25 January 2018

Intelligent Automation - disruption without dismay

As we’re all aware, there’s increasing pressure on companies, and down the food-chain on their IT operations, to take the corporate use of technology to a new level. This is called various things – Digital Transformation and the Fourth Industrial Revolution are two that come to mind – but the themes are the same: more efficient use of IT resource to do more with less, closer alignment of technology with overall business goals and strategy, and the use of technology not simply to do business better, but to do it in radical new ways.

Clearly reacting the right way is key. Analysts parade pairs of exemplar companies who reacted successfully and unsuccessfully to these challenges – Barnes & Noble and Amazon were successful booksellers, and one simply wanted to become a better bookseller while the other saw an opportunity to become the online supplier of everything to everyone – Blockbuster and Netflix both rented entertainment media, and one created more attractive physical stores, while the other became a dominant player in the new streaming market, not only as a medium but as a content author. So - disruption is not necessarily a bad thing, but can be beneficial.

Awareness of this business imperative is widespread; in a recent Bloomberg survey, 65% of the S&P 500 said they anticipated innovating radically in order to maintain their status.

Graph

Automation is no different – a tactical, opportunistic and bottom-up approach has been the norm in most companies, with departments and business units implementing diverse Automation types from diverse vendors. And now Automation has come under the same spotlight as the rest of corporate IT - to become even more efficient, to better serve business goals and to become a key agent of corporate innovation – courtesy of a Systemic, top-down Intelligent Automation strategy.

Intelligent Automation has become the umbrella term for the way in which companies adapt - reassessing their legacy Automation landscape and implementing emerging Automation technologies to meet new business requirements. It’s now a major service offering for Extra Technology, and this blog shares some the experiences we picked up along the way.

Background

As mentioned earlier, historically most people implemented Automation technology on a tactical basis, with individual departments and business units given the autonomy to procure and implement solutions in a number of discrete Automation areas.

This covers multiple sectors – from Business Service Automation to IT Service Automation and on to IT Task Automation. And this now extends to the area of Desktop Task Automation, following the comparatively recent widescale adoption of Robotic Process Automation (RPA) technology. So, a typical corporate Automation landscape now looks something like this:

Circle

Not only will there never seemingly be a single Automation type – with the number, as detailed above, actually increasing - but within each type, most companies typically have multiple departmental or business unit silos from multiple vendors.

Not simple to manage, not simple to resource and definitely not simple to change. However we are – as the saying goes – where we are.

Intelligent Automation Imperatives

When we talk to our customers, a clear set of common imperatives usually emerge:

1: Consolidate: Connect our islands of Automation. Migrate vendor silos to a single standard within each Automation type. Obvious economies of scale derive from this - eliminating multiple support infrastructures and maintenance fees and overcoming continual technical skills shortages are top of mind.

2: Integrate: Bring some commonality to the Automation landscape across Automation types. Deploy a unifying and integrating Automation backbone across the diverse Automation types, to allow for more efficient data exchange, system handshakes and Cloud provisioning and orchestration - covering seasonal peaks like quarter end and year end.

3: Future-proof: Most people are interested in new and emerging technologies like Data-driven Analytics, Heuristics and Machine Learning plus – if not already implemented - RPA. What’s needed is a strategy to slipstream these smoothly into the Automation infrastructure as and when deemed appropriate.

A Roadmap for Intelligent Automation

It’s one thing to have a grand strategy; quite another to have a clear step-by-step plan to achieve it. In the course of our customer engagements we’ve evolved a simple practical methodology to help design both the correct Intelligent Automation strategy and the right way to implement it.

Step 1: Create an Automation Center Of Excellence (CoE)

Work with 3rd party Automation experts(like Extra Technology) to kick-start the process. The aim is rapid eventual customer self-sufficiency. The role of the CoE is to offer advice, help and governance to those undertaking all forms of Automation in the organization.

Identify current departmental or business unit Automation stakeholders – business users and IT Subject Matter Experts(SMEs) -and together form an affinity group. The size and nature of the eventual CoE will be defined by this initial affinity group.

