First, automation within an organization must have a purpose. Like a marketing strategy, it must tie back into the sales strategy and business strategy to be successful, so must automation tie back into the corporate business strategy. So many organizations fall victim to a common trend in technology – Shiny Object Syndrome, or aka SOS. Business leaders will read an article or see a news clip introducing automation and how it is changing the way companies do business. This is when business leaders tend to act like children in a candy store. Their eyes open wide with excitement while making decisions based on untested theories regarding automation. This approach lacks an agenda, lacks the ability to scale and lacks an integrated approach. Again, there must be a purpose within automation as it ties back into the business strategy.
Second, automation must be validated. Validation consists of three key parts:
- Create a plan (People, Process, Product and Technology)
- Small Steps (Phased Approach)
- Stick to it (test, test, test)
A Plan to Validate
Creating a plan involves people, process, product, and technology. The first thing to discuss with organizations who consider automation is understanding how this connects with your strategy – People, Process, Product and Technology
People – (Employees) understanding how your tech stack and people work together. Do they have the skillsets, are they open to transitioning, can they transition, do they have the right people to champion the technology? The worst situation is investing in technology with very little buy-in and after six months, the technology is no longer used. (Customers) understanding how automation can create value for your customers to keep them happy and coming back.
Process – Does the technology fit with the business processes already established? What if it changes the process? Is their alignment with other department processes? Understanding how to scale over time through existing and new processes.
Product – Will automation improve the product directly or indirectly? Will automation bring innovation to your product and give you a competitive advantage? Will automation lead to getting to market faster or increase quality?
Technology – how will it work with my existing technology? Is the technology flexible? Can the technology be adapted over time? Is the 3rd party technology company willing to make custom changes? What I mean by this is when an organization buys a technology stack but realizes only after that it doesn’t really give them the tools they need after a growth stage. This is something that is becoming more common in organizations.
Small Steps to Validate
The biggest challenge organizations battle with today is the investment. The investment comes in the form of people, time and money. It doesn’t make sense to jump into technology without understanding its value and also understanding the efforts to implement. The worst thing you can do is invest millions of dollars of time and money into automation without understanding the potential results. This approach goes back to the startup philosophy of creating a minimal viable product (MVP) that allows you to create a solution and test accordingly to make adjustments based on real-time feedback from users. Don’t build a full solution because you may fall into the trap that no one benefits from it, thus it brings no value.
Many companies struggle with how to integrate small steps, but this depends on your strategy and comfort zone. My goal is to make companies understand a phased approached to automation. This starts with task-oriented automation and eventually leads to functional-oriented automation. Task-oriented automation is used to help relieve a task or two of a persons’ busy schedule by automating menial tasks that take up too much time. An example of this includes using smart personal assistants, scheduling solutions, or an automated email system. This is perfect for companies who are new to automation and believe they lack the skills-set to integrate large solutions. As a progressive approach, functional-oriented automation is for organizations who are looking to more complex solutions such as Robotic Process Automation or RPA to help increase efficiencies across the company. These are larger companies who have the budgets and skillsets to implement such solutions. While the functional-oriented approach is more complex, it still requires small steps to validate.
Testing to Validate
Lastly, as you go through your small steps, every part of that process is testing. Generating data is the key to validate. Find data that predict results and remember, automation is only as good as the data we feed into them. Once it is determined what to test and how to test, remember to optimize your data points to gather details. While it is important to understand how to scale once automation is in place, it is more important to not scale through initial testing. Testing will tell you what is working and what is not, so adjustments can be made. This teaches us how to improve and properly implement while not losing sight of our goals and investment.
So, remember, test, test, test and when you fail, understand why, improve your efforts and test again.