Everyone in the vicinity of IT systems, application and software knows that the promise of the potential benefits looks absolutely irresistible from a distance, or in a sales pitch, but when it comes down to the nitty gritty details of using the end result, customer satisfaction is not always on par with the initial impressions.
Automation, like any efficiency improvement straddling organization, human behavior and technology, runs a similar risk of disappointment – hence, if our aim is to overdeliver on customer expectations, we have a number of practical steps to follow based on our previous experience and, ideally a methodology framework.
- Does the data end up where it should?
- Is it the right data?
- Is it on time?
- Is the solution resilient enough to handle deviations in content, system availability etc?
...together with the ‘standard’ expectations of the overall delivery being on time, on budget and managed professionally (communication, planning, pricing etc). When it comes to improving efficiency that affects on organization, human behavior and technology combined, the challenge is practically exponentially more complex. So, what makes the effort to automate efficient, and how can these steps be achieved from a practical perspective? Let’s break it down into the challenging areas mentioned above; organization, human behavior and technology.
Sometimes, we can ‘get away’ with working within a limited workflow, or a couple of isolated processes handled within the same team, the same department. But in most cases, real efficiency drivers are discovered in our cross-functions, between roles, departments or applications (with different owners). This is a common source of grief and potential project pitfalls; when there are shared responsibilities, unclear ownership or unknown escalation paths, the projects run a serious risk of falling behind schedule or delivering a solution which doesn’t fit real-world requirements.
The solution is to engage with all relevant stakeholders and individuals, regardless of formal area of responsibility, required to align towards the common goal, and anchor the solution buy-in with them. A practice usually recommended, is to form an Automation Center of Excellence as a forum to handle cross-area issues, promote the benefits of automation, and communicate with all parties within the organization to make sure everyone is informed, onboard, and aligned.
On the smaller scale, individual human behavior can and should not be underestimated as a risk factor.
Even though most of us have a generally optimistic outlook on new ideas, on the subconscious level we’re often leaning towards resisting new ways of doing things, changing “the way it has always been” and bringing in practices that are “not invented here”. Although mentioned as a risk, it can easily be converted into a great asset and enabler, tying into the Automation Center of Excellence concept. The practical step to this stage is to untap the hidden potential and wisdom ‘hidden’ within the experience and knowledge of each co-worker. Make sure everyone gets the opportunity to engage, to participate, contribute to the discussion on the solution design, ideally through process discovery workshops – where a common way of working and real gems of efficiency drivers can be identified.
This way, a better sense of understanding and ownership can be established in the teams who – in the end – will actually own and benefit from the new functionality. As automation can sometimes be portrayed as dehumanizing or replacing jobs rather than as an enabler to allow for proactive troubleshooting, problem solving and creative innovation, this approach will also defuse such views and contribute to a positive reception when the time for change management comes.
Technology is great at doing what we ‘tell’ it. The problem is, if we don’t think through the instructions well enough, the result can be a disaster. Therefore, small steps, and taking those small steps in the right order, is a success factor. The process discovery activity mentioned earlier, can provide you with vital input on which workflow, out of several candidates, to support with automation, and – crucially – how to design the automation without producing a ‘carbon-copy’ process of the human-based labor-intensive way of working. Technology and automation require an approach with the best from both worlds, to make the most out of its potential.
Once the scope is established, the implementation should follow along similar lines, operate with quick iterations, be agile and test and release often to make sure the end user get a chance to provide feedback and input. Don’t forget - The gains achieved through the joint effort is a team win – celebrate the victories accordingly!
- Engage across the organization, initiate an Automation Center of Excellence
- Involve and enthuse, frame and emphasize the investment in improvements and benefits to the individual roles. Promote participation and contribution.
- Start small – keep it simple, and build on the positive momentum of continuous gains
- Work agile, test and release often – and highlight the concrete efficiency improvements with each step. A little bit of evangelizing internally goes a long way to grow enthusiasm and interest.
- The achievements are a team effort – celebrate the results and victories as a team!
This is the second of a four-part blog post series about intelligent automation, using technology in a smart way to get the most out of the time, energy and overall investment each organization is faced with to improve Customer offering, quality and overall market competitiveness.
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