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Don't Automate the Present, Engineer the Future - 5 Ways to Create a Foundation for Effective Process Automation

By Kevin Huggard, Director, Process Automation & Architecture, Kelly Services

Don't Automate the Present, Engineer the Future - 5 Ways to Create a Foundation for Effective Process AutomationKevin Huggard, Director, Process Automation & Architecture, Kelly Services

Today,the adoption of technology within business practices is being outpaced by the rate new applications are being created. While some developers of legacy industry applications are diligently working to incorporate common features found in personal and social circles, other businesses are getting caught up in hype cycles. Processing speeds and easier code development applications have created an explosion of capabilities pushed into the market. Within a 10-year period, we’ve came from the introduction of the iPhone in 2007 to the race towards figuring out quantum computing in 2017.

Established companies who are focusing on current processes to automate are missing the opportunity to reimagine their industry and engineer their future from the ground up. Most legacy processes evolved to electronic versions once computers came along. Adopting automation into your current processes cause such dramatic changes that often value stream definitions and end to end process engineering is more beneficial than continuing to take requirements from the current process. For example, rather than using Robotic Process Automation (RPA) to push work at a micro-level, use a clean-sheet approach to define the process purpose and design a digital version. 

In order to avoid getting caught up in cycles of complexity at elemental levels, here are some ways to create a strong foundation for future process automation that will shift the focus back to overall intent of the workstreams:

1. Define Your Truth

While reducing operational costs is usually the traditional purpose, automation has multiple uses. For example, it could also be used for customizing products and services or doing something that hasn’t been possible before. 

Select the right level of automation based on who you want to be and stick to it. Just because robots can call customers doesn’t mean they should.

Regardless of the usage, it’s important to look internally of why you’re considering technology at this point. Is the strategy to stand your ground and compete in a static way? Or are you looking to use a more dynamic approach to find other markets, products, or customers who are not currently in your purview? There are obvious benefits and risks for each strategy. You could face consequences for staying in a static spot or lose yourself in an unnecessary journey. Select the right level of automation based on who you want to be and stick to it. Just because robots can call customers doesn’t mean they should.

2. Who’s Your New Bot Friend?

Before dedicating large amounts of investment dollars, start small. Starting with RPA is a good entry point as it will help operational leaders to see capabilities. Introducing light applications will identify issues while accelerating internal learning. Typically, it’s unclear of how your business will adjust to stepping into automation. You may begin to see trends in the requests for automation, along with the challenges it comes with,as well as opportunities to develop new processes. For example, collecting information during an onboarding process or validating system information. Gaps and opportunities for digitization will also present themselves quickly and should not be ignored. 

More importantly, you will learn about your culture and its ability to change. Aside from operational and IT readiness, you will test the culture’s attention span and ability to concentrate on a long -term journey that doesn’t follow traditional project management or financial accounting patterns.

3. Get Directions But Don’t Let Someone Drive Your Car

If you chose to use outside support to assist in the development journey, do not give away valuable learning cycles to an outside firm. Use internal talent to develop process workflows supported by external resources.

I was introduced to RPA while working in the banking industry in 2015 from several consulting groups. Most of the proof of concepts during that time were offered free of charge and engagements where heavily sought after. What I now understand, is the experience and lessons discovered while developing RPA workflows went to the consultants and not to my organization. There is a lot a value to the organization understanding what this is, and what it is not that can only be achieved by putting hands on the technologies.

4. Imagine A New Digital You

Try to understand what the company’s purpose is and don’t focus on the label you currently have. Do you consider yourself to be a relationship company because it’s a competitive advantage or because you have so many manual processes? Answering reflective questions will help provide guardrails to automation teams and prevent damaging competitive characteristics.

Adhere to good marketing and UX/UI rules as well. There is potential to lose your identity through a series of disconnected automations that interact with customers digitally. Develop a comprehensive digital version of your company and ensure automations are within the swim lane.

5. Design For Redesign

Because new and better applications will continue to arrive in the market, architecting for a modular future with multiple automation tools is critical. Aligning towards a capability matrix perspective will help to define IT standards, identify gaps, and give structure to rate new applications against. Centralize lessons and standards within an asset library and help accelerate future automation development by storing modular processes that can be duplicated.

Do not ignore exposure risk. Imagine the risks of automating up front and figure out how to bring risk and legal teams along for the journey without derailing projects. Automation changes visibility for operational groups but it also changes how audit and control teams validate. The challenge is trying to identify if there is incremental risk being introduced by moving to the new process.

Finally, remind yourself and the leaders this is a journey and adjustments should be expected. This is an exciting time for businesses and technology coming together to create something new for future generations.

Happy Automating!

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