Tim Kulp is the Chief Innovation Officer at Mind Over Machines where he helps companies re-imagine work by combining AI + human potential.
Automation is all the buzz in 2020. Covid-19 has shown businesses where they need to supplement their human capital with technology assistance to maintain operations. Using digital assistants and technologies like robotic process automation (RPA), businesses can provide their team members with a digital sidekick to get work done.
Sounds great, right? It can be if you remember these three things: Who does the process, what you want to measure and how can the process be automated.
Tools like RPA and terms like “hyperautomation” are working their way into the general language of business. But at their core, automation projects are just like any other technology project. And like all tech projects, if you rush into automation without a clear business purpose, you will not get the results you expect. Or worse, it could end up as yet another project on the ash heap of innovation failure.
If you want to start your automation journey on the right foot, focus on who, what and how:
Know who does the process
Start your automation journey with the people who currently do the work themselves. Set out on your quest for optimization, efficiency or whatever your goal is as a team, not as a dictate. The people doing this process every day know it better than anyone else. They know the shortcuts, the hacks, the different flavors of data. Keep your team deeply engaged from the start to ensure your automation adds value — not extra work.
Leaders often worry about how their team will react to the discussion of automation. When leading an automation project, keep the team engaged. Show them, don’t tell them, how their work will change. Discuss the additional value they can bring when automation handles monotonous tasks. Have an open dialogue, and give the team space to voice their concerns.
Additionally, use the four P’s of transition to help people navigate the change:
- Purpose: Why are you automating this process? Have a good business reason, and be transparent about what it means for the business and the team.
- Picture: What will work look like after the process is automated?
- Plan: How will the team get there? Automation is not perfect the moment it’s turned on. It takes time to test, optimize and build confidence.
- Part: Most importantly, what part does the team play in the automation? Make sure to define the team’s role both during the automation project and after.
Know what metrics matter
Your automation journey will start with a business process. What metrics matter for that process? You don’t have to know the specific metric values before you start, but you should know what metrics matter for the process you seek to automate.
You can tap into metrics from process engineering, such as average handle time (AHT) and error rate, or use less standardized metrics such as reliability (how certain you are the task will be right every time). The key here is to ensure you have a clear vision of the metrics that matter for your work. Approach the automation project as a business solution, and focus on the metrics you want to measure before the project begins and after the project is complete.
Remember, automation isn’t an all-or-nothing deal. You can automate 70% of a process and still see significant improvements in the metrics that matter. If you don’t have a grip on those metrics prior to starting and your automation journey takes an unexpected turn, you could end up feeling dismayed. Fear not! With a good grip on your metrics, you can understand how reducing your AHT by 70% will deliver value to your organization and help you reach your automation goals.
Know how your technology can help
Imagine you’ve just set out on your automation journey. You’re using RPA to automate your front-end user interface. Your team is with you and thrilled about the possibilities; they’re on board. Along the path to automation, you encounter the director of IT, who asks, “Why didn’t we just use the system APIs at a lower cost?”
Did you start your automation journey on the wrong path?
Automation technologies like RPA interact with software systems. This is called front-end automation, where the automation uses a software system like a user. This is excellent for legacy systems.
Many modern software systems have application programming interface (API) capabilities to allow other software systems to transmit data without a user interface. Tools like Microsoft’s Power Automate and Zapier enable API automation to be done with low-code/no-code solutions.
To ensure you start your journey on the right path, work with your team, peers and partners to determine the right approach to automation. Automation solutions aren’t one-size-fits-all. If there are no APIs or data transfers that can occur, then tools like RPA can still help you achieve your automation goals. Avoid switching automation approaches (front end = RPA, back end = API) by ensuring you have a good grip on what’s possible as you start your automation journey.
Know before you go
Your automation journey doesn’t have to look like a dark, foreboding forest. It can be a clearing that leads to amazing benefits for both your company and your team members. With the right people, the right metrics and the right tools, your journey can be a success.
However, like with any journey, a prepared traveler has a better chance of successfully reaching their destination. By preparing for your automation journey, you have a better chance of automation success and can help your company realize the transformative value automation can bring to your human workforce.