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Interview: Enterprise process automation with a roadmap

Many organizations have adopted automation tools and technologies with great dedication and have seen success in selective projects. Yet, according to a study conducted by Ernst & Young, 30% to 50% of automation projects still fail. Many companies also struggle to scale automation at the enterprise level.

We invited Craig Nicholson, Atomatik’s Chief of Strategy, to discuss how companies can achieve enterprise automation success by using a roadmap. Craig is an experienced digital transformation leader, with well over a decade of helping large global organizations achieve scale.

He not only supports our growth and go-to-market strategies, but he also enables customer organizations to achieve the ultimate objective of maturity in building a digital transformational capability that maximizes the business benefit powered by a digital workforce.

Q1: Hi Craig, thank you for taking the time to dive into this interesting topic. Can you tell as a bit about your work in automation so far?

In my extensive experience and various roles within the industry, I’ve always prioritized enabling organizations to maximize the business benefits derived from their digital workforce in the shortest possible timeframe. This involves mobilizing the necessary services and resources to address any roadblocks that may arise along the customer journey.

Over the course of my career, I have had the opportunity to establish enterprise-level process automation programs and centers of excellence (CoEs) with leading organizations in sectors such as banking, insurance, logistics, and telecommunications.

These experiences have provided valuable insights into the factors that can hinder automation success and scalability. From these learnings, a comprehensive Enterprise Process Automation Roadmap has emerged—a step-by-step framework that can assist most organizations in achieving comprehensive and sustainable success.

Q2: From your perspective, what are the primary challenges that hinder the success of automation initiatives?

Often robotic process automation (RPA) is chosen and pushed as the holy grail for automation with no upfront assessment of its suitability or capabilities. This is due partly to a lack of knowledge within implementation teams and pressure from top executives to justify large investments in a particular tool. When organizations push RPA across multiple projects without upfront assessment, failures occur, leading to disillusionment with automation.

Another significant factor impacting automation is the culture and discipline of process-driven operations. The ability to discover current state processes, and analyze various KPIs, bottlenecks, and patterns is key to successful automation. The challenges, on the other hand, that hinder success can be broadly assigned to seven critical factors:

Value: Lack of a metrics-driven approach to problem discovery and building a solid business case can impede success. The absence of demonstrable impacts after an automation project also contributes to the loss of continued sponsorship and funding.

C-suite sponsorship: When a select few junior leaders implement automation projects without C-suite commitment, we will see departmental success with automation but never enterprise-level adoption.

Alignment to strategy: When automation is not aligned to corporate strategies that impact profitability, customer experience, or revenues, automation loses reduce, as it will fail to get the required investments of time and money.

Technology and architecture: Lack of holistic technology architecture that combines data, integrations, user experience, and automation pattern-based standards results in standalone automation that often incurs technology debt.

Change management: Automation brings changes across people, processes, operations, systems, data, user interfaces, organization models, and roles, and when undermined, it ends with failed user adoption or backlash from IT and business stakeholders.

Process excellence: Lack of a disciplined approach to current state discovery, analysis, standardization, measurement of KPIs, and designing target state processes is a very common reason for the failure of automation.

Talent: Most organizations don’t identify and invest in acquiring or developing the right level of skills across process, technology, change, and program management, which results in the inability to deliver repeatable success in automation.

Q3: What are the contributing factors that can lead to failures in automation implementation?

The factors that contribute to automation failures need to be addressed holistically, rather than gradually. From my perspective, automation success revolves around five core principles:

1. Process discipline: A disciplined approach to process analysis, design, documentation, and architecture that is enforced at the enterprise level.

2. Standardization of automation patterns and tools: Selecting, standardizing, scaling, and supporting automation tools in alignment with IT-led strategies and architectural considerations.

3. Repeatable project and program management: Implementing defined automation life cycle phases, methodologies, and delivery models to ensure consistent alignment between business and technology teams throughout the entire automation process.

4. Enablement and training: Establishing an "automation community of practice" that fosters knowledge sharing, expertise development, and enterprise-wide visibility to promote automation adoption across all departments.

