manually pull out data from the system and transfer to another reporting tool; all of which can be automated through an attended or unattended robot running reports in the background through an RPA tool. However, in order to fully reap the benefits of such tools, organizations need to go a step further to scale up an automation platform to include Intelligent Process Automations (IPA) such as Machine Learning (ML), Natural Language Processing (NLP), Artificial Intelligence (AI) and other cognitive capabilities that would allow organizations to become more agile. This is where part two of the phase plays a big role: the industrialization phase.
Phase two, the Industrialization Phase, is an approach whereby organizations would look to further exploit their existing datasets, processes, tasks including unstructured data for potential opportunities in order to gain competitive advantage. This is where many organizations typically explore complex technologies such as Machine Learning (ML), Natural Language Processing (NLP), Artificial Intelligence (AI) and other cognitive capabilities that would allow organizations to gain even further competitive advantage. Using such data science tools would allow extracting, processing and analyzing to generate useful and key information. Organizations who would have adopted such advanced tools would already have a well-established Robotics Process Automation (RPA) tool in place, with an established center of excellence at the line of business and enterprise level. For example, Netflix, a very simple everyday content viewing platform and production company, consists of multiple subscribers across the globe, uses a subscription-based streaming service. In order to understand their customer data base and personalize content for each and every user, Netflix uses many complex algorithms as part of their machine learning capabilities. As such, organizations that tend to adopt such complex tools and technologies typically have a mature capability in place allowing for complex transformational journey.
Phase three, the Institutionalization Phase; primarily focuses on further expanding and maturing the center of excellence by having an expanded governance structure and managed services in place in order to allow a business-as-usual deployment of automation programs. At this stage, many organizations would have a robust center of excellence spanning across the enterprise with “plug and play model” available for the entire organization to rapidly deploy multiple automation tools and programs cross-functionally to reap the benefits as required. They would also have specialists and subject matter experts available to assist them as part of their individual automation journey.
The automation program structure begins with an understanding of the organization’s requirements through needs analysis, having a well-defined strategy with clear understanding of the business drivers and a well-defined scope, prior to selecting any tool. Once a clear understanding of the requirements has been established and scope has been identified with an automation strategy in mind, it is imperative for this to be communicated across the organization with a purpose for a need to establish a proper transformation program. In order for any transformation program to work successfully and positively, this requires senior leadership involvement and stakeholder buy-in early. Furthermore, proper communication and management of employees through an effective change management strategy is strongly advised. This will allow for a seamless and efficient adoption and sustainment of new tools and capabilities for all impacted parties.
Call to Action for Vendor Managers
When is comes to automation, it is very imperative that there is a fundamental sound understanding of the business requirements and a clear understanding of the automation tools in the market. Automation tools offer variety of capabilities and options. However, there are several limitations of such tools which must be taken into consideration before acquiring and deploying, which can ultimately stagnate growth of the organization. Furthermore, as these tools start to cross-functionally grow within an organization it is important that Vendor Management has seat at the table as part of Automation Center of Excellence group; to monitor and control on the overall vendor performance with an 360 view.