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The Strategic and Human Side of Automating Your Business

Everybody and their dog are talking about automation these days — it is the new cool thing, the new buzzword. And with reason; the benefits are astounding, the possible return on investment is huge, and it can be the difference between being a laggard or edging out your competition.

But there are some aspects of implementing automation in a project or organization that are often neglected, overlooked or simply misunderstood. An astounding 70% of digital initiatives fail. And lack of collaboration contributes to only 36% of companies seeing growth revenue from their digital investments.

Strategy, Collaboration, Scope... there are a million things to consider when attempting to create a successful automation program. And getting buy-in from your team is essential. In this post we will cover some of the essentials of successfully implementing automation into your organization.

  1. Strategy
  2. Get buy-in from your employees
  3. Collaboration
  4. Scope
  5. Key takeaway

Strategy

Digital automation is a way of delivering value. If you want to deliver value, you need to know what value to deliver. You need to understand what customers really want.

Some companies merely focus on finding a particular technological solution without focusing on creating a digital strategy around it. But technology alone is not the answer.

Technology is a means to an end, not an end in itself. What is needed is a business strategy for digital automation. Instead of starting a with technology in search of a what it can do, companies would do well to first define the outcomes they are going after, particularly the customer outcomes.

Having guidelines and a roadmap to achieve the ultimate customer and business goals is a great way to stay on track. Referring to it can make decisions easier. At the same time, a successful initial implementation or test should be followed up on, with other departments and areas of the business following suit.

Not doing so risks creating data silos, and entrenching interdepartmental differences.

A well thought out strategy is a way to make goals real. We recommend taking a look at OKRs – Objective & Key Results – as a way to set and manage these while staying grounded and being able to measure real progress. It is also a fantastic way of communicating them to your employees. It tells you what your financial targets are, and what the steps are to reach them, and what your people need to do. And those goals have to be specific enough that the people doing the work can easily see how they're doing.

The strategy has to be broad enough that the people working on automation might come up with entirely different responses to the same problems, as long as the solutions meet the overall strategy. But it has to be specific enough that the people doing the work don't waste time reinventing the wheel.

Get buy-in from your employees

In our the first part of this 2 piece blog post we’ve suggested talking to your employees to gain a better understanding of how your business can implement automation.

Approaching this tactfully is key to a successful implementation. An employee - and especially a large team - who spend a long time on repetitive tasks might overthink good intentions and either a) understate the real scope of repetitiveness so as to guard how valuable they are or b) be afraid of incoming layoffs.

You don't gain employee buy-in by telling them that you are going to automate. You gain employee buy-in by explaining why automation makes sense. You gain employee buy-in by creating a culture that values automation.

Employees want to know how automation is going to help them. This brings us back to our previous point: the real reason automation is important is because it is part of the company's business strategy. If automation isn't part of your strategy, then your employees don't see why they should care.

Most companies don't talk about their strategy, though. They talk about it only to customers and investors. Their employees have to pry it out of them. And the strategy is usually vague and mysterious. The strategy says, "We want to become more efficient," or "our goal is to increase sales." Employees hear about the goals, and despite understanding them, they don't really know what they mean.

So you need to tell people your strategy. Then, as you automate, you need to show them how it helps them achieve their part of the strategy. They need to know that they have some control over it. Automation isn't something you do to them; it's something you do for them.

Collaboration

Your odds of a successful implementation will drastically increase if you make automation part of your company's culture. Employees have to give you their input, and you need to listen to them. But you also need to share the results with them. Give them the metrics, and show them how the automation has helped them and the company meet goals.

Often, different departments work in silos. They have their own goals, and use different technologies to achieve them. One of the biggest challenges to corporate automation is convincing different departments to work together. It's hard enough persuading one group, let alone two.

Try to imagine how collaboration works in a business. The various departments have different goals. Some want to increase sales. Others want to reduce expenses, or improve customer service, or decrease the amount of paperwork.

When different departments have different goals, they can rarely agree. One department might like to automate because it increases sales, but another department might oppose it because it increases expenses. And if you commission a report on automation, chances are it will recommend automating just one thing, rather than solving all the problems.

But, as Henry Ford said, "If everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself." Having a clear, common objective can help bridge the gap. This is especially true if there is a strong incentive that requires collaboration. Or having an open culture and reducing red tape.

Going much deeper into this subject is out of the scope of this article. Which brings us to our next point.

Scope

When taking the leap to intelligent automation, not only is it important to first analyze individual customer problems on their own major metrics, but also analyze the end-to-end experience for the customer.

The more you consider how the tools in your technology platforms fit together, the better prepared you'll be to realize a larger business objective.

The book Intelligent Automation has a great example. A bank saw a 30% improvement in their credit card fraud handling by implementing a single tool. Despite a very successful project, they did not stop there. Taking a look at the end-to-end process and implementing multiple digital technologies, they were able to increase that number to an astounding 70%. They saved $100 million.

Key takeaway

While the technical aspect of introducing automation to your business is necessary, making sure to have a digital strategy, having the wider scope in mind, getting interdepartmental collaboration right and getting employee buy-in are primordial to achieve truly transformational results.

Not paying attention to the aforementioned areas can lead to only seeing marginal improvements. 

Failing to focus beyond the technology itself can lead to:

  • Deploying a technology that only benefits one department
  • Not tearing down data silos
  • Failing to focus on customer experience
  • Failing to view the business in the context of end-to-end processes
  • Holding onto detrimental interdepartmental behaviour
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