"Where should I start?"

By Katie Sotheran

We hear this question often from clients because planning the first step in an automation journey can be hard. The range of available technologies presents a lot of capabilities that can be applied across many and varied functional areas.

This question typically comes after clients determine automation is a strategic imperative, have some idea of its business impact and have already automated something (e.g., an isolated pocket of back office activity). And now they want to scale.

So, where do you start?

As the adage goes, “You only get one chance to make a first impression.” If you want to invest in automation technology, you need a pilot that can deliver rapid results, with minimal implementation risks to make a strong case for scaling up.

In practice, when we work with clients to answer this question, we conduct a detailed assessment of their enterprise to determine the best areas to automate. We evaluate this by:

  • using component business models with an automation overlay to show the functional areas where other clients have had automation success
  • applying an Automation Quotient to assess technical feasibility and organizational change readiness

Without sounding wishy-washy, where you should start depends on the dynamics in your enterprise. But the outcome of those assessments often points to the same place. 

For many clients, the best place to start is with a back-office support process that can be delivered with straight-through processing. Common examples include invoice processing, payment reconciliation, payroll management, system monitoring and report creation.

Here’s why.

  1. Automation in this space is tried and tested. Back-office processes are great candidates for robotic process automation as well as solutions for workflow management, business rules, data capture and content management. The most mature and most frequently deployed use cases are found here. This path means a low-risk deployment and a higher likelihood that your developer can reuse existing bot code.
  2. You’ll have an immediate and measurable impact on productivity. These processes are typically well measured already with KPIs the business is already interested in – quality, yield or throughput, and lead time. You can expect those measures to be immediately improved, allowing for a clear case for expansion of automation.
  3. The impact on your people will be limited and positive. The kinds of processes we outlined previously are often already heavily system-generated, and rarely someone’s full-time job. Productivity gains may be hard to monetize at first, but the upside is that you can prove the technology before getting into how wholesale automation adoption impacts the organization. To be truly effective, workflows should be entirely redesigned to use automation. The impact on the workforce can and should be transformative -- but we don’t suggest that as a starting point. First, prove the technology, and then address the wider implications of a digital workforce. 
  4. Your customers won’t be affected. Automation can have significant benefits for customers and allow enterprises to service customer needs in new responsive ways. Often this transformation will involve more advanced automation technology, using artificial intelligence (AI) and usually more complex solutions that require integration across a greater number of systems. Rather like the workforce implications, the impact on customer experience is something any enterprise looking to scale automation must consider. Again, we don’t suggest starting there. First, prove the basic technology. Then, think about the possible applications of more advanced automation technologies can have.
  5. You can scale up rapidly. Lots of back-office processes like those outlined previously support critical business operations and can be automated with tried and tested use cases. A successful pilot in one use case will be a great jumping off point for rapidly scaling across the back office. You can build a business case, win supporters and generate savings to invest in a full-fledged enterprise-wide intelligent automation program. 

While starting in the right place is important, don’t lose time overthinking it. Ultimately, the most important thing is to make a start and show value.

If you have more questions,  schedule a 30-minute consultation with one of our experts. It’s complimentary and designed to help you jump-start your automation plans or projects.    

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