C-suite guide to automation

Properly executed, the potential benefits of automation can outweigh even the media hype. Sustainable transformation and the creation of real shareholder value are truly attainable.

It feels like there is an automation gold rush. However, as with every gold rush there are drawbacks, pitfalls and cowboys.

Our recommended approach of ‘think big, move fast and get organised’ is based on the considerable experience gained by Virtual Operations in supporting our clients’ large-scale automation programmes

The good news is we know the gold is there. It’s inexpensive to mine, the risk is low and there are fortunes to be made with the right approach.

Our recommended approach of “think big, move fast and get organised” is based on the considerable experience gained by Virtual Operations in supporting our clients’ large-scale automation programmes.

There are ten essential steps to achieving highly successful process automation programmes…

1. Understand your objectives. We have found that the principal drivers dictate the way in which the programme is constructed. Cost reduction is almost invariably a major goal, but can be considered as a pre-requisite. Other operational issues are often seen as more important including:

  • Enabling legacy systems to interact seamlessly with new technologies (a major step towards creating a digital enterprise)
  • Increasing regulatory compliance (and regulator confidence)
  • Workforce management (especially coping with peak or seasonal workloads)
  • Reducing the offshore footprint
  • Improved customer experience and satisfaction, and follow-up (for example using interactive voice response, artificial intelligence and robots in call centres).

2. Plan. All large organisations will have a wide range of processes that could be automated and technologies which can be deployed. Defining your “operational landscape” is a critical step in optimising the value from automation.

3. Communicate and sell. A wide range of stakeholders will become involved in any programme of significant scale. Regular and timely communication – selling and education – is a vital element in managing the stakeholder group. Business owner buy-in will create a pull for automation. Remember that automation programmes are low risk, but will invariably involve disruption. With the holistic approach, disruption is anticipated, managed and minimised. Personnel who are to be released or redeployed will require particular attention not least because the detailed process data will be gathered from within this group. External communication is also a major consideration as stock markets look favourably upon well-orchestrated change initiatives.

4. Think big and take a holistic approach. Aim at least at the functional level and not process by process.

5. Build an automation centre of excellence (CoE). Unlike shared service centres, CoEs in the automation world are relatively small. The purpose they serve is to provide the resources and tools required to ensure a consistent, low-risk, leveraged cost to the programme, and the disciplines of strategic focus, governance and prioritisation that should be applied across the organisation. The CoE should:

  • Manage the target operating model design and development roles, organisations, relationships and governance working with IT of a federated CoE to support and sustain full-scale production
  • Develop an automation methodology for use within the CoE
  • Align CoE activity to other areas within the organisation, such as IT roadmap or other process optimisation, for example lean, and shared services to break through the automation “glass ceiling”
  • Act as subject matter experts in support of the automation technology
  • Manage skills sourcing and/or training
  • Future-proof the programme by keeping pace with the leading automation technologies.

6. Release required resources and budget. Well-planned and organised automation programmes will break even after approximately 12 months. It is a false economy not to invest in a programme which will have such a rapid and high return.

7. Appoint a head of automation from within. A focal point and an organiser, this is a senior role, and requires a combination of vision, persuasion and project management abilities.

8. Train your own people where possible. The most difficult tasks we face are identifying the right opportunities and then mapping them accurately. Once the process has been mapped, the implementation is usually straightforward.

9. Run pilots not proofs of concept. All the leading technologies have now been proven on multiple occasions. If you need reassurance with your systems and your data then run a pilot, which can go into production and deliver value when it succeeds.

10. Don’t stop in-flight automations. In many organisations isolated automation initiatives are already underway. Typically these are tactical, with a single tool – usually robotic – and are conducted on a process by process approach. Our advice is to let these initiatives continue. They are highly likely to succeed, they present little risk, they will almost certainly underpin automation as a change lever and, most importantly, they can be gathered in when the CoE is operational.