As Digital technology continues to expand its influence and increased digitization paving the way for Industry 4.0, many organizations have realigned their strategy and roadmap to invest in technologies related to Security, Cloud, Analytics, Agility, Mobility, and Automation. These investments and efforts are in the hopes that it will make them more efficient to transform their way of working and prepare for more complexity.
Automation is one of the foundational pillars for success in the digital transformation era. It not only empowers the workforce, but also allows humans to be become more human at work. Hence, a substantial number of companies have started to dip their feet into this water. Though the early adopters have managed to achieve significant value benefits, many organizations often find themselves on unsteady footing and running out of steam to scale the benefits.
Since the outcome is not always what had been hoped for, this leads to incorrect expenditure and the frustration of having to start over again. The common denominator identified which decreases the success factor of an IT Automation project is as follows:
1. No long-term vision from leaders
Enterprise Leaders must have a conceptual vision which represents innovative ideas and novel approaches to address a specific problem. Once this is identified the tools and solutions either existing in the organization or in the market needs to be thoroughly validated for a long-term ROI.
Most organizations today sustain on the already automated blocks of vulnerable scripts and programs which are mostly in islands causing knee jerks when comes to make strategic decisions for the entire organization. Organizations with successful automation initiatives have a clear strategic vision. With more and more CIOs now joining hands with CDO (Chief Digital Officers) to drive the Digital Transformation journey, IT has received a new facelift. Additionally, setting up a Centre of Excellence for Automation with established skill sets and competencies with robust governance structures accelerates the automation programs. Else it will be considered as “another IT lead initiative” losing focus and interest without support from key decision makers.
2. Focusing on How rather than Why
An automation product has the capability of providing required benefits if deployed in an efficient way. Most of the times the programs driving the delivery did not spend enough time to understand the “why” but dived too quickly into the “how”.
The challenges are much more at the fundamental level where, without much due-diligence and understanding, it is expected that the automation would be a “silver bullet” to address cost reduction and efficiency gains. This is unlikely. The typical cycle starts with the understanding of the “as-is” state, capturing the gaps, and agreeing on the “to-be” state. Feasibility studies, ROI estimations, and benefits timelines are critical before kick-starting any automation initiative. The key is to research and select a tool with a partner that is both affordable and scalable, bearing in mind the maintenance costs to sustain the automation expedition.
3. Measuring Automation’s success based on Headcount Reduction
Automation is often synonymous with headcount reduction. Management instinctively measures success of an automation initiative by reduction in the number of full-time employees. Varied analytics and research firms conforming to the claim of job losses and replacement of workforce by robots leads to unwanted barricades to the automation group during the journey. Scoring automation in this way is self-defeating and creates a division among the non-automation resources. It is better to view the automation products as an enabler to complement the team and free them up for real value-added activities.
“Intuition does not come to an unprepared mind” — Albert Einstein.
As management deviates their thought process of not measuring the automation’s success by headcount reduction, the workforce whose repetitive tasks are automated must be positioned to be upskilled to perform more innovative activities. A clear plan must be laid and articulated to the workforce by the management. A successful transformation program like rolling out an automation product and bringing a widespread change to a large-scale IT requires immense support and blend of related teams. The key success involves changes to be accepted across people, process and tools involved. Culture Change must be driven from top to bottom therefore the right team with aligned mindset can deliver results. This sense of mission is required to be communicated clearly and regularly by the leaders.
4. Unrealistic Expectations
There are unrealistic expectations due to the automation product being oversold with a rosy picture, but the reality differs. IT organizations are driven by trends and engage with automation products used by their competitors to stay relevant and keep ahead of the curve in the market. An automation solution rendering benefit in one company may not be benefiting another since each company has their own process and distinctive attribute. The success of an IT Automation project also depends on meeting certain stakeholder’s expectation. These expectations should be clearly communicated and agreed upon with everyone involved.
Clayton Christensen, a Harvard Professor, in his book The Innovator’s Dilemma explains the value to innovation is an S-curve: any product starts with minimal value until a base is created and increases exponentially in the middle but becomes minimal again towards the end. Therefore, in the middle yields most value, at the beginning and the end the value is minimal. Understanding the limitations is as important as understanding the benefits to eliminate surprises. The use cases chosen should be carefully curated with a mixture of operational and business benefits to sustain and generate tangible and intangible benefits.
5. Automating on Shifting Sands
The “writing is on the wall” when projects attempt to automate workflows that are not already working properly or undergoing a change. This may also be due to siloed teams who have restricted view on their tools and systems. Automation is not a magic wand which can fix all issues. What seems like a fix today may not be relevant tomorrow. This is not only a waste of time and effort, but causes more problems.
Before commencing on any automation project, it is imperative to check the maturity and sustainability of the environment and automation targets that will hold the automation product intact. Deploying the product onto an immature or an outdated landscape and expecting to resolve the existing issues will result in most of the valuable effort lost, spent on goals for which the product is not intended. Strategically, planning on a long-term solution can avoid “automation on a swivel chair” and valuable time being wasted.
As organizations explore ways to reduce cost and gain efficiency, redefining the workforce is a must. As the virtual workforce model is ready to undertake the new digital era and automation technologies reinvent new ways of working for mainstream IT departments, it may feel like a radical change — and we should agree that it is to some extent. But it only feels radical only because we are so steeped in the existing way of doing things. We need to adopt a new way of working through learning and adaptation and be future ready. Even though automation has high potential of eradicating most of the manual tasks performed by humans, proper evaluation, structured approaches, and a right team to deliver it into an organization’s unique IT landscape will increase the odds of success for any IT Automation project and produce incredible results.
by Isaac Prashanth Lionel, Digitate — UK & Europe