Richard Farrell, Netcall’s chief innovation officer, recently hosted a webinar featuring guest speaker Dr Bernhard Schaffrik, principal analyst at Forrester, exploring ‘Transformative Trends for Automation Software’. following Forrester’s recently completed and published evaluation of top RPA vendors ‘The Forrester Wave: Robotic Process Automation, Q1 2021’ – which unearthed the challenges, and opportunities, that companies of all maturities are facing when looking to automate.
And at first glance, the pendulum has indeed swung more in the direction of ‘opportunity’ than ‘challenge’.
Dr Schaffrik explained in the webinar, “We’ve noticed that vendors have really matured in the whole area of document and content extraction and processing capabilities. This means that, whether it’s low-code, digital process automation or RPA, they have either built or acquired capabilities that enable enhanced processing of documents like invoices or customer feedbacks or incidents, coming through different channels social, chatbots, emails, etc. all opens up to the potential to automate processes.”
Organisations need to be quick to the punch. Many will have experienced months of ongoing, disruptive change forced upon them by the pandemic. And now that those initially induced transformations have been confirmed as long-term conditions, the need for more pragmatic automating technologies is significant.
Business agility and resilience, compounded by a better customer and employee experience, can all be triggered by improved innovation around automation, and now that there is a more mature marketplace to exploit, differentiation will appear among those who strike earliest. And yet, there is resistance. Or, perhaps more aptly, there is fear; around how to get started, which processes to automate first, and how to utilise tools most effectively.
“There is caution from historical incidents where, despite the outcomes being mission-critical, companies don’t want to make the same mistakes from an architectural point of view, for example. And that is why trust still needs to be built between business users and IT,” Dr Schaffrik commented in the webinar.
Farrell and Netcall have observed similar concerns among customers when it comes to document and content extraction, noting that the business realm is still ‘early on’ with task and process mining, and that these hesitancies around innovating individual processes may blind them from the overall advantages of automation.
Knowing ‘where to start’ doesn’t yield a one-size-fits-all answer for any one customer, and that’s where the challenge element arises. Across Forrester’s research, some businesses have adopted low-code for tools and applications that were customer-facing. But for many others, they were using local application platforms to replace or build core business applications essentially, record systems in the ERP field.
“That’s really striking, as it means that these decision-makers are trusting in the local capabilities to an extent that they would replace solid ERP systems, and address multi-departmental or enterprise-wide applications,” Dr Schaffrik said in the webinar.
Knowing where to start, therefore, isn’t about starting in one specific place. Rather, it’s about filtering through that hype to identify your own specific needs. This in itself is a bit of a mindset shift. Much of the current resistance derives from previous automation efforts, where siloed investments into the supply chain, complaints management, chatbots and any other number of disciplines have been purchased or built as individual components. They might have streamlined that one aspect, but didn’t aid the ultimate goal of making customers’ and employees’ lives easier, consolidating data or creating a better service.
Farrell commented, “I think we were all guilty of these ‘islands of automation’, with cloud making it so easy to focus on individual lines of business that you could control as siloes. But actually, if you can pull together some of these disparate technologies in one place, that makes it easier to manage.”
In the webinar, Dr Schaffrik concluded, “That’s why the first step shouldn’t be to just automate and rush that automation, but to follow a repeatable process. No matter what the process, use your mining, manual process mapping, manual description, etc, to describe the overarching steps of a process, and then dive deeper into the areas you would like to automate and why and how you would automate them.
What’s important is to not throw technology at people and urge them to just leverage it, because that will lead to automation disasters. Instead, start by reaching out to the people who understand the processes those who are sitting in the lines of business in the back and front office functions and talk to them. Understand their pains and their needs. Only then, once you have gone through that, should you think about how to remove some of those pains through automation.”
Through this culture-first approach, companies will realise that not everything actually needs to be automated. Instead, automation prioritisation will become a bespoke strategy – one that is dictated by unique business requirements, and not the tools themselves.
Identifying where automation technologies fit in becomes a continuous process if you put culture first, both participants agreed. “People will really understand and embrace the technologies that help in their specific situations. Leverage these new capabilities, engage with your business users, and this will naturally open you up to future and adjacent technologies,” concluded Farrell.
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