Gaining a clearer understanding of automation

As more and more organisations look to get the best out of their staff, intelligent automation is the only true driver capable of freeing up employees from mundane tasks. In fact, the World Economic Forum predicts that 42% of tasks will be performed by machines by 2022, compared with almost 29% today. However, that doesn’t mean that employees will lose job, 38% of the 300 organisations that took part in the Future of Jobs report expect to increase their headcount. But how do organisations go about making the best of man and machine?

Making the most of what you’ve got

Encouraging the human workforce to hone their skills and focus on more high value strategic work requires good resource planning and people management. However, those taking on first time automation projects should keep in mind that success lies in taking the right approach, simply thinking in terms of automation for automation’s sake won’t deliver the right implementation or the long-term results. Instead, organisations should work with suppliers that help them focus on transformation. Firstly, helping them to adopt people centric workflows, then look at transforming them into machine centric processes. Ultimately, effectively orchestrating collaboration between the skilled workforce (people) and intelligent machines, requires a new set of skills techniques and technologies called Service Orchestration. These three steps cannot be achieved in one, so plans must be multi-phase, rapid and iterative to maintain momentum and mindsets. This will help drive results across the entire organisation and reduce variables and risk.

The journey to automation is constantly and concurrently happening at different stages. Small and incremental changes in the organisation, or the market, or technology, trigger novel processes, knowledge, or skills, that will also need to take that journey or risk dragging the organisation back to manual operations. An easy signal of this is the growth of spreadsheets as proxies for management tools. Automation is something that must be embedded in the organisational psyche, in the DNA of every manager, every employee, of every part of the organisation, operations, or processes.

While naive organisations focus on automation, smart organisations are looking towards business transformation. Organisations need to understand how employees can collaborate with the technology and this is a critical factor in enabling their business to compete harder, operate faster, and deliver better outcomes at a lower unit cost of delivery.

Starting the journey towards automation

Perhaps the best place to start is by looking at why an employee is in a particular role – what do they actually do? Posing this question helps business leaders to recognise the value of a particular skill, knowledge set, or experience that individual employees bring rather than just the actions they carry out. In turn, this helps to define the domains for which subject matter experts are required to in turn define objectives and gain an understanding of the wider benefits automation can bring to the business. Additionally, it also helps to understand the various types of automation that will best suit the initiative and what the evolutionary roadmap is from there.

Automation breaks down into a complicated mapping of workflows, processes, tasks, functions, that are simple, complicated, complex, creative, personal, novel, and unknown. Here is an outline of the different type of automation that organisations should be aware of.

Task driven automation – Simple tasks require no other input that the starting information, it sits in a singular domain and either succeeds or fails. Simple task automation tools such as Scripts, Macro’ing, Visual sequencing technologies and Robotic Process Automation (RPA) are useful here. Simple tasks by example include updating client profiles, processing forms, entering and transferring data from one system to another.

Decision driven automation – Logical business rules consuming internal and external information applied to both trigger tasks and advance processes and workflow. For example; assessing the value of an insurance claim to establish its validity or what level of scrutiny it requires.

Workflow driven automation – Arranges work into regular sequences of steps for individual or groups of manual tasks where the resolution of the process is low and tasks are grouped into operational steps. This is effective in people centric environments such as document processing, or service desks which requires the flow of work between one set of skills, knowledge, or experience to another. Business Processes are often defined in workflows such as claims management, helpdesk ticket processing, and application processing. Shared services such as IT, HR and Finance can effectively apply workflow automation in a wide variety of areas to start the automation journey.

Process driven automation – Enabling the automation of individual business transactions through high-definition end-to-end processes with or without human involvement such as “Straight Through Processing”. This requires the capture of the skills, knowledge and expertise of the operators as well as the sequence of tasks which not commonly well documented or even known in businesses. Using Intelligent Automation processes vary between those that can be entirely automated, and those which are personal or creative that must have user/operator/actor participation; even variants or permutations of an otherwise fully automated process may require participation whenever the process asks for it (either a legal requirement or an exception-based scenario). Examples include document processing such as claims management and adjudication, or the onboarding of employees or leavers process.

Process Orchestration – The evaluation and analysis of situations to sequence decisions, tasks and processes to achieve a prescribed end-state and output. This is a classic approach for Joiners, Movers and Leavers automation a complex but predictable process. Full process orchestration must allow for managing the unknown and providing for intervention without losing the context of any individual transaction. In turn, this requires good insights and visibility of performance to ensure machine are not getting things wrong. More advanced Process Orchestration is often confused with Machine Learning as it adapts to new environments.

Service Orchestration – The evaluation and analysis of situations and varying external factors (context) to sequence decisions, tasks and processes to optimally seek, or maintain, a goal. A good example is; Service Orchestration for IT infrastructure; it is always complex and requires constant consideration of the changing, sometime failing, environment. The full lifecycle of an individual service may run for months, or years during which the underpinning environment will inevitably change and possibly become unpredictable.

Ultimately, organisations embarking on a workforce transformation project should look to automation technology to empower their employees to work smarter, be more productive and improve their working environment. All the while freeing employees from repetitive tasks and allowing them to focus on other activities which require human characteristics such as creativity, control, judgement and harnessing emotional intelligence.


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