Technology seems to grow exponentially these days with large companies such as Google and Amazon leading the charge with automation, but let’s not forget about the tech startups that are disrupting the automation market such as Uber, Airbnb and Slack, all valued at $1 billion or more and the many more startups looking to be the next unicorn. According to TechAsia, a new tech startup is created every three seconds around the world. All this technology drive is creating an age of automation not only on a personal usage level but also in the workplace. Investment in artificial intelligence alone is at 32% for software related services and growing.
As automation continues to move forward, it’s important to look back at the progression of emerging technologies that started this technology trend, starting with the early days of Business Intelligence (BI), Cloud, Big Data, IoT and now the emergence of Artificial Intelligence (AI). All of these technologies are driving the efforts for automation in the workplace, but most if not all companies large and small are challenged with:
• Where do I get started?
• What automation technology is right for our organization?
• What should we be measuring?
• How do we keep the momentum moving forward once we get started?
And there are also the organizational fears by not implementing automation:
• Losing a competitive advantage
• Lack of organizational efficiency
• Unable to recruit or maintain technology driven staff
• Becoming a dinosaur in the modern technology world
To begin, we must start with understanding automation. Automation is not just about technology, it is a strategy. Henry Ford integrated automation into his assembly line to increase time to market and operational efficiency. He didn’t utilize any new technology to drive his assembly line approach but put into place a well-thought out strategy. The difference today, technology is all around us and this is now part of the new equation in the digital transformation movement. Equivalent to digital transformation, automation is about people, process, product and technology working together in strategic harmony to create value.
First, automation within an organization must have a purpose. Like a marketing strategy, it must tie back into the sales strategy and business strategy to be successful, so must automation tie back into the corporate business strategy. So many organizations fall victim to a common trend in technology – Shiny Object Syndrome, or aka SOS. Business leaders will read an article or see a news clip introducing automation and how it is changing the way companies do business. This is when business leaders tend to act like children in a candy store. Their eyes open wide with excitement while making decisions based on untested theories regarding automation. This approach lacks an agenda, lacks the ability to scale and lacks an integrated approach. Again, there must be a purpose within automation as it ties back into the business strategy.
Second, automation must be validated. Validation consists of three key parts:
• Create a plan (People, Process, Product and Technology)
• Small Steps (Phased Approach)
• Stick to it (test, test, test)
A Plan to Validate
Creating a plan involves people, process, product and technology. The first thing to discuss with organizations who consider automation is understanding how this connects with your strategy – People, Process, Product and Technology
People – (Employees) understanding how your tech stack and people work together. Do they have the skillsets, are they open to transitioning, can they transition, do they have the right people to champion the technology? The worst situation is investing in technology with very little buy-in and after six months, the technology is no longer used. (Customers) understanding how automation can create value for your customers to keep them happy and coming back.
Process – Does the technology fit with the business processes already established? What if it changes the process? Is their alignment with other department processes? Understanding how to scale over time through existing and new processes.
Product - Will automation improve the product directly or indirectly? Will automation bring innovation to your product and give you a competitive advantage? Will automation lead to getting to market faster or increase quality?
Technology – how will it work with my existing technology? Is the technology flexible? Can the technology be adapted over time? Is the 3rd party technology company willing to make custom changes? What I mean by this is when an organization buys a technology stack but realizes only after that it doesn’t really give them the tools they need after a growth stage. This is something that is becoming more common in organizations.
Small Steps to Validate
The biggest challenge organizations battle with today is the investment. The investment comes in the form of people, time and money. It doesn’t make sense to jump into technology without understanding its value and also understanding the efforts to implement. The worst thing you can do is invest millions of dollars of time and money into automation without understanding the potential results. This approach goes back to the startup philosophy of creating a minimal viable product (MVP) that allows you to create a solution and test accordingly to make adjustments based on real-time feedback from users. Don’t build a full solution because you may fall into the trap that no one benefits from it, thus it brings no value.
Many companies struggle with how to integrate small steps, but this depends on your strategy and comfort zone. My goal is to make companies understand a phased approached to automation. This starts with task-oriented automation and eventually leads to functional-oriented automation. Task-oriented automation is used to help relieve a task or two of a persons’ busy schedule by automating menial tasks that take up too much time. An example of this includes using smart personal assistants, scheduling solutions, or an automated email system. This is perfect for companies who are new to automation and believe they lack the skills-set to integrate large solutions. As a progressive approach, functional-oriented automation is for organizations who are looking to more complex solutions such as Robotic Process Automation or RPA to help increase efficiencies across the company. These are larger companies who have the budgets and skillsets to implement such solutions. While the functional-oriented approach is more complex, it still requires small steps to validate.
Testing to Validate
Lastly, as you go through your small steps, every part of that process is testing. Generating data is the key to validate. Find data that predict results and remember, automation is only as good as the data we feed into them. Once it is determined what to test and how to test, remember to optimize your data points to gather details. While it is important to understand how to scale once automation is in place, it is more important to not scale through initial testing. Testing will tell you what is working and what is not, so adjustments can be made. This teaches us how to improve and properly implement while not losing sight of our goals and investment.
So, remember, test, test, test and when you fail, understand why, improve your efforts and test again.
Automation brings many benefits from reduced production costs, enhanced quality & reliability and the ability to stay viable, all creating a competitive advantage. But is important to understand how automation brings value to your business through a strategic approach. Always consider your resources, understand your capabilities and determine the value gained from implementing automation. Your strategy starts with creating a plan with the right people on board who can lead the transformational process, understand the implications to the organization through analysis and who can implement potential game-changing technology.
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