I recently had the privilege to participate in the North America Accenture Technology Symposium. This annual, three-day gathering brings together our clients’ CTOs, CIOs, and IT and technology thought leaders from a variety of industries with Accenture experts. It’s an opportunity to network in person and participate in labs and workshops. It’s also a chance to share lessons learned and success stories on using emerging enterprise technology, including intelligent automation (IA), data and cloud.

My focus is on working with companies on scaling intelligent automation to drive long-term change in the IT organization and deliver business value. In our work, we see IA being applied by nearly all companies. But there is a shift underway from focusing on low-hanging fruit to aiming for big-bet competitive disruption. The challenge is how to move from building capabilities and pilots using AI-powered automation to strategic scaling to the industrialization of IA and creating a sustainable, agile, automation-first culture throughout the enterprise. Also, how to get the most value out of IT and technology investments. The companies that are strategically scaling AI report nearly 3X the return from AI investments compared to companies pursuing siloed proof of concepts.

The companies at the Symposium are ones that are seizing the opportunities that IA in IT presents for growth. They are turning IT into a profit center and fueling innovation with extensive use of automation and machine learning. They are pivoting to become a data-driven enterprise and using real-time analytics to gain a competitive advantage. They are using Agile and DevOps to bring efficiency and faster innovation, and using digital and cloud platforms to create nimble operations. And, they are reimagining the employee and customer experiences.

These are some of the lessons we heard from clients at the event, and those we work with daily, who are successfully strategically scaling IA in their IT organizations:

Drive Business Impact, Align with Organizational Goals

Aim for long-term competitive advantage, not just instant wins. Automation alone is table stakes today. The automation of IT has advanced from automating repetitive, rule-based tasks to business process optimization and infusing AI into application and infrastructure management. It has the potential to bring growth through increased customer satisfaction and the faster introduction of innovative, AI-powered offerings. So, the time is now to think about enabling your IA strategy to deliver your business strategy.

Track value through business benefits, not just dollars. Benchmark and measure progress, starting with the desired outcomes and business benefits of your program, not the bots, tools and technology. IA for IT has tangible benefits that improve how work is done throughout a company. Tracking this can show the ROI for technology investment and innovation.

Don’t automate an inefficient process. Because once you automate inefficiency, it will just be a more efficient inefficiency. At each step of the IA journey is an opportunity for the business to gain speed, agility and predictability. You can use analytics and design thinking to understand why something is inefficient in the IT organization, not just what you want to be more efficient.

Focus on People and Ecosystem

Nominate a champion for change. People often ask me, who should be the sponsor of this change effort? My answer is anyone on the leadership team who can impact the behavior of the organization. It doesn’t have to be the CTO or CIO. Someone who leads a profitable part of the business – and believes in enterprise automation – can have an impact and champion change. That person will drive adoption and best practices of automation innovation throughout the company, help break through barriers and communicate progress and ROI to the C-suite.

Build your own AI-powered automation talent capability. While in Atlanta for the Symposium, it was inspiring to visit Georgia Tech to see the next generation of tech talent who are researching practical and ethical ways to innovate AI and help businesses and society solve some of the biggest challenges. At the end of the day, the sustainability of your AI and automation capability will only come if the organization builds its own capability. You can start by depending on external resources, but like any change program, success will only come if you build internally. Upskill your IT talent, while also training people throughout the organization to think with a continuous improvement mindset.

Invest in building a healthy data fabric. I like to say that AI is the user interface of data. If you get your data, starting from capture to curation to consume in a systemic way, you will get your AI-powered automation systems more efficient. Improvement of every aspect of the data pipeline, including data quality, is imperative.

Build a strong network of internal and external partners. They say it takes a village to raise a child. To effect large-scale, enterprise-wide culture change for a scalable, sustainable IT automation program, it takes an ecosystem. Involve a large net of internal stakeholders, CIO, security, architecture, etc., early in the process. And explore external partners in cloud-based and enterprise platforms that will help IT pivot to the New.

Drive an Innovation Culture and Mindset

Treat the automation journey like any other change program. You have to put together a structured approach to automation investment with strong governance like you do for any change program. This includes clearly delineating roles and communicating responsibilities and benefits to the entire enterprise. That will allow you to build, elevate, scale and innovate for the long-term.

Break down those silos. Companies often focus on innovation or automation in pockets. They try to do use case by use case and over time they have built silos of automation and AI implementation. First, understand the business challenges you are trying to solve, then build an enterprise-wide holistic approach to drive significant change.

Avoid change for change sake. We see organizations’ automation ecosystems growing rapidly and being designed with tools ranging from Robotic Process Automation (RPA) bots that automate finance work to chatbots speaking to customers in different languages. But don’t do AI if it is not required, and if you can fix a problem without AI, just do it.

Embrace constant change and a continuous improvement mindset. “Doing new things is easy, not doing old things is harder.” This was a great point made by an IT leader at the Symposium who is successfully scaling automation. Part of the change management side of IA is getting leadership and employees to embrace the idea that the work of automation is never finished. It is essential to invest in continuous training, and shift to a culture of design thinking and a continuous improvement mindset.

We are now in the next phase of automation. With intelligent automation, machines augment human skills and capabilities to improve decision-making ability and deliver business innovations. As I continue to work with companies on creating scalable and sustainable automation programs, I see endless possibilities for IT to deliver business value. It will require a willingness to fail fast, fail smart and capitalize on what you learn. What we know is that success is possible with the right technology, processes and culture. 

Rajendra Prasad (RP)

Lead – Global Automation and Intelligent Assets, Accenture Technology

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