Cockpit Trouble – how to do it better – part 2

(This is the second of a three-part series on Intelligent Process Automation, and why it produces amazing results for some organizations, but barely limps along in others. Read Part 1 here.)

In Part 1, we talk about how some organizations seem to succeed effortlessly with IPA, but others struggle along, and what needs to happen strategically to be in the former group. In this part, we discuss some of the more tactical aspects of running your practice and finding Opportunities.                                                                                        

Get organized

There is a great deal of hand wringing in our industry about where and effective IPA practice needs to sit within the business. Should we use a centralized approach? Federated? Does it sit under IT? The business?

There are two critical things that we must get right here, and everything else tends to work itself out. The first of these is that we need to pick an approach and then execute. If you get the fundamentals right, any approach can work, you just need to pick one and go.

The second, and more important thing is to stop thinking of a centralized vs. federated vs. siloed as competitive models. They are not. They are different flavors of the same approach, at different levels of maturity.

Most of the very successful practices that I have been involved with have started with a centralized model. You cannot brute force your way into a successful IPA practice the way you can with, say, a new version of SAP. As I mentioned before, cultural adoption is even more important than the technology that you are putting into place. A centralized model allows you to build the best practices within the organization in a way that can scale later. And it lets you stumble while you are still small.

This means that you need to have an IPA Center of Excellence, but it does not matter where that sits, just that it owns the business result. I have seen successful practices live in IT, in specific lines of business, in shared services organizations, or even outside the company altogether.

As you mature, you will start to federate responsibility for portions of the automation practice. We like to think of a successful automation practice as consisting of three main activities: Opportunity Identification, Development, and Operations (more on that in a future article). The easiest of these to federate is Opportunity Identification. As you mature, you will find that you can federate more of Operations, and even Development to your lines of business. Indeed, the “Citizen Development” model that there is so much noise about these days is simply a vision of extreme federation, where even the development process is given over to individuals within the business. This can work, but it is extremely tricky to get right, and you better have the appropriate level of maturity before you make the attempt.

Many businesses start out federated. This is a bit like learning to ride a bike without training wheels. It can absolutely work, but it is quite a bit more effort, and you will cause yourself a lot of unnecessary pain. In my experience, it is a mistake, and it stems from thinking of centralized and federated as two distinct, incompatible models. Stick with the maturity concept, build a mature core functionality and mature before you expand, and you will have better outcomes faster.

Avoid lapsing into a divisional approach at all costs - where multiple RPA functions run separately across the organization with differing infrastructure, governance, and delivery teams. This ‘siloed’ non-collaborative, poorly controlled set up is guaranteed to prevent you from achieving true scale. This is basically the same thing as having several Centers of Excellence, all of which vie for dominance. It is wasteful, and while it is possible that you could end up with one of those centers gaining a foothold, it is far more likely that they starve each other of the resources they need to survive, and none of them thrive.

Selecting the best processes

When identifying process automation opportunities – always select ones that will generate the fastest benefits and be crystal clear about what makes a truly good process. Even in the very beginning, you should have a good idea of the benefits and potential cost of each opportunity. The best options are those processes involving a high volume of manual and repetitive tasks, or suffer from human errors, or require customer experience improvements – such as faster response times. And for goodness sake, please, please, please, select easily built processes for your initial several opportunities in any line of business. The biggest cause of failure I have seen is initial selection of large-benefit processes that take months to develop. You need to get something into production in a few weeks. Prioritize thusly.

Prior to automation, think carefully about streamlining or improving processes as this requires additional time, cost and effort and usually results in only minor improvements to the automated solution. Any decision should always depend on the overall strategic business objectives for automation. While it is true that it is best not to automate a bad process, it is equally true that it is better to get something automated than to sit around navel gazing about how to lean out the process. Again, get something to production fast.

Next up, talk with the IT department about any maintenance planned for the target applications, and if process automation should wait until that is done. Finally, make sure that you will capture the benefits. Agree on a set of indicators; financial, process, quality, and performance related KPIs.

Consider how to generate demand for IPA within the business. Proven routes include defining automation champions, running internal communication programs and workshops for engagements, and providing employee incentives for identifying suitable processes. Also, establish meaningful measures of IPA’s value such as how many hours saved - and what they accomplished and alignment with core strategic business metrics like contribution to operational efficiency and employee retention.

That's it for Part 2. In the third and final part, we will wrap up by discussing delivery, operations and training. Comments or questions? Please leave them below.

Are you struggling with your IPA journey? Consider having us do a maturity assessment to help tweak your process and provide actionable insight to align with the latest industry best practices. Need to upskill your crew? Look at some of our training offerings here. Finally, we are expanding! Do you strive to be among the best in the world at delivering IPA value to businesses? Consider joining our team.