Automation is helping a handful of Companies accomplish what was once thought impossible: boosting financial performance while also aiding fast corporate transformation work. Recently, a financial services organization found $5 million in opportunities to optimize its finance processes. The company found that using robotic process Automation alone could free up to 75 full-time equivalent staff. For most companies, however, benefits at this scale are elusive. In their race to become faster and smarter with automation, these organizations do little more than digitally enable the status quo.
There’s still much to learn when it comes to digitizing business processes, and in particular using automation sprints—those smart, fast, and small efforts you use to boost productivity when a change to enterprise architecture isn’t the right step. The first thing you must know is that to use this type of automation in any transformative way, you will need to make some changes. Here are three Mindset shifts we have identified to help you see how differently you must work to make this a success.
Shift 1: Automate with a product mindset
For the past five years, companies have been scouring business processes from end to end to identify the best opportunities for digitization and automation. Without a way to break down this task, you’re likely to do one of two things: take on a scope that’s so large it leads to missteps and frustration, or take on a scope that’s not tied to transformation, looking only at rules-based tasks that aren’t linked to strategic aims.
A product mindset helps change this. No longer will all developers be assigned to project work. Instead, some will make the shift to think in products that tackle business goals. These products are typically not for sale, but they do go through a defined development process and provide clear business benefits. Typically they end up as an app or a custom feature in an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system. And they’re defined by simple names—the invoice processor or the tax validator, for example—making it clear to everyone what they’re for. A core set of very good features hook early adopters, and teams quickly learn what users value.
This mindset gives you several benefits over what you’re likely doing now. Chiefly, it gives technologists accountability to your business teams. For business users to be happy, you have to offer them something better than what they already have. Yet it also gives you an agile way to work: you don’t waste time or dollars when there are no results, and you develop a fast-fail mentality to learn what works and what doesn’t.
The idea is borrowed from the business-to-consumer world, and that’s why it’s easy to embrace. Take the subscriber-first strategy of The New York Times. The media giant has adopted an agile product mindset to engage the customer at critical points—all geared toward turning the reader into a subscriber. It’s working: digital subscribers now comprise more than two-thirds of all NYT subscribers.
Shift 2: Invest for the transitional steps, but sell the grand idea
Today’s automation changes the way IT budgets work too. You may be used to big budgets up front, in the tens of millions of dollars for large IT-led transformation efforts and ROI three years later, but that’s not what we’re talking about here.
Now, companies invest in ways that support a smaller, more agile approach so they can adjust as they find out what works. Experimentation like this requires a different mindset about funding, and it requires making decisions about budget allocations that give teams the room they need to take products through their natural life cycles. Some products, for example, are created in months and have a short life. When General Electric went from more than 400 ERP systems to 125 in five years, it deployed more than 100 automation bots to fill the gaps among the systems. But the company doesn’t see the bots lasting long. According to a recent PwC webcast, most bots are transitional and will be phased out as ERP systems simplify further.
When budgeting, each transitional step is tied to a grand idea, a bigger story about where your efforts are going. In a pricing scenario, for example, your case for investment may first count FTE hours saved by moving away from manual calculations, but the bigger goal is showing how you’re improving prediction accuracy and ultimately how this work is improving margins, share of wallet, or other growth metrics. Communicating the ambition from the start helps build the case for investment over time.
Shift 3: See people as multipliers of value
It may feel counterintuitive, but a human-centric approach helps you focus on where humans and machines can achieve greater outcomes together. When you focus on the roles people will play and augment human labor with digital labor, you multiply your results.
One airline paired its automation efforts with its customer service training so that agents could spend more time looking fliers in the eye and talking to them, and less time staring at a screen and typing. Productivity edged up, to be sure, but the real impact was in customer satisfaction.
Inside the digital factory, human operators must now take on high value-added supervision and control tasks, while the machines operate independently. Humans make decisions and override machines when needed. When companies think people first and orchestrate the human skills necessary for new ways of working, it not only drives results in shorter time frames, but also empowers people to continuously drive new improvements.
We know some companies hope to wait on the benefits of automation until their next big systems upgrade. We think that’s a mistake. At best, that puts your capabilities a year or more behind others’. At worst, you’ve misjudged how valuable it is to move ahead with small automation sprints at a time when competitors are doing the same. Now’s the time to put these three mindset shifts in place with a clear strategy and plan.
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