Organisations are continuing to face increased volatility and complexity. Enterprises that have emerged from 2020 with a more agile workforce are now looking at ways to improve processes and experiences through automation. For many, that means implementing process automation to stay ahead in a rapidly evolving business environment.
The benefits of implementing process automation go beyond cost optimisation and headcount reduction. Automation impacts a broader set of enterprise goals, including speeding up time to execute processes, improving data quality, reducing errors and improving business resilience. Having automated processes in place for repetitive tasks frees up employees to focus on value-added activities that positively impact customer experience and influences the bottom line.
But the harsh reality is that nearly 75% of all transformations fail. That is because organisations still work within silos, and the tension between business or IT-led technology projects tends to result in piecemeal implementations and dissatisfaction with results. There needs to be a strong relationship between business and IT to achieve value from automation initiatives. Both sides need to be collaborating well to achieve success.
Although technology is an enabler, transformation is inherently an exercise in business model innovation. Automation changes the skills required to perform jobs and the nature of the work employees are executing. To implement a successful process automation transformation requires a collaborative culture, executive commitment, change management strategy and a recognition of the time, money and resource investment required to achieve the improvements that process automation promises. The responsibility is on enterprises to determine how best to integrate and coordinate cross-organisational programs and ensure good change management practices are in place to address the disruption that adoption will entail.
The case for business-led, IT enabled
Forbes posits that in the future, a company’s success will be defined by its level of automation. Most organisations today have an extensive and expansive set of business processes underlined by a patchwork of technologies.
However, organisations are struggling to implement automation projects at scale, with many initiatives proving to be more challenging and complex to implement than anticipated. Further, organisations typically do not have sufficient skills or resources to undertake automation and subsequently manage them. Gartner reported that 42% of businesses failed to achieve their process automation goals. Companies should consider automation projects that provide quick wins and incremental improvements to demonstrate the return on investment and improve chances of success.
When process automation projects run into problems, a typical reason for failure is a misalignment between IT and business leaders—who will need a deeper cooperation level than has previously occurred. That is because business users understand the processes and are responsible for performance. Therefore, they should be responsible for identifying which processes to automate and then participate closely in automation development. The IT team must contribute its technical knowledge and experience in running quality systems and ensure end-to-end performance to support the implementation’s success.
Ideally, if the right partnership is in place between business and IT, there can be a balance of technical and business knowledge. This can reduce bottlenecks, enable a quicker implementation, deliver more realistic expectations, and provide the right balance between autonomy and oversight.
Four elements of a successful implementation
Leaders need to recognise and manage the why, what and how to exploit the potential of process automation. Automation is more than cost savings or operational efficiencies; it is about fundamentally changing an organisation, how it deals with its customers and suppliers and how it delivers its core products and services. Handled from a holistic perspective, leadership vision and organisational change will foster a smart automation strategy.
Enterprises considering automation are encouraged to consider four key areas:
1. Start with a strategy
Automation is not about replacing people with technology; it’s an opportunity for organisations to review their business, create a vision for the future, and then leverage new automation technologies to achieve that vision.
2. Consider the human element
When automation was in its nascence, many speculated that automation would replace jobs. It’s more likely that roles won’t be redundant but rather tasks undertaken in those roles. Enterprises need to consider how automated processes will shape their workforce. In the short term, organisations need to ensure employees are trained and skilled to use new technologies.
3. Transparency is critical
Change management must be a priority to help employees understand both the reason for transformation and the path forward. All change initiatives include an element of fear. Being transparent about potential impacts is especially important as you scale up automation initiatives into more complex strategies.
4. Agree on how to identify opportunities
Having a framework in place that drives alignment between teams will help identify the right types of processes suited to process automation. Developing guides can provide a framework for the decision process to ensure that the correct process is automated and the right technology is selected. Automation won’t improve a flawed process; it will just be faster.
Starting the automation journey
For organisations thinking about introducing automation into their operations, one of the most common and challenging questions is, “Where do I start?”. Many enterprises invest in multiple automation technologies but use them in a siloed or piecemeal fashion. For a successful transformation, a company needs a complete view of the automation opportunity.
Treating automation only as a technology change or automating a currently manual process won’t yield the performance improvements that most enterprises are seeking. Process automation is an opportunity to redesign the organisation to align with your future strategy and focus. Approaching process automation as an opportunity to provide richer engagement and streamlined services will help to identify where to employ automation, what technologies make the most sense, and what processes need to be redesigned.
While process automation promises to deliver many benefits, it’s not without some risks. Engaging an external consultant is an important first step in creating your automation strategy. The right partner can help you identify and optimise the process to be automated, choose and implement the right solution, and deliver the process with a robust change management plan to meet your business objectives.
No matter where you are in your process automation journey, we can help. Coxswain Alliance has over ten years’ experience providing business improvement solutions to a broad range of industries, both locally and internationally. We use personal, hands-on collaboration techniques to gain a deep understanding of your business and deliver a blueprint for operational excellence. Our proven methodologies provide flexible and innovative solutions to meet your business needs now and into the future.
 Gartner: State of RPA Implementation survey 2018
 Gartner: Automate Business Operations to Scale Your Digital Business, November 2019