Turning Automation into Innovation: A Key Benefit of a Digital Transformation Strategy21 Mar 2019
Six Important Considerations
Artificial intelligence (AI) and automation technologies offer the opportunity to reengineer and improve business processes. In many cases, those improved processes will operate in a completely different way; fully automated and autonomous, freeing up time previously taken by ‘humans’ to perform redundant and repetitive activities. But the key to gaining advantage from automation is turning that free time into time for innovation. This is where our automation efforts can ultimately fall short.
The Creativity Factor
In a study by Forrester, 82% of those surveyed believed there to be a strong connection between creativity and business results. In this same study, more than two-thirds of the companies that ranked high for fostering creativity received awards and recognition for being a “best place to work.” It also cited that nearly a third of employed U.S. adults would take a pay cut for a job that allowed them to be more creative. Researchers also offer that companies encouraging creativity and innovation in their day-to-day operations outperform competitors by driving up customer satisfaction, revenue growth, and market share.
Unfortunately, we are all too busy multi-tasking to find the time for creativity. When you see must be able to work in a fast-paced environment in a job description, it’s a safe bet that the “culture of busy” will likely inhibit the ability to come up with fresh, innovative ideas. In short: When you’re busy being busy, there’s no room for innovation.
When you’re busy being busy, there’s no room for innovation.
Innovation through Automation
Process automation in the organization should work to help maximize human tasks so they can add value to your company, as opposed to simply helping it survive. The promise of technology has been that is will give us time to focus on what is most important — or at least time to get more done. The danger, of course, is that we will just do more of the same, filling our days with other busy work even as automation helps us be more productive. It’s critical, then, that executives leverage automation not just as a way to inject technology into manual workflows and reduce time spent on routine tasks, but also to create a culture that gives employees with the bandwidth to be both innovative and creative. Consider the following factors critical to the success of your automation strategy:
1- Identify the right processes for automation
Not every process needs to be automated, that’s been proven. The goal is to choose those that are the most manual and redundant, as they are the ones to benefit the most from automation advantage. First, tackle processes like invoice processing approval or new employee onboarding. After those initiatives are successful, take on automating other more complex processes; things like claims processing, loan origination or order fulfillment, for example. From there, consider leveraging the newly-created ‘free time’ employees have and encourage them to apply their efforts in more productive ways that add value to the organization. Task them with generating new ideas to respond to customer expectations and market demands more quickly.
Innovation needs to have a breeding ground for new ideas and improvements that may, or may not, have anything to do with technology.
2- Utilize the right tool
There are so many technologies available, it’s hard to know how which ones are right for your organization. Opt for the tool that best suits your needs through the filter of capabilities and scalability, and be sure to consider the types of users (technical vs non-technical, or a combination). Some tools are designed to offer fully customizable application development options while some are built for ease of use and are somewhat process specific. Consider how well non-technical business users would be able to adopt the system easily and adapt to changes without having to spend a lot of time on training or depend on expensive consultants for configuration.
3- Outline your organization’s goals
It’s important to define what it is your organization really needs to accomplish with automation in order to be more innovative. Outline your goals and then work backwards to consider how you achieve the specific outcomes. The more explicit your goals are, the better you will be able to calculate the return investment on this effort. Since automation involves substantial investment of time and money, this approach makes good business sense and should protect your project with executives. It is important to continually evaluate the performance of your automation and process change, and ensure that at every step the results are worth the investment. I personally recommend using a phased strategy vs. an all-or-nothing approach, which allows you to limit the investment if things don’t go as you originally planned.
4- Define the roles and responsibilities for change
Automation often means significant changes to the way people perform their jobs, so it is important that you make everyone clear on what their new roles and responsibilities entail. If these changes are not made clear, it is much more likely that you will struggle to effectively implement the change. People naturally resist change and it is vital to your success that you clearly define the roles and responsibilities of every person involved. One suggestion is to identify a process owner to support enforcing accountability within a specific process. This alignment is critical and strategic since resistance to change is found to be the top point of failure in an automation initiative.
5- Take time to train your users
The success of a BPA deployment depends on how well the workflow is embraced by the people who work within that process. Coach every staff member using a train-the-trainer approach so that they become well-versed with the new tool, and also know who to go to if they have a question. Educate all stakeholders on the fundamentals of the tool, the rationale behind automation tools and the desired outcome(s). Platforms that offer digital user guides, knowledgebases and self-enablement can be very helpful so users can explore at their own pace, and unlock other points for automation.
6- Stay the course
Innovation can be a breeding ground for new ideas and process improvements that may have anything to do with technology. It is achieved only when the organization provides its knowledge workers with a culture that inspires creativity, but also provides them the time to do it. Many successful organizations understand this balance (consider Apple and Southwest Airlines as examples), and have thoughtfully included free time, brainstorming and open analysis in their job expectations in order to leverage the maximum potential from automation.
Business Process Automation is not a “one and done” process. It is a constant and evolving approach to innovation.
BPA initiatives are not a “one and done” project. It is a constant and evolving approach toward continuous innovation. These best practices will help you capture the value of your technology investments at the outset and bridge the gap between automation and innovation. Look for vendors and partners with the right mix of expertise, industry perspective and capabilities that will help you make the most these projects.