When the buzz around a trend or technology matures out of the “What if...” hype stage and starts focusing on the real-life challenges people are encountering with it, you know it’s getting somewhere.
Automation is no exception. As Forrester noted, the last year has seen automation go from a nice-to-have initiative that rarely gets off the ground, to a make-or-break priority at board meetings.
This matches our recent experience at Celonis, working with a growing number of organizations where Process Excellence leaders are taking action to scale automation in a holistic, strategic way.
In this post we’re going to look at the different stages we see them navigating on their automation journeys, and the big challenges they face along the way — along with some advice on how to tackle them.
Before we dive into the challenges, it’s important to understand where you are in your automation journey today.
Broadly speaking, there are three phases to that journey:
If Phase 3 sounds a bit like Automation Nirvana, you’re not wrong. Most businesses are still in Phase 1 or 2. Why is this?
As you progress through your journey, different challenges limit your ability to scale automation successfully.
Here are five of the biggest automation challenges we see companies facing today, and some best practices for overcoming them.
Celonis recently surveyed* more than 500 senior Process Excellence leaders to learn more about the state of Process Excellence today. According to our findings, 56.5% of Process Excellence leaders view automation as a top priority, and 40% of these leaders measure success by increased automation.
But the path to operational excellence isn’t an easy one, and barriers to adoption exist. Some of the top factors are change management-related. Sustaining change and overcoming resistance to change were identified as major challenges by 27% and 26% of respondents respectively.
Advice: It’s important at the outset of any digital transformation project that you secure executive buy-in. 20% of our respondents cited this as a top challenge for the year ahead. The same percentage also noted overcoming a short-term focus was a challenge.
Getting that senior champion on board and maintaining their support is half the battle here. They will help to evangelize the new initiative, align process improvements to the top-level business strategy (another big challenge identified in our survey), and keep the focus on long-term goals.
Technology deployment is the activity on which Process Excellence leaders spend the highest proportion (almost 10%) of their time — just ahead of cost and effect analysis, technology evaluation and vendor management.
Interestingly, the very technology that is intended to free up time and increase productivity poses the greatest challenge.
Before you make any of these changes, it’s important to know exactly how they will pay off. Consider using technology that enables process simulation based on your data. With this, you will see exactly how much value you can gain from automation and if there are any potential downstream problems or bottlenecks caused by automation that might not be obvious. And you can know all of this with confidence before you start implementing your first automation.
Advice: If you choose to simulate some what-if scenarios before implementation, be sure to use technology that bases them objectively on the actual data in your systems. Following people with stopwatches, conducting lengthy interviews, and building process models on whiteboards are a surefire recipe to get inaccurate results, which defeats the whole point of simulation in the first place.
The thing about “automation” is sometimes used as a catch-all term for different types of technologies. For example, there are intelligent workflows, content services, robotic process automation, low-code and no-code application and integration platforms, Execution Management Systems – not to mention automated processes like Process Mining that power intelligent automation.
So an unsurprising pitfall is taking a one-size-fits-all approach to automation. With so many different types of automation at your disposal, you need to ensure you’re matching the right technology to the right need.
Advice: Traditional automation solutions, such as RPA, can be great at automating basic tasks. However, many times this is not enough. If you're automating tasks that are part of larger, broken processes, then you're just automating inefficiencies at speed. If you fix the underlying processes while automating, then you're on your way to achieving execution capacity.
With the onset of the global pandemic, we saw automation ramp up in large manufacturing and supply chain organizations. But what about other industries embracing a WFH model?
There are countless examples of companies struggling not just to adapt their collaboration practices but the core activities their business relies on.
Advice: If your core business processes are significantly affected by remote working, look for opportunities to implement automation within content services — and make ease of use for every single employee your priority.
Law firms are a prime example, where everyday work relies heavily on the ability to share, review, edit, and sign documents effectively. An automated workflow that pulls information from DocuSign and pushes notifications to Slack is a great way to keep everyone informed and collaborating during the signing of contracts and agreements — without adding extra work.
Growing your automation initiatives successfully is impossible without a flexible, scalable infrastructure.
Likewise, integration and automation go hand in hand — any business process of a certain complexity is likely to touch multiple systems. Which means the ability to seamlessly connect systems in your intelligent workflows is non-negotiable.
Advice: Try to avoid on-prem infrastructure that limits you in terms of automation roll-out, scalability, and ease of use. Instead, look for cloud solutions that let you get straight to work without focusing valuable time on on-prem set-up and maintenance.
In addition, look for an automation solution that makes integration easy. Whether you’re connecting apps or APIs, you should be able to do this with clicks, not code, in a platform where you can visualize your integrations and workflows.
So there you have it. Five of the biggest challenges facing Process Excellence leaders who are getting to grips with automation in the real world. And some of the tactics they’re using to overcome those challenges and successfully scale automation across their organizations.
But remember, automation is just one piece of the Process Excellence puzzle. Keep exploring to discover how the Celonis Execution Management System can help you achieve your Process Excellence goals.
*Survey and demographic info The Celonis State of Business Execution Survey was conducted and compiled by an external third party in Fall 2020, surveying more than 2,000 business leaders in six countries and eight industries, across four different lines of business.
Of those 2,000 respondents, 503 are Process Excellence leaders. Here’s the breakdown of that segment: Number of PEX respondents: 503 respondents Seniority: VP/director level or above and involved in Process Excellence, Operational Excellence, Continuous Improvement, Business Excellence, Productivity Process Engineering, Process Reengineering or Business Reengineering and working at companies with annual revenue of more than US$1billion (or equivalent). Countries represented: USA, UK, France, Germany, Netherlands and Spain. Industries represented: Financial Services (Banking & Insurance), CPG & Retail, Hi-Tech, Life Science & Pharma, Chemicals, Telco, Utilities, and Manufacturing.
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