In our experience the CoE is best if neither large nor fulltime, making this an adjunct of the members’ day jobs. The size, scale and make-up of the CoE should match the organization and is different in every case. Beware of the Big 4 and their cookie-cutter, one-size fits-all approach to this; a recipe for sclerosis at best and paralysis at worst.

In conjunction with those who run the business, define the role of Automation in the company’s innovation plans. Then define a systemic, top-down Intelligent Automation strategy which will help meet the business’ goals, replacing the current opportunistic, bottom-up Automation landscape.

Identify which new areas of the business will need to be automated, and those areas that will need to be automated better or differently. This will be the template against which your current Automation assets will be measured.

Together with the 3rd party experts, define and agree sensible, low-risk standards and methodologies for future Automation. The watchword here is – business-led but technology-guided.

Step 2: Audit your current Automation assets

Across all Automation types, and all departments and business units, identify which Automation tools, from which vendors, you currently use.

Bearing in mind the many types of Automation Technologies, this is not a trivial task and, dependent on the size and complexity of the organization, usually takes some time. But the effort expended pays dividends later in terms of increased consistency, efficiency, compliance and collaboration, and reduced costs.

Step 3: Assess your Automation assets

Catalog, for each tool, the skills you have inhouse – developer, administrator, technical support, trainer etc.

Identify areas of overlap. For example - multiple different tools performing the same function in different departments or business units or multiple teams supporting the same technology in different departments or business units.

List possibilities to consolidate, Do tools and methodologies exist to migrate solutions from one vendor’s tool to another, allowing you to standardize on a single best-of-breed vendor for an automation type?

Is what you have extensible? Which tools conform to your current or planned technology standards, and which will be likely to be developed to embrace emerging technology like Data-driven Predictive Analytics, AI and Machine Learning? If an automation platform has been functionally stabilised by its vendor it’s unlikely to qualify.

Measured against your Systemic strategy, what skills and capabilities are you missing? If you’re planning on standardizing on one vendor per Automation sector, you may need additional skills and resource to cover additional departments or business units. We also find that most clients need help planning and executing migration from one Automation tool to another.

Step 4: Pick the right start point(s)

Your Automation tools will need to work together. Identify their integration points or handshakes, and if possible utilize an integrating Automation backbone. In a CA Technologies Automation environment, it’d be CA One Automation.

Quick wins are always vitally important in major corporate projects – to bolster team confidence and maintain executive support – so, when planning Automation start points, target business areas with faster time to value. We find migration - using well-tried and proven tools and methodologies - is a popular quick win focus area.

A typical top-level action plan might look like this:

  • Now
    • Talk to 3rd party experts
    • Reach out to existing automation peers
    • Begin the audit-process - discover & document existing automation
  • Next 90 Days
    • Document automation beachheads
      • ID links & overlaps between & across tools, scripts & roles
    • ID automation requirements & assess ability of current tools to meet them
    • Augment tools which can help unaddressed needs
  • Next 12 months
    • Document & map the processes most valuable to the business
    • Evaluate the need for: Orchestration, Predictive Analytics, RPA

Summary

As with any imperative to change, the sooner you start planning your Intelligent Automation strategy the better – accept that disruption is inevitable, but ultimately beneficial, and start to plan a new business model which harnesses the capabilities of new and emerging Automation technologies.

A Systemic top-down, business-led and driven, Intelligent Automation strategy is the goal. Successful examples are not hard to find, and Extra Technology can help you learn from our experience with other companies.

Get it right – as clients of ours already have – and you will speed beneficial change, enable collaboration, reduce errors & increase efficiency, ensure compliance, ensure consistency of process delivery and reduce costs.

In closing, here are some words from Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chair of the World Economic Forum, in Davos last year:

“The bottom line for companies today is to understand their changing environment, challenge the assumptions of their operating teams, and relentlessly and continuously innovate.”

 

John Masters

John Masters leads Extra Technology's Marketing Team. His remit is increasing awareness of, and demand for, our offerings.

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