Four steps to preparing your business for success.
When we talk about automation, we’re talking about software that helps with business challenges. This can range from improving customer loyalty to streamlining operations or improving efficiency. And, in my experience, I’ve found that these are things every business wants to improve.
Why is automation important?
Aside from the business needs I mentioned above, the COVID-19 pandemic has really underscored how important automation is.
In the past year, a lot of things have changed; for me, it boils down to three key takeaways:
- Digital engagement is critical: We’ve seen that online companies are booming while brick and mortar businesses are struggling. People are even ordering their groceries online. Customers are now three times more likely to interact with brands digitally, and they’re choosing digital interactions about 80% of the time . From an automation view, this leads us to ask, “How can I make sure my customers have a great digital experience?”
- Work has changed: Many people are still working from home full-time, and more than 60% of companies are saying that they’re never going back to the way things were run before COVID . With automation, we’d ask, “How can I help my employees thrive in this new way of working?”
- Technology matters: Looking back, we can see that companies that invested in technology before the pandemic came out ahead. In fact, tech-savvy organizations outperformed their peers by an average of 6 percentage points . With automation, we’d ask, “How can new technology help me solve my biggest challenges?”
What does it mean to be an automation achiever?
An automation achiever thinks ahead, thinks strategically and works ahead.
A great example is ENN Group, an energy company in China. ENN had already started digitizing and automating their operations before the lockdown. When thousands of their employees shifted to working from home, their IT team was overwhelmed with requests. In response, ENN was able to roll out a new virtual assistant that used artificial intelligence (AI) and intelligent automation to interpret and respond to requests — helping thousands of employees within a single day.
However, most companies aren’t as far along as ENN Group. In a recent survey, IBM found that just 26% of companies rank as “achievers” — and the 26% is expected to consistently outshine the other 74% over the next three years .
But we should be honest here — the automation struggle is real for many people. We’ve found that 73% of organizations are 12-24 months away from implementing digital operations . And 70% say they don’t have the mechanisms to scale .
However, it may be easier to automate than you think. Below, you’ll find my suggestions for turning your business into an automation achiever.
What does it take to be an achiever?
First, you need to seek out insights. What are your customers looking for? What’s driving your sales? Customer needs are always changing, but if you’re tuned into insights, you’ll be able to create applications that meet your customers as they evolve.
Second, you need to leverage data. Insights come from data, and in today’s world, data is readily available. So, use it. Write algorithms against your data and curate your data lake to make information easily accessible.
Third, you need to digitize your systems. These systems produce data, and from the data, you get insights. Start by pinpointing inefficiencies and prioritizing the areas of greatest need.
How you can be an automation achiever
- Start with data: Learn from the data you already have. What’s your current state? What could be improved? Start to do process mining and modeling off of that data.
- Determine where you have inefficiencies: Take the information you’ve compiled and have your analysts dig in. Where do they see opportunities? How could they help you eliminate bottlenecks?
- Build automations to solve problems: Of course, it’s not as easy as “just building something.” You may need some discovery, and this could be a good place to use low-code solutions. The end goal is to quickly build a mechanism to derive operational intelligence.
- Put the automation into place: This creates more data, and you start the cycle again.
At IBM, we call these four steps discover, decide, act and optimize.
What it looks like in practice
CDG Prevoyance facilitates programs for retirement pensions, savings plans and worker’s compensation. They also provide insurance and investment services. All of these programs are process-heavy and lead to the company generating up to 100,000 documents per month.
Based on this information, CDG Prevoyance determined that they wanted to start their automation efforts with customer service.
They started by digitizing their documentation. When they received paper documentation from external agencies, they used data capture to digitize these documents and integrate them into the process flow.
They also automated their pensions and benefits rules, and they used business process management to manage the activities related to the overall process. With these additions, users know what’s been done, what’s left to do, who’s doing what and when it should be done.
With the new automations in place, CDG Prevoyance reduced pension certificate processing from days to minutes. They were also able to take enrollment verification from a five-day process to a one-hour process.
CDG Prevoyance continues to explore ways to improve their services and have started involving customers in the conceptualization of their solutions. A customer-driven hackathon developed 13 prototype solutions to address pain points submitted by customers and helped them iterate on all customer experience processes.
My advice is just to start. This methodology works anywhere in your business: HR, customer support, back-office innovation — whatever makes sense for you.
If you’d like to dig into business automation more, I suggest The Buyer’s Guide to Intelligent Automation.
 HFS Vision 2025: The New Dawn to Become a OneOffice Organization
 McKinsey, How COVID-19 has pushed companies over the technology tipping point—and transformed business forever
 IBM IBV study: Digital acceleration: Top technologies driving growth in a time of crisis
 IBM Institute for Business Value – 1500 COOs surveyed - Future of Work Study, 2020
 IDC FutureScape: Worldwide Digital Transformation 2021 Predictions