Digital technologies go a long way in improving efficiency within organizations. But they’re limited by the people controlling them. Ideally, many tasks should be done and processes flow with minimal human input.
This is where automation comes in. Now, the idea of sitting back and watching machines getting things done on their own sounds appealing. But it’s tricky for them to exercise the same level of ingenuity and accurate judgment as humans.
Here’s why automation is beneficial and how you can ensure you get it right.
Benefits of Automation
Automation comes with a number of benefits:
Lower operational costs: When certain tasks are automated, some employees will work fewer hours or may not be needed at all. This results in companies spending less on human resources.
Higher data integrity: Humans have a point beyond which they get tired and pay less attention to detail. This can lead to massive errors when doing tasks like entering data into a system manually. Automation helps ensure that data is recorded correctly and errors are corrected.
Faster delivery: Automated systems working at a consistent rate eventually outpace humans. With processes like testing and data entry taking less time, organizations can quickly develop and deliver products.
Improved planning: With repeated automation, it’s easier to predict how much time certain processes take. Likely, you won’t have to factor in other probabilities like an employee being sick and needing time off. This makes creating roadmaps easier.
Better collaboration: Even with simple automation applications like document sharing, organizations can simplify how different team members contribute to a project. Automation also helps build better links between different systems for uniform data updates. This means that team members will all be dealing with the same variables at the same time.
Improved productivity: When workers spend less time on mundane tasks that can be performed by computers, they can focus more on what humans are better at such as brainstorming new ideas for products and services. Employees can spend more time creating unique value, and become more engaged.
Tips for Implementing Automation Successfully
While automation has a lot of benefits, it does come with challenges for your organization. Here are some tricks to help you get it right.
Single out Automation Opportunities
Just because a process can be automated, doesn’t mean it has to be. It’s crucial to identify which processes are lacking, and how they are lacking. Ask yourself whether the process needs more speed or accuracy? Maybe you need it to move in sync with other activities.
Say you have a customer sign-up process and every candidate has to go through a verification stage. This Know-Your-Customer (KYC) phase may initially be handled manually, with an agent scrutinizing each picture, ID, and video submission.
As candidates increase, you might need software that can automatically detect similarities in photos and gestures in videos. This can make the sign-up process faster which improves customer experience and gets them using your service quickly.
You should always start by pinpointing those areas where more value will be generated if automation is introduced. But you shouldn’t just automate every process.
First, you could end up wasting money automating a process where humans are doing it at an adequate pace. While you take the work off their hands, you’re not necessarily improving your operations.
Second, in some cases, automation may lack accuracy. This is common in cases where businesses use chatbots to offer customer support.
Essentially, basic bots are set up to respond to keywords within a query and offer a preset answer. This approach mirrors the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) page on many websites. However, some queries may be more nuanced, or the customer may not use the same language or terminologies that the bot was programmed to detect.
This results in answers unrelated to the question. Perhaps the bot would’ve been helpful for first-stage questions, after which additional queries are relayed to a support agent.
Select Tools with Integration Capabilities
From email marketing tools to schedulers, conferencing, analytics, project management, etc., there could be a lot of unique tools being used. So before you implement automation, you need to first get a clear picture of all these tools. More importantly, you should ascertain which of these tools share information, and the order in which they do that.
For example, a lead may book a session through your website, and it’s automatically recorded in your video conferencing tool. However, if you have to manually email reminders or reschedule, then your automation is half-baked.
Ideally, any changes and other activity regarding that session should be automatically reflected in every tool involved. This can even include automatic notifications in task management tools showing which employee the session has been reassigned to. Remember that a highly integrated toolset will help further digital transformation.
Always ask yourself, “How many tools does this activity concern? Will they all be kept in the loop?” Ultimately, you should select an automation tool that can integrate with as many of your other tools as possible. Having to uproot those other tools and install new compatible ones might be too costly and hectic.
Restore Confidence Among Employees
Many people look at automation as a job snatcher. Consequently, they get anxious and defensive when they hear it may be brought into the mix. To implement automation successfully, you need to reassure employees that they won’t become irrelevant.
There are many ways in which you can do this. First, remind them that automation tools are still developed, set up, and maintained or re-adjusted by humans. Many automation tools aren’t some flip-a-switch-once-and-relax-forever solution.
This means that human beings will still have to run them, but they won’t be doing what the automation tools do. You can add the fact that workers will be able to focus more on the tasks that need human emotions, creativity, and nuanced decision-making.
Second, let them know that, in some cases, they’ll be working hand-in-hand with the automation tools. These will be task-specific tools that won’t have the versatility to cover an individual’s entire job description.
For example, an automation tool may send out communications, but it won’t attend press conferences on your behalf. Or it may help to run and test code, but it may not write the code for you. Showing employees how they can co-exist with automation tools can help foster an agile mindset. They will be much more open to reimagining their roles and adjusting as they go.
Get Your Timing Right
You need to consider numerous factors to determine whether it’s the right time to implement automation. First, you must have consistent manual procedures. If a certain process is being done manually but the team is still experimenting with different flows, you might want to wait.
Say your organization issues quarterly performance reports. Perhaps people from different departments are contributing figures to the document, graphics designers creating pie charts and bar graphs, etc.
There are document automation tools that allow you to build distinct forms for various contributors to enter data into the right spots. But If you’ve only created reports a couple of times and haven’t settled on the order in which everyone contributes, it might be too early to automate.
This is because you won’t have a clear framework to program the tool to operate within. You’ll struggle to come up with a complete and logical iteration that the tool can be programmed to repeat.
Additionally, if you’ve gotten into a rhythm but aren’t on a scale that makes these repetitive tasks very time-consuming, you may want to hold off on automation. It’s better to first get closer to the ceiling of the workload your human workforce can complete in a specific unit of time.
Automation also makes more sense if you already have software systems that employees are acquainted with. It’s a lofty ambition to introduce automation into an organization that barely uses software for critical day-to-day tasks and isn’t technology savvy.
If you find yourself with conflicting results and multiple errors after completing a particular process, it might be time to automate.
Plan in Advance and Analyze
To implement automation properly, you have to create a clear long-term plan. For instance, you may need an automation specialist on call to get the tools set up the right way. You’ll also need to come up with a simple way to translate your manual processes and their corresponding objectives to the specialists.
Furthermore, you should identify all residual actions that must still be carried out by employees. From here, develop a quick training/orientation program to let employees know what is expected of them in the new automation era.
Lastly, you need to come up with a set of metrics that you’ll track to evaluate the progress of your automation efforts. This may also include occasional check-ins with team members to learn how they are adjusting to working with automation.
Automation can be a game-changer for an organization and give it a competitive edge in the market. Nevertheless, there will likely be some friction when incorporating it into an organization.
Directors and leaders should remain focused on their initial objectives. They need to try and ascertain the areas in their internal operations where automation can help to extract more value. Leaders should endeavor to apply automation as far down the value creation journey as possible to enhance the final customer experience.
Co-founder of Buildingbettersoftware and Agile Leadership Coach
Søren Pedersen is a strategic leadership consultant and international speaker. With more than fifteen years of software development experience at LEGO, Bang & Olufsen, and Systematic, Pedersen knows how to help clients meet their digital transformation goals by obtaining organizational efficiency, alignment, and quality assurance across organizational hierarchies and value chains. Using Agile methodologies, he specializes in value stream conversion, leadership coaching, and transformation project analysis and execution. He’s spoken at DevOps London, is a contributor for The DevOps Institute, and is a Certified Scrum Master and Product Owner.
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