Automation is not a Panacea for what Ails the Enterprise

Automation can be a valuable tool, but it's not a magic solution. Businesses need to address underlying issues like outdated technology and lack of employee training before diving in. By focusing on strategic planning and cultural transformation, companies can ensure successful automation that drives real results.

In recent years, thanks to vendors marketing robotic process automation (RPA) tools as a panacea and corporate executives seeking a silver bullet for what ails the enterprise, you can find automation projects galore. However, despite the initial enthusiasm, the inability of automation to scale, the brittleness of the bots and the proliferation of Band-Aids (which makes maintenance and upkeep a nightmare) have resulted in disappointment and backlash. 

Automation is a valuable technology, but it is just one approach to improving processes. At best, RPA or its variations help automate a routine task, but nothing beyond that. Incorporating unstructured data processing and machine learning improves the stability and outcomes but still falls short of being a panacea for all process problems afflicting the enterprise.

For example, before embarking on any automation project, enterprises must realize that RPA (or any other technologies) will not fix strategic, cultural, operational, people, data and technological challenges.

Get Your House In Order Before And After Automation

Strategic Intent

What are your company's North Star and strategic intent? Can you disseminate the company direction and rationale to the enterprise at large? How do various technologies and methodologies fit and help achieve steady progress toward the goals and objectives? 

Leadership Commitment

Is everyone on board and committed to process improvements and transformation, including automation, from executive leadership to operational leadership? Is there engagement in a strategy setting but also in operationalizing the strategy? Is there wavering and lukewarm support? Even without explicit communication, it will spread down the ranks and result in lip service to the automation endeavors.

Budgeting Priorities

It is not enough to state that process improvements and automation are priorities. If companies do not invest according to their strategic objectives, all of the good intentions will not come to fruition.

Large companies tend to have significant amounts of their annual budgets tied up in keeping the lights on. Therefore, a fundamental shift in funding and budgeting to emphasize transformational projects that will lead to competitive parity or differentiation, or, better still, leapfrog to a new state, is imperative.

Technological Obsolescence

If your enterprise technology landscape is littered with antiquated technologies, architectural incompatibility and years of unpaid technical debt, automation cannot be a panacea. Instead, it will be a Band-Aid akin to lipstick on a pig (with due respect to pigs).

Way before initiating an automation project, technology leaders must alleviate the foundational issues of data, infrastructure and applications with support from business leaders.

A robust data architecture, cloud-based elastic infrastructure and a rationalized portfolio of applications should be a precursor to any automation project.

Operational Visibility

Does your enterprise genuinely understand the process variants and operational nuances that drive workflow? Are you still living with the myth of a golden process that conforms to a standard operating procedure (SOP) written years ago?

Before any process improvement measures, it is essential to have a clear picture of your processes and workflow.

Mindset And Culture

Does your team have a transformation mindset and a customer-centric culture? Do the rank-and-file employees understand, support and champion the tidal shifts necessary to leapfrog to survival and success in the digital-first marketplace?

Do the culture and organizational ethos support agility in decision-making, empowerment down the ranks and collective and individual accountability?

Is there alignment between business, operations and technology teams on the vision, challenges and solutions?

Skills And Competencies

One of the critical areas of weakness of many legacy corporations is the lack of hard and soft skills and emotional competencies necessary to compete in the digital and cognitive era.

Of course, companies have to recruit, onboard and train new roles, such as data scientists, cloud engineers, cybersecurity specialists, etc. In addition, across-the-board upskilling and reskilling of the workforce in doing new things—and new ways of doing old things—is the challenge of these times.

It is impossible to cross the digital chasm without the right set of competencies, capacity, caliber and commitment.

Tools And Methods

Even with adequate budget support and commitment, teams need suitable methods and tools to achieve the desired results.

The right perspectives, principles, practices, proven methods and tools are prerequisites for employees to shift the paradigm.

But in many companies, many methodologies are introduced but never ingrained. Instead, there is surface-level adoption with a penchant for rites and rituals, not the spirit and ethos of the methods.

Take Agile, for example. Agile as a methodology and practice are fragile in corporate America. While Agile exists, agility does not. Even though the new roles exist, they seldom go beyond boxes on an organizational chart.

Nonfunctional Parameters

Many approaches to automation work in a limited lab setting or a developer's desktop. But in real life, the production environment is fraught with velocity, variety and variability. A digital workforce that is not ready for real-world stresses and strains will set back the automation efforts, send harmful signals and sow doubts across the organization.

If your company addresses the issues mentioned above before leveraging automation as a process improvement mechanism, you stand a better chance of success than your peers.

Read the original article on Forbes

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