5. Governance model: Implementing a governance framework that monitors and reports on technology adoption, financial outcomes, business cases, architecture standards, and change management.

Organizations typically undergo a phased evolution in their journey toward process automation, gradually improving their adoption of these principles as they demonstrate incremental value with each project.

The Enterprise Automation Roadmap integrates these principles in a phased manner, aligned with the three stages of maturity that most enterprises experience.

Q4: What are the key phases of the roadmap and what are the desired outcomes?

When it comes to the roadmap for automation implementation, I always emphasize that it represents a typical journey that organizations undergo when scaling automation. To fully unlock the potential of automation, it is crucial to focus on both cultural adaptation within the organization and the development of specific skills and capabilities.

Achieving cultural adoption throughout the organization is essential for maximizing the business benefits derived from automation. Simultaneously, building the necessary skills and establishing procedural standards play a vital role. The roadmap consists of three distinct pillars. Progressing from Phase 1 to Phase 3 requires time and can vary depending on factors such as the size and complexity of the organization.

Phase 1: Land

The initial phase, known as "Land," marks the starting point for organizations embarking on their automation journey. During this formative phase, several key aspects are addressed to establish a strong foundation for automation adoption:

Areas that would be covered are:

Automation vision and strategy will be defined with buy-in from enterprise business and technology leadership.

Low-hanging problems with clearly defined outcomes are identified.

An automation tool is identified, evaluated, and experimented with, and approvals are obtained from the various technology, information security, data privacy, and architecture teams.

Demonstrable proof points are established with quantifiable value delivered.

Business and technology sponsors are identified.

During this initial landing phase, organizations often aim to establish a "Center of Expertise" rather than a full-fledged "Center of Excellence." This center serves as a hub for nurturing the necessary skills and knowledge within the organization. The experts involved in this phase lay the foundation for future phases and define the principles and practices of automation within the organization. They also become enthusiastic champions and advocates of automation within their respective areas.

Success in this phase is marked by a shared understanding and alignment among executive stakeholders regarding the role, value, and applicability of automation in driving organizational success.

Phase 2: Expand

As the automation capability grows, organizations enter the "Expand" phase where they have the option to retain the COE or federate the capability to other business areas while maintaining centralized governance and standards.

This phase focuses on establishing clear roles and responsibilities, implementing project methodologies and governance, standardizing tools and infrastructure, and establishing the COE as a shared service. Change management strategies are also crucial in ensuring communication, employee alignment, and proactive management of concerns.

Success in this phase results in automation becoming a key component of enterprise transformation programs with predictable outcomes in every project.

Phase 3: Transform

The “Transform” phase is the continuous optimization and expansion phase, where organizations achieve efficiencies of scale and standardization. During this phase, I’d expect to see organizations embrace intelligent automation and utilize various technologies to automate end-to-end processes.

The key outcomes for this phase include improved time to operationalization, reduced total cost of ownership, and accelerated delivery through reusable assets and service libraries. There should be a clear evolution of automation projects from departmental initiatives to enterprise-level platforms with measurable impacts on revenue, profitability, and customer experience. Strategic partnerships with automation vendors are established in this phase, and continuous reporting at the enterprise level provides visibility into cost, value, and process alignment. As a result, the COE model should evolve into a target state operating model.

Success in the "Transform" phase signifies the highest level of sustainable success, where innovation, delivery, and value are ingrained into operating models. Companies that approach automation holistically, considering technology, people, process, organization, and change management, derive long-term value. The enterprise automation roadmap is a continuous journey, tailored to each organization's needs, and an agile approach ensures progress in each phase.

Thank you, Craig, for sharing these detailed insights!

My pleasure!

We hope that the insights shared have provided you with a high-level overview of the automation journey, from its initial stages to fully embracing and adopting automation within organizations. Our aim is to support you in implementing a successful automation program.

If you have any further questions or would like to discuss the roadmap and pillars discussed today, please don't hesitate to reach out to the Atomatik team. We are here to assist you on your current journey and provide guidance where needed. Alternatively, feel free to contact Craig directly via email, LinkedIn, or by scheduling a conversation with him.


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