My experience helping organizations to realize the full benefits of automation shows it should be applied with an enterprise-wide perspective. A key lesson? It’s really important to create structure and prepare for scale if you want to deploy automation technologies faster, embed them across the enterprise and unleash their full potential.
All too often I see companies jump into their automation journeys with isolated pilots and piecemeal implementations. The result? Longer implementation times, higher costs and a ROI that’s not what was expected. This can leave the business asking whether the return was really worth all the effort.
As I’ll explain, this is where an automation roadmap can create real value. It allows your organization to steadily grow its intelligent automation capabilities and realize maximum benefits through structured and continuous innovation.
Know where you are on the map
One of my favorite quotes comes from Watts S. Humphrey, an icon in software engineering: “If you don't know where you are, a map won’t help.” Before a business sketches out its automation journey map, it first needs to benchmark the current level of automation maturity.
It must also identify processes that are optimal candidates for automation. Doing so will allow the business to focus its efforts and investments on opportunities with the greatest potential for success. The right candidates will be different for every organization. But applications that present themselves as automation opportunities tend to share some common characteristics including the need for frequent and manual updates, rapid scaling, data extracts, or a high degree of personalization.
Once opportunities have been identified, it’s time to qualify and evaluate them. In doing this, it’s incredibly important to establish a set of measurements tied to business goals to track progress and results. This can be done by assessing the value that can be achieved from automating a process versus the complexity involved in doing so.
And remember: value isn’t just about cost savings that you can measure. Organizations could and probably should also consider qualitative measures of success. These can range from increased process performance and improved data quality to stronger governance, better control and greater standardization.
Create your roadmap
Once you’ve identified opportunities that your business wants to target, it’s time to lay out the roadmap. This plots the journey from today’s “as-is” automation environment to the “to-be” environment envisioned for some years into the future.
A good roadmap should suggest the optimal pace, track and deployment strategy for automation. It should take the long-term journey into account too, covering the automation of everything that will need to be automated—at the right time and in a way that will best serve business goals.
The journey must also include people and talent development at every step along the way. This means mandating development of new IT skills, developing them in a structured manner and creating an “automation-first” mindset throughout the company’s culture. To achieve this, there has to be an emphasis on encouraging and equipping everyone, not just IT, through ongoing learning, “fail fast” prototyping, cocreation and other kinds of continuous improvement and innovation.
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Follow a structured approach
I advise organizations to sketch out their roadmap on two levels: (i) progress to business results and (ii) progress to greater automation maturity. For the latter, it’s best to plan this as a series of steps from where the organization is on the maturity index today to higher levels of automation maturity ahead.
Where progress to business results is concerned, you should view the journey in three phases:
- Phase 1: Establish. Make it a priority to assess the automation potential of processes and identify pilots for specific applications across the enterprise.
- Phase 2: Scale. Next, develop, deploy and scale solutions. Scaling automation capabilities demands a holistic strategy that cuts across all types of talent segments and skills. Automation should never be solely the responsibility of a small team. It has to be everyone's. That’s why, to build automation capabilities at scale, enterprise-wide investment in talent and skills is so crucial.
- Phase 3: Operate. My experience shows that long-term automation should be a deliberate, well thought-out process. Decision-makers at every level need to be involved in process rationalization. In this phase, a business should be extending automation coverage to maximize value realization. It’s also vital to fine-tune the ongoing automation strategy based on what happened in earlier phases.
Scale automation for real advantage
Keep in mind that the automation journey isn’t a straight line. And it doesn’t end once your organization has worked its way through the three phases I’ve outlined here. Driving automation at speed and scale should be a continuously evolving journey, giving the enterprise the flexibility to adapt, improve, innovate and realign along the way. Doing this through a structured roadmap with the right measurements will mean the organization is well-positioned to rapidly scale automation and leverage its full power for competitive advantage.
In our book "The Automation Advantage", we explore all the facets of a successful intelligent automation implementation—from strategy to sustainable transformation and measurable business benefits. Find out more at accenture.com/automationadvantage.
Rajendra Prasad (RP) is a senior managing director and global automation lead at Accenture and heads a team that helps organizations across the globe successfully implement and scale their intelligent automation transformations. He is co-author with Accenture’s Dr. Bhaskar Ghosh and Gayathri Pallail of “The Automation Advantage” from McGraw Hill.