When I talk to my clients, the conversation often turns to the things keeping them awake at night. And here’s the big one: how to position themselves for the future, and what to do to get there.

And they’re right to be concerned about being future-ready. Accenture research shows how, on average, future-ready organizations show a 2.8x boost in corporate profitability and 1.7x higher efficiency compared to those who are less prepared. We’re talking transformational value.

So how do you go about it?

It’s really about operational maturity underpinned by intelligent operations. Intelligent Operations means applying a strategic approach to advance the operating model. And that means aspiring to an operating model grounded in innovative technologies—think automation, AI, distributed ledgers and quantum computing—to continually push the boundaries of today’s processes and business models, and enable faster, smarter business decisions. It’s about becoming an operation that is agile, resilient and able to respond to change at speed.

Against this backdrop, automation is a key way to cut repetitive processes and drive value. And one step further, intelligent automation is a form of automation that brings higher performance to information-based work—not only by increasing its cost-efficiency but by elevating the customer experience and boosting top-line growth.

How? To get your head around the landscape, and the vital role automation has to play in this transformation, have a look at a new book published by Accenture colleagues, called The Automation Advantage.

Reflecting on the future-ready imperative, here are three things I am counselling my clients to do now.

#1: Think of the operating model as living (not one and done)

To get automation right (and advance along that critical future-ready spectrum), you need to understand the critical role the organization’s operating model plays in its success. It’s a term that gets bandied around a lot, but many of my clients admit to not fully understanding what it means.

Simply put, it’s a template for how work gets done over and over again, in a high-quality way. So for instance it will determine processes, governance, who does what, what technologies will be used and for which purposes. Its scope also needs to encompass ecosystems—that is to say, collaboration between the IT function and other internal business units, as well as external strategic ecosystem partners. 

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To generate true value, automation has to be embedded into the DNA of the organization


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Why does it matter? Because the right operating model allows companies to execute at speed and scale and focus on delivering the business outcomes to its clients. In order to get this right, business and technology teams need to co-own and co-execute working in perfect harmony.  

The proof is in the pudding. For example, one global food and beverage leader we worked with have improved their invoicing processes to dramatic effect. By implementing an automation powered intelligent operating model the company has freed up US$2M in working capital to reinvest in future growth.

To generate true value, automation has to be embedded into the DNA of the organization, led by strong governance, technology, processes, internal capabilities and ecosystem partnerships.

#2: Make it sustainable, and get the right metrics

When you’re looking at your operating model, design it so that you can sustain it. After strategic automation choices have been made that will generate value for the business, it’s easy to see why some teams will want to move quickly into execution mode.

One crucial step that can’t be ignored is planning the plan and doing so thoughtfully (see Chapter 5 of The Automation Advantage). Planning the plan is a capability in itself. If intelligent automation is a key part of your future, consider setting up a “Intelligent Automation Center of Excellence (COE)” model, to establish and foster that capability. The automation COE is the core group, team or capability that allows organizations to build and run effective automation programs with the right governance and high return on investment at speed and scale. The idea is to bring together the right people and skills to experiment and innovate, and then scale the things that work.

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When you’re looking at your operating model, design it so that you can sustain it

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And how do you know the plan is going to work? You need to consider not just what you’re doing but how you’re doing. That means designing the right metrics that can be centralized and aggregated in different cuts and tracked on a consistent basis. The right measurement system can help provide visibility, sponsorship and also secure additional support and funding for the program. While it may be the case that different stages of any automation project may lend themselves to different performance indicators, what’s important is to identify the “measures that matter” or “key business outcomes” —that is, the most salient metrics based on your company’s overall strategic objectives. The key performance indicators (KPIs) you determine should speak to the heart of what’s most vital (not what’s easiest to measure) to drive business results.

For example, we collaborated with one leading European bank to establish a streamlined, efficient governance model that monitors, modifies and improves processes over time. The bank used automation to manage data entry and document controls for contacts and credit requests, as well as identify invalid transactions and alert experts to resolve issues quickly. But importantly, progress was measured against several key performance and risk indicators. This enabled effective work orchestration between robots and people. 98% of their processes now use advanced KPIs and analytics—improving service speed and quality and increasing visibility into banking operations process performance.

#3: Make data a priority

Data sits at the core of all this. We’re seeing a big shift toward data-driven intelligent operations. Why does this matter? Leaders are beginning to prioritize data as a source of value in its own right, as well as an essential fuel for automation and helping optimize key business decisions in a data driven way. But it takes a mindset shift, and one that is critical as the future-ready imperative picks up pace.

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Leaders are beginning to prioritize data as an essential fuel for automation

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Insight driven outcomes are increasingly becoming key factors to drive the success of the business. In our most recent research, organizations that improve their data capabilities see the biggest impact on operational maturity, that is they are 4.2X more likely to make the leap from predictive to future-ready and 2.5X from stable to efficient

One manufacturing client recognized that to maintain its leadership position, it needed to centralize compliance and control, mitigate risk and provide a streamlined purchasing experience for business buyers. It transformed its source-to-pay processes with automated reporting which provides real-time data and intelligence on buying and delivery. This helped the organization realize savings of $7.5 million on a $60 million spend, doubling ROI in just one year.

Being future-ready

Ultimately, the organizations that thrive and grow even in turbulent times will be those who can embrace intelligent operating models, and embed intelligent automation into the DNA of their organization. That will be the real determinant of success. Are you future-ready enough to take that next step? Take the Accenture Intelligent Operations Maturity Assessment to find out more about your organization’s operations maturity and insights on becoming future-ready.

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Nirav Sampat

Chief Technology Officer – Operations

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