“Why do I need an all-in-one automation platform?”

By Brian Safron

Imagine your VP’s reaction when you break the good news. “We’ve decided to work with several automation software vendors. Each offers best-of-breed software that doesn’t interoperate with the other vendors’ software. And we’ll need to hire more people to support and manage each of the solutions.”

It’s hard to imagine a VP being thrilled about needing to integrate, deploy and support a random collection of automation software — or having to build and maintain unique skills for each offering.

What would thrill a typical VP in that position? Is it the ability to drive digital transformation by automating as much of the business as possible — as fast as possible — while avoiding a proliferation of automation solutions that demand more people, platforms and skills? Probably. But what’s the best solution for achieving that?

When it comes to automation software, you can choose from four basic options (for more context, see my publication The quick and practical guide to digital business automation, PDF, 294 KB):

1. You can write all code from scratch.

  • Pros: You own and control everything.
  • Cons: The software becomes a black box, where the business side doesn’t have any visibility or understanding of the code. This option requires a lot of IT time and expertise to understand what the code does and to make any changes.

2. You can buy packaged apps.

  • Pros: This option is ready made, and some apps will fill specific needs.
  • Cons: If your business doesn’t fit the mold of the packaged app, it’s not going to do all the things you want it to do. Packaged apps don’t have a lot of flexibility, so you have to work within their limits.

3. You can buy a collection of point solutions.

  • Pros: You can select from a wide variety of vendors.
  • Cons: You act as the integrator as you buy different automation applications from different companies. The products don’t always work well with each other, and there’s no underlying foundation for things like analytics, machine learning and AI.

4. You can adopt an automation platform.

  • Pros: This option is an integrated set of foundational applications and cross-platform capabilities with which you can customize any automation solution.
  • Cons: You don’t get to choose a different vendor for every application. With this option, you’re dependent on a single vendor for support across the platform.

If you write all your code from scratch, you’ve accepted extreme complexity because you have extreme needs. In terms of packaged apps, you may be using them where appropriate, but there are many things packaged apps don’t do well, especially when you’re trying to differentiate from your competition.

Right now, we’ll focus on the fourth option – an all-in-one automation software platform – and explain why you might need one of these.

The value of an automation platform

The ideal automation software would provide a repeatable way to build custom solutions while reducing the time and resources needed to build those solutions. An integrated platform can help drive revenue and new business opportunities while avoiding the hidden costs of point solutions.

Driving revenue and new business opportunities

In a recent analysis commissioned by IBM, The Total Economic Impact (TEI) of the IBM Automation Platform for Digital Business, Forrester highlights how standardizing on an automation platform has increased revenue and business flexibility at a large US-based bank.

Revenue growth. Forrester analyzed the financial benefits of using an automation platform; in this case, the IBM automation software platform.

According to Forrester’s evaluation, one percent more loans were closed due to faster loan reviews and approvals enabled by the platform. While one percent may not sound like a huge number, the incremental revenue driven by that increase – USD 16 million in a three-year period – is significant.

Even after Forrester adjusted for risk, the additional revenue just from faster loan processing was more than USD 13 million in three years. For the four automation projects included in the evaluation, Forrester calculated a return on investment (ROI) of 675 percent.

Flexibility. In addition to quantifiable financial results, Forrester highlighted increased business flexibility driven by the automation platform. They noted: “The bank’s standardization on the automation platform will help enable new automation initiatives to be added without the significant expense of deploying and customizing a new automation solution, thereby helping the bank unlock many more future opportunities than it expected.”

Avoiding the hidden costs of point solutions

In the same TEI study, Forrester shared the following 10 factors that may come into play when choosing and deploying a new automation solution:

1.   Searching for vendors that offer the right solution

2.   Gathering requirements to create a request for information (RFI) to send out to vendors

3.   Forming a committee to narrow down RFIs to a list of finalists

4.   Creating criteria and bringing in each vendor to perform a proof of concept (POC)

5.   Issuing request for proposals (RFPs) and selecting a vendor

6.   Negotiating pricing, finalizing an agreement and starting the procurement process

7.   Planning for integration with existing environments

8.   Identifying issues, risks or software vulnerabilities and documenting anything that needs remediation

9.   Standing up environments, such as development, test and production

10. Hiring consultants to help with the first project and learn best practices

Standardizing on an automation platform can help you avoid spending time and money on each of these steps for each new business solution.

According to Forrester’s TEI study, “Setting and communicating automation platform standardization across the organization has allowed the bank to avoid spending time and money on research and implementation for one department or another — as well as the time and cost of integrating as many as 10 disparate automation systems together.” As the bank explained, “We have one standard platform we can keep building on, versus having to figure out every project with analysis of every vendor.”

The best of both worlds: The evolution of the IBM automation software platform

There was a time when organizations had to choose between full-featured enterprise software and narrowly focused point solutions. A platform can solve that problem by providing integrated, best-of-breed capabilities across the full spectrum of automation.

The scenario at the beginning of this article — with the less-than-thrilled VP — dramatizes the client problem IBM Automation addressed when we began architecting our automation platform in 2016. We decided the platform needed five core automation capabilities to enable digital transformation – tasks, workflow, decisions, content and capture (see Figure 1). And they needed to be integrated.

The technologies represented by these capabilities include:

  • Enterprise content management
  • Business process management
  • Case management
  • Business rules
  • Digital decisioning
  • Data capture
  • Robotic process automation

In addition to these core areas, IBM Automation focused on several cross-platform capabilities that are also critical for digital transformation:

  • Analytics
  • Machine learning
  • AI
  • Business modeling
  • Low-code/no-code authoring
  • Governance
  • Unified user experience
  • Hybrid, flexible deployment options

As highlighted in the last bullet, this platform would run everywhere. We would host it on IBM Cloud™, or it could be hosted on any cloud or in any data center.

Illustrating how IBM Automation Platform for Digital Business can provide integrated, best-of-breed capabilities across the full spectrum of automation

Figure 1. IBM Automation Platform for Digital Business

We recently received positive feedback in The Forrester Wave: Software For Digital Process Automation For Deep Deployments, Q2 2019 — achieving the highest score for strategy among evaluated vendors.

Forrester noted: “IBM has consolidated its content management, decision management, and process automation offerings under a single executive and engineering team with a unified go-to-market execution. At the same time, it has done some of the most pragmatic integration of IBM’s Watson AI capabilities to drive very process-specific business value.”

The last word

The future of work will be based on a spectrum of integrated automation capabilities, supported by embedded machine learning and AI, that enable people, robotics and computer systems to “divvy up” work in the smartest and most optimized way. As a result, knowledge workers can focus on higher value work and businesses can serve their customers better and more efficiently.

An automation platform is one of the best ways to provide the full spectrum of capabilities required to industrialize the digital transformation needed to stay competitive in a hypercompetitive world.

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