Intelligent automation: are you asking the right questions?

  • Posted on November 30, 2017
  • Estimated reading time 3 minutes
intelligent automation
The following blog post was written by Avanade alum Krishnan Rajaram.

Robotic process automation (RPA) and artificial intelligence (AI) technologies have caught the attention of both IT and business leaders. 86% of global business leaders believe their organisation must deploy intelligent automation in the next five years to sustain their leadership. When market momentum is so strong, it is more important than ever for leaders to ask the right questions to avoid following the crowd blindly.

Enamoured by the promise of “do-it-yourself” and results in weeks, companies invest in RPA / AI projects or proof of concepts (POCs) to automate processes. However, for many, the initial enthusiasm soon wanes off and disillusionment sets in as they struggle to bring a step change in their business and move the needle. RPA becomes yet another addition to their technical debt!

From our experience of helping 350+ customers on their automation journey, Avanade has identified 5 factors common to successful automation programs. It often starts with a basic question we pose to the leadership: Is RPA/AI a tool to automate processes or a lever to radically transform the business?

The answer to this seemingly innocuous question changes the mindset, approach and direction of these programs separating winners from losers as summarised below:

Mindset – enlightened leaders recognise that RPA/AI technologies have the potential to drive a step change in the business, if rightly implemented. They view RPA/AI as a strategic sourcing option; not just a shiny toy that automates processes or performs “magic on the desktop.”
Sponsorship – once the disruptive potential is understood, a C-level sponsor is identified (usually A COO or CFO), a bold ambition is set and a team mobilised with cross-business unit / department remit to bring pace and velocity to the program. In contrast, companies that start with a handful of processes sponsored by a process or department owner without a top-level vision or leadership buy-in tend to struggle to scale beyond small pilots.
Business change – successful transformations start with a recognition that introducing a virtual workforce to augment humans will impact all aspects of the business – customer experience, HR, IT, security, legal, sales and more. AI needs to be treated as a business change program building consensus, addressing concerns and carrying people along.
Outcome focus – in their enthusiasm, teams are often tempted to force fit RPA/AI on every problem or process. Successful transformations address this through strong demand management processes, prioritisation underpinned by business case and a bias for small but rapid delivery increments. This requires embracing agile, DevOps and modern engineering practices.
Journey vs. destination – the pace of change around us requires leaders to be on the alert for the next wave of emerging technologies and separating the disruptive ones from the noise. Successful leaders address this through an in-house team to scan the market or engaging partners who embed Innovation in the program. For instance, Avanade Innovation days (i-Days) help customers envision real-life use cases for emerging technologies not just in their industry but across industries and provide practical ways of starting the journey.

Contrary to popular perception, establishing a foundation with the above building blocks need not take months or cost a fortune, if delivered by an experienced team. As a famous quote summarises, “if you don’t have time to do it right, you have to find time to do it again.”

In summary, the question we ask as a leadership team and the ambition we set drives the mindset, direction and success of an automation initiative. 

As a leader, how do you view RPA/AI - a tactical tool or a transformation lever?

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