Automation Strategy – the 3 Essential Ingredients

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Over the past few years, Business Process Automation (BPA), in particular Robotic Process Automation (RPA), has proved it’s worth in the global business landscape. That’s why the future outlook for automation technologies is very positive, with Gartner predicting that by 2022, 85% of large organisations will deploy RPA.

But there’s a catch. For automation success, companies must follow the right automation strategy with proven success principles.

Why?

For one, because automation is not a fit-it-and-forget-it kind of endeavor. Although RPA robots (“bots”) work independently and precisely, it’s entirely up to the organisation to recognise the right processes to automate, identify relevant metrics to measure performance, and ensure that bots deliver the expected outcomes. Second, because at least 30-50% of RPA projects fail, usually because companies simply jump into a new automation initiative without prior preparation.

Successful automation can only happen when you create a systematic automation strategy and follow 5 key success principles – starting with a strong vision and a detailed plan. In this article, we explain how you can articulate your vision and set a strong stage for your BPA project. Future articles will address the other 4 BPA success principles: Map, Technology, Measure and Culture.

The Need for a Strong, Attainable Vision in your Automation Strategy

BPA has transformational value for many types of processes in many kinds of organisations. However, implementation is often fraught with many issues which lead to BPA failure. Frequently, these issues stem from a lack of vision, specifically two key aspects: the what and the why.

What are we trying to achieve with automation:

  • More efficient and faster processes?
  • Better-quality output?
  • Time or cost savings?
  • More productive, motivated and engaged employees?

In other words, what is our “BPA story”?

And also, why are we trying to achieve this goal?

Deploying an automation solution without a clear vision of what you expect from it and why is like sailing off into choppy waters without a map, compass or GPS. You may feel overwhelmed by the new initiative, and struggle to keep moving forward. As a result, chances are that you won’t get anywhere with your new BPA programme.

So, before you jump onto the automation bandwagon, articulate a clear vision, mission and goals. Don’t be afraid to consider a long timeline, and to articulate your vision for the next 1, 2, 3, 5, and even 10 years. For example, in the next year, you may envision setting up a Centre of Excellence (CoE) and automating just one process in one business unit. But in five years’ time, you may want to scale up your automation programme with cognitive automation, analytics, and an expanded CoE. Regardless of timeline, get your vision down on paper.

Start Small (But Think Big)

There’s nothing wrong with a big, broad vision for automation. Thinking big can kickstart innovation, boost motivation, and drive results with your BPA programme. But it’s also important to support big thinking with small steps.

First, understand how automation can be applied in your organisation.

  • Which processes are the best candidates for automation? Why?
  • If there’s more than one candidate, which process should you focus on first? Why?
  • What results can you expect from automating one or more of these processes?
  • What are the hidden steps and tasks within each process, and how can we align them to our automation strategy?
  • How does automating these processes align with our overarching business strategy?

Find these answers first. Also communicate the vision and story for your big RPA idea to the rest of the organisation, especially to senior leadership, and to the rank and file who will be directly involved or affected by the initiative. People are at the heart of an automation journey, so involving them will help set a strong foundation for the new programme, and get their buy-in – both of which are critical success factors.

Reinforce Your Vision and Automation Strategy with a Definitive Plan

Once you know what you want from your automation programme and why, create a plan on how to get there. Make sure you don’t account for too many ambitious deliverables for Year 1. Start with a proof of concept (POC) for the “quick wins”, that is, the repetitive, low-complexity, lower-value processes that are easy to automate and can provide solid results quickly. Choose your use cases carefully, and build momentum slowly but surely.

Next, make sure the automation mission and plan are connected with the company’s mission and goals for the short-, medium- and long-term.

Also plan and implement the key foundational components of the new automation programme, such as:

  • Governance framework and Centre of Excellence (CoE) to manage and optimise the programme
  • Vendor relationships framework to ensure that you get the right partner to meet your automation goals, and also get the best possible results from the collaboration
  • Resources like external developers, citizen developers, etc. to run and maintain the day-to-day programme

Such a robust roadmap will have a tangible impact on your automation effort, so it’s worthwhile to set it up early.

Once you have these building blocks in place, you can think about how to scale your automation program to take it to a desired future state. Also consider any new governance frameworks or infrastructure requirements that may be required. Do keep in mind that no matter where you are in the automation journey, the automation strategy and plan should always line up with business imperatives.

Conclusion

The pivot to automation can be a highly profitable decision for your organisation. But for this, it’s vital to have a clear RPA vision and automation strategy. It’s also important to:

  • Create a compelling RPA story to articulate the ‘why’ and get org-wide buy-in
  • Start small by understanding how automation can be applied in the organisation and to which process(es)
  • Create a definitive plan to scale the programme, and build momentum
  • Implement the foundational aspects before execution, including a governance framework, a Centre of Excellence (CoE), and a vendor relationships framework
  • Align the automation mission with the company’s overall mission and goals

If you’re just getting started on your automation journey, we hope you found this article useful. For more insightful content like this, please visit our insights page.

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