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Three lessons to pilot your business to automation success

(Image credit: Image Credit: Cordis Technology)

Business leaders are often told that they can learn a thing or two from the aviation industry – taking charge in the cockpit, navigating through turbulence, or ensuring a successful landing for employees and customers. This is especially true in the context of digital transformation. By thinking like a pilot, those at the helm can learn what to do, what not to do, and how to implement these learnings when embarking on automation projects.

In business, as in aviation, proper preparation is crucial. Before each flight, the pilot must adhere to the pre-flight checklist to guarantee a successful journey. It may seem tedious, but it’s extremely important – security and medical checks, flight data analysis, aircraft system checks, and fuel checks, every step has to be completed thoroughly. A lot depends on it.

Similarly, businesses need to prepare in order to achieve success in their automation projects. Every single aspect must be in order before take-off. In fact, in our recent research into this, we found that almost half (47 percent) of UK businesses who have failed on automation found it was because of a lack of understanding of the process they wanted to improve. Only 15 percent said they had a “deep understanding” of their processes before automating them.

Navigating through the current business turbulence is a top priority for leaders. Those that have visibility far enough ahead to avoid mistakes– before they impact your business – will be better prepared for the long haul. The right technology mix is critical.

Mapping out your journey

No two business automation journeys are the same. How one business automates their processes or yields results will be wholly different to another. This means the first step for businesses is mapping out their journey to success.

This involves thinking about which processes you want to automate. Automation success relies on knowing your processes inside out, and understanding which work – and crucially, which don’t. The reality is that not enough business automation projects are progressing past infancy. Merely getting the technology in place is not enough to reap the benefits that automation can deliver. Not nailing your processes before you automate them means you’re just making bad processes faster. It’s like flying a plane with the wrong fuel in the tank.

In the current climate, this has become even more important. As staff remain furloughed and finance teams work round the clock to keep the business afloat, solid processes are absolutely vital. It’s little surprise, then, that financial planning and decision-making was where over half (52 percent) of business leaders thought process mining technologies would be most useful. Improving customer experience (43 percent) came in second, and IT service management (37 percent) and notoriously process-heavy HR onboarding (36 percent) were next in line.

Know your processes inside out

Leaders need to learn how to walk before they learn how to fly. Figuring out what processes need to be automated in your business is one thing – knowing them inside out and being able to manage them from then on is a whole new ball game. After all, autopilot only kicks in once the plane is successfully cruising.

Continuous advances in process mining can help a business’ digital transformation journey by uncovering and improving processes, helping to achieve business agility. But process intelligence goes further than this. It provides a comprehensive view of running processes, giving businesses the ability to act on what they find and improve processes in real time.

Through this, leaders can drill down into the granular details, as the technology gives you the tools to solve problems you didn’t even know existed. It’s vital that business leaders check in on their processes often during this phase, to see where issues lie, which processes are most problematic, and which are ripe for automation. This deep understanding and oversight of processes is the missing puzzle piece that businesses are in desperate need of.

Once this is in good shape, you can move on to intelligent automation – combining process intelligence with automation like RPA. This is the switch to autopilot. Here, the technology can spot potential issues with processes like bottlenecks or delays before they happen, and update bots with corrective actions to fix the failing process.

This can happen hundreds of times a day, without the human touch, to avoid problems from ever occurring. For process-heavy industries like financial services or logistics and transportation it could be the key to survival in such an uncertain economy.

Learning from business turbulence

Even with intelligent automation in full swing, there will always be turbulent times on any automation journey. In these times, leaders must learn from their experiences to better handle similar uncertainty in the future.

Often, the most challenging processes to automate are the ones that will have the biggest impact – the ones that everyone from the boardroom to the shop floor want to be perfect. This is particularly evident in the banking and FS industry, where improving financial decision-making was the most helpful use case for RPA – but is also proving the most challenging to automate. In insurance, improving customer experience is causing the same headache – it’s vital that it’s automated well, but getting there is no mean feat.

This proves that the pressure to get automation right is huge. It’s a major investment of time, money, and energy for everyone involved. That’s why relying on human workers to assess processes won’t cut it, especially not when technology can do the job for you.

This, and the goal of automating manual labor-intensive processes, means that your human workforce can spend their time doing things that matter more to the business. Right now, this is likely to be relationship-building services, like customer care, supplier management, or simply supporting colleagues and staff. This technology helps workers focus on adding the human touch – at a time when it matters most.

Nailing the landing

Businesses that have their processes digitized or have already embarked on an automation journey can adapt more quickly to these uncertain times, and their employees will benefit too. With more than £1.2 million being spent on automation by UK businesses in 2019 – and the need for clever technological fixes more pressing than ever in 2020 – ensuring you’re seeing results is paramount. Getting your processes in order before you start automating them is the crucial step to avoiding failure and ensuring that businesses reap the rewards of their investments.

Life in the cockpit can teach a leader a lot about running a business, but it doesn’t take a pilot’s license to see automation success. Even when you’re up in the air, you should always strive for the perfect landing.

Neil Murphy, Global VP, ABBYY (opens in new tab)

Neil Murphy, Global VP at ABBYY.