Written by Tim Stephenson, Digital Process Automation Lead, Zaizi
Accelerating your digital transformation through the use of automation has reached a tipping point in central government. What was once considered a technology for the future is now entering the mainstream.
If you’re not convinced, consider this: HMRC’s Automated Delivery Centre has used some 13,500 robots to help process more than 15 million transactions. Meanwhile, the DWP is growing its robotics and automation team to around 120 people. Clearly these trail-blazers believe that automation technology can deliver results for government. And if you look through the current business plans of various government agencies and departments, you’ll see that automation is key to future operations and efficiency.
Despite all the interest, use of automation technology is still far from mainstream and many teams are only now appraising it for the first time.
So, if you are in that position, how can you ensure to plan your automation project so it delivers value for your organisation?
Seven planning steps for automating your processes
The answer lies in understanding that several different factors are interacting in this project — people, process and technology. And that requires a different type of plan. Here are seven key areas that our experience says you need to focus on in order to ensure your automation project succeeds.
Build a culture of process thinking — As said the webinar ‘Taking the strategic route to automation’, look at your processes before starting your automation journey. Can we do it better? What do we do? How do we do it? Is it repeatable? Can some processes be streamlined or re-imagined before we tackle automation? These are the questions you should ask in every situation to build up your organisation’s process muscles.
Identify the right processes and prioritise – automation delivers the most value when it focuses on high volume, low skill work that gobbles up people’s time. To start with, resist the urge to tackle complex processes which might deliver high return on investment. Instead pick a small yet significant problem that people care about, something that will make a noticeable difference to the way they work. The success of this first project – and what you learn – are what will set you up for success in subsequent ones.
Take your people with you – An automation project changes the way an organisation works. They must be understood and supported by HR, finance, operations and other functions – at all levels – as business change rather than technology projects. A good business case will explain this and have the support from the top of the organisation, as well as understanding from those on the front line about how it will benefit them and the organisation.
Observe and audit before you do anything – Workshops and sticky notes brainstormed with users and managers will help you understand the detail of the process(es) that you plan to automate. Identifying frustrations and pain points and the motivation behind certain activities is valuable. On the other hand, observe and audit what actually happens – that may point to different things entirely. Hopefully, that doesn’t happen and the people part gives insight into what the data is saying. But if not, then follow the data.
Don’t be led by technology – From robots to AI and low code development, there are plenty of different technologies you can use to digitise and automate your organisation’s processes. Focus on what your organisation needs, not what a single technology can offer you. Digital projects will typically require technology solutions, change and experimentation, not merely a technology purchase.
Look at the long-term – The sheer number of processes which underpin every organisation means that this is a marathon, not a sprint. Although you can deliver quick wins through low code or robots, the digital opportunity is not one that can be delivered in one quick burst. Automation should be seen as an investment in continuous business improvement, not a one-off change.
Set a new kind of success measure – Automation allows organisations to work differently so when it comes to setting metrics it’s important to ask what success looks like from a range of perspectives, rather than just time or money saved. With many processes resulting in better customer experience, metrics which focus on their satisfaction and feedback are important. It will almost certainly be the case that you need to come up with new metrics.
Remember, because you’re changing the culture as well as technology, the early stages of an automation project can sometimes be difficult for an internal team to plan on their own.
Fresh eyes and an external perspective from an expert who has done it before is often the best way of picking the path to automation.