Getting IT automation projects right the first time: A guide
As the speed of digital business continues to accelerate, organisations are turning to automation to remain successful. Based on the findings of its third annual Robotic Process Automation (RPA) survey, Deloitte believes RPA will achieve “near universal adoption” in the next five years. Yet adoption doesn’t always equal value. Some early adopters have gained substantial value, but others have struggled to successfully implement automation or scale it to meet their needs.
When an automation project fails to perform as desired, it is easy to get discouraged at the waste of time and resources. To avoid these issues, it is helpful to understand where organisations get it wrong. Below are the common denominators that decrease the success of an IT automation project:
IT organisations are driven by trends and engage with automation products to stay relevant and keep ahead of the curve. An automation solution that benefits one company may not benefit another, since each company has its own process and distinctive attributes. The success of an IT automation project also depends on meeting certain stakeholders’ expectations. These expectations should be clearly communicated and agreed upon with everyone involved.
It is important to understand the benefits of a solution, but to avoid surprises, it’s just as important to understand the limitations of a solution or initiative. The use cases chosen should contain a mixture of operational and business benefits to sustain and generate tangible and intangible benefits.
What’s the purpose of the automation initiative? Enterprise leaders need an innovative vision to address a specific problem. Once this is identified, the tools and solutions either in the organisation or in the market need to be thoroughly validated for long-term return-on-investment. However, many times, organisations look to the newest and emerging technologies for the “wow” factor without really considering the full impact they pose. Those organisations that have been most successful with new technologies like automation and machine learning are those led by forward-thinking decision-makers who do their due diligence in assuring all key stakeholders are on the same page.
A poorly defined “why”
An automation solution can typically yield the benefits an organisation is looking for if it is deployed in an efficient way. In most cases in which these projects fail, the problem stems from diving too quickly into the “how” without spending enough time understanding the “why.”
It is critical to define the “why” before starting because, without due diligence, leaders expect automation will be a "silver bullet" that will address cost reduction and efficiency gains. But that’s unlikely, largely because no solution is a silver bullet. Really digging into why automation is needed is essential and that starts with a good evaluation of the “as is” state. At this point, the gaps are examined and then the desired outcome can be agreed up from there. Feasibility studies, ROI estimates and benefits timelines are critical before kick-starting any automation initiative. The key is to research and select a tool that is both affordable and scalable, bearing in mind the maintenance costs to sustain the automation initiative.
Overlooking the underlying problems
If workflows that are not already working properly or undergoing change, automation is doomed to failure. Automation is not a magic wand that 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; it causes additional problems.
Before beginning an automation project, executives should determine the maturity and sustainability of the organisational environment. Deploying the solution onto an immature or outdated landscape and expecting to resolve the existing issues will result only in wasted time, effort and money. Establishing a long-term plan that addresses the internal problems first before applying automation on top can prevent this from happening.
Focusing on staff reduction
The litmus test for an automation project’s success is not necessarily how many jobs it eliminates, but this is how management instinctively measures its success. Scoring automation in this way is self-defeating and creates division among the non-automation resources. It is better to view the automation solution as an enabler to complement the team and free them up for real value-added activities.
Employees whose repetitive tasks are automated must be upskilled to perform more innovative activities. Management must articulate a clear plan to the workforce. Culture change must be driven from top to bottom. Leaders must communicate this sense of mission clearly and regularly.
Start on the right foot
In the age of digital transformation, there is no time for humans to perform manual tasks that automation can perform. However, organisations need to dig beneath the hype to understand what automation solutions are actually offering and whether the goals they want to achieve are realistic. If not, money, time and effort will have been wasted – and leaders may have a bad taste in their mouths about a solution that, if deployed properly, could benefit the organisations tremendously. Keeping the five common denominators of defeat in mind will help remove those attitudes from the equation for a greater chance of automation success.
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