Tom Henriksson, general partner at OpenOcean, discusses how enterprise automation has gone from long-term strategy to operational imperative
This post has originally been published with Information Age, view here.
Long discussions lauding technologies like “artificial intelligence” and “robotic process automation” are familiar to many executives. The problem is what comes (or doesn’t come) next. For much of the last decade, talk of AI and RPA hasn’t always made it beyond the boardroom, with the industry filled with a mixture of pioneers and organisations still struggling to create workable enterprise automation processes and solutions.
Then came the pandemic. The arrival of COVID-19 shifted business thinking about automation almost overnight. Remote working meant that technology adoption was something businesses could ill afford to prevaricate on. Automation found its moment during this period. Businesses accelerated plans to automate a range of areas, such as introducing RPA to streamline back-office administration or using advanced conversational AI bots to address customer needs whilst they were stuck at home during lockdown.
This shift from long-term strategy to operational imperative has encouraged the C-Suite to significantly increase budgets in this area. Transformation plans that many insiders viewed as half a decade away, or more, arrived in less than a year. Indeed, a recent survey from Deloitte found that 73% of organisations worldwide are now using automation technologies – up from 58% in 2019.
It would be misleading, however, to suggest that all firms have managed to deliver on the renewed promise of enterprise automation during this period. Some have struggled with outsourcing operations abroad, creating difficulties in managing the web of COVID-19 regulations and other complexities that emerged.
Others have been forced to limit budgets to manage the disruption created by the pandemic. This has led Guy Kirkwood, chief evangelist of end-to-end automation leader UiPath, to predict a dangerous “bifurcation between the haves and have nots.” Failure to automate leaves companies risking missing out on the efficiencies and high-value insights delivered by this technology, and ultimately left at a major disadvantage compared to their competitors.
Strategy is king
To drive sustainable change, organisations need to take a large-scale, end-to-end strategic approach to implementing enterprise automation solutions. On one level, this is a vital step to avoid any future architecture problems. Businesses need to spend time assessing their technology needs and scoping out how technology can deliver value to their organisation.
Take, for example, low code options like Drag and Drop tools. This in vogue technology is viewed by companies as an attractive, low-cost option to create intuitive interfaces for internal apps that gather employee data – as part of a broad automation architecture. The issue is lots of firms rush the process, failing to account for functionality problems that regularly occur when integrating into existing, often disparate systems. It is here where strategic planning comes into its own, ensuring firms take the time to get the UX to the high standard required, as well as identify how to deploy analytics or automation orchestration solutions to bridge these gaps, and successfully deliver automation.
People as automation innovators
With this strategic mindset, there is a huge opportunity for businesses to use this thriving market for automation to empower more innovation from within the enterprise. Let’s be clear, this is not about giving employees unchecked opportunities to create and administer solutions – that opens the door to problems like miscommunication, process confusion, and even data corruption.
The key is to create robust governance structures to ensure employees can safely start innovating and rethinking how automation can deliver value to the organisation. Firms who have followed this model have reported recently on the growth in holistic process mining analytics, helping drive new opportunities for automation.
Coca-Cola Icecek is a great example of a company putting these principles into action, encouraging employees to create their own automation solutions – all within a clear governance framework. You only have to look at the strong pipeline of cutting-edge automation solutions produced by the company, like a recently implemented order management process using RPA, to see the value of this culture in action.
The age of enterprise automation
The arrival of increased automation is not a simple process. The World Economic Forum predicts that AI will create 97 million new jobs by 2025, versus 85 million losses. Many will feel anxious and even hostility towards the transition to a new way of working and living.
It is incumbent on businesses, therefore, to take a people-first approach to automation. Firms need to pay close attention to the technology capabilities and needs of their employees. This will help closely match automation solutions to internal processes and identify any internal skills deficits that need to be addressed.
In the end, organisations can be huge enablers of change. Placing upskilling employees as a fundamental pillar of digital transformation will be invaluable in challenging misperceptions about automation and AI, helping build a workforce ready to make the most of their new ‘digital co-workers’, and ultimately make this exciting new technological age a reality.