6 steps to avoiding an automation ‘trap’ by putting process first

To reap the advantages of intelligent automation, organizations should avoid common implementation pitfalls with a ‘process first’ approach.

Intelligent automation is helping to power the digital age by enabling employees to work better, faster and smarter. But to reap the advantages, organizations should avoid common implementation pitfalls with a “process first” approach.

Intelligent automation presents a powerful new lever with which to digitally transform an enterprise and fundamentally change how work gets done. By combining a wide range of techniques to enable the digitization, processing and evaluation of information, organizations can improve the performance of a function, the effectiveness of those involved and, ultimately, the experience of the customer.

Unfortunately, many attempts to implement intelligent automation disappoint because organizations try to automate their current environment, rather than optimizing that environment to best leverage new tools and truly enable their workforce.

One flawed approach focuses on finding applications for specific tools, much like a hammer looking for a nail. Certain steps might be automated, but they are fragmented across the existing flow, yielding fragmented capacity that can’t easily be realized as a benefit.

Another common pitfall occurs when a process includes tasks that the tool isn’t intended to address, yet the tool is applied anyway, overextending its capabilities and introducing the risk of instability.

Too often when implementing intelligent automation, there is limited contemplation of how automation may streamline a process to work in a completely different way. The process is only considered “as-is,” with no consideration of how the outcome might be achieved differently.

Sometimes, teams think too narrowly when considering potential automation opportunities—often because that is all they are asked to do—or lean toward specific pain points, even though these are just a small fraction of an overall process.

All of these scenarios preclude the ultimate goals of digital transformation: harnessing the collective power of people, processes and technology, and seamlessly integrating techniques into the organization’s end-to-end processes, and customer and employee journeys.

To avoid an automation trap, automation techniques must be applied holistically—in the context of process design and the experiences they are intended to drive for customers and other stakeholders.

This “process first” mentality enables business owners and process engineers to consider new ways of achieving an outcome or experience, leveraging all the tools and techniques at their disposal, such as intelligent automation, process re-engineering, core platform changes, data solutions, blockchain and other technology alternatives.

All of a function’s activities, and the customer journeys they create, should be viewed through a digital lens. Designers, process owners and solution architects work together to envision what’s possible and consider how and which automation techniques can be used to make it happen.

Design thinking is a cornerstone of this process-first approach, with customer and employee interactions reimagined in digitally enabled processes. The approach puts a relentless focus on the user experience—including that of both customers and employees. Designing processes with the “human in the loop” puts human interactions where they are wanted, because they are wanted—optimizing the roles of people by improving them with tools that enhance both efficiency and effectiveness.

Automation opportunity assessments, driven by process-first thinking, provide the framework for building a company’s automation pipeline and road map. The exercise can enable an organization to unearth potential value and opportunities, understand which automation capabilities to invest in and prioritize implementation projects.

When undertaking this journey, the following guideposts are useful:
  • Start with a pain point, something everyone can understand and rally around. Use it to establish broader momentum and focus on the end-to-end business process or customer journey. Secure a win.
  • Consider input from all critical stakeholders—business, technology, risk management and others—in an innovation or ideation session. Include solution architects well versed in the full range of automation techniques. Empower the team to make change.
  • Agree on the overall purpose of the business process and key guiding principles for the design of the process. Focus on the art of the possible.
  • Identify how and where in the process human input is best utilized to add value. Design for the “human in the loop.”
  • Examine how various automation techniques can enable the process and journeys envisioned, both in the interim and in the ultimate future state. Avoid focus on a single tool or technique.
  • Create an actionable road map that drives stakeholder engagement, prioritizes value (and engagement) and provides clear direction to achieve the vision set for the overall digital transformation. Sustain the momentum.

Applying various automation techniques—both traditional and new—in this thoughtful and holistic manner requires an empowered workforce, trained and incentivized to try new things. It requires a culture that is ready to embrace automation, enabled through a process-first approach, as part of everything they do. It also offers tremendous upside potential.

After the process-first approach takes root, innovation can flourish, be ongoing and relatively easy to achieve. Automation-fueled design can drive value organization-wide, transforming customer and employee experiences, reducing costs, and generating revenue and growth.

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