In today’s business environment, automation of technology services is now a “check-mark” requirement rather than a “nice to have”. Modern-day tasks such as bookkeeping, web-based commerce, and financial trading can be done more effectively with the tools that current technology brings.
Over the last 10 years, companies integrated some level of technological support into their systems, but these decade-old software solutions are proving themselves unsustainable in meeting today’s need for an agile, connected, digital organization.
The driving force behind this? Consumer demand. Amazon, Google, Uber, and Netflix are changing customer expectations, and competing companies need to be able to respond faster and smarter -- mirroring the on-demand speed of these tech giants.
These newer, faster technologies are creating opportunities for enterprise IT organizations to adapt, reskill, and rethink how they approach automation. To avoid being overtaken by new entrants to their markets, modern organizations need to identify how to renovate the technology they have, modernize what isn’t sustainable and reinvest to take them forward into the next era of enterprise automation. This can easily be done by focusing on technology outcomes (rather than specific tools and software on a wish list) and blending existing and emerging technology to create a practical solution to automation problems. We call this blend “smart automation.”
In many organizations, changing legacy programs is now a roadblock, limiting how quickly companies evolve and remain competitive in an ever-developing marketplace. Smart automation is critical to keep up with today’s digital workloads, which demand high-speed, scalable processes, the adaptability to support rapidly changing agile businesses and the need to deal with new challenges like unstructured text and image data.
Thoughtful application of smart automation also contributes to increased scalability of the business. With greater efficiency than manually intensive processes, smart automation provides new insights about the business and its customers using the data available from automated processes, and it’s also transparent due to the ability to monitor these processes accurately. There is also a reduced time to market, which allows an organization to focus on value discovery and delivery. Lastly, smart automation increases reliability, due to the repeatability and consistency that come along with automating processes.
Getting started on the automation journey
Given the opportunities available and the adoption of new automation technologies across many industries, smart automation is now a survival skill for the modern, digital enterprise.
The key goal is to deliver something useful quickly, to validate your ideas and to build confidence in the approach. Some of the principles that can maximize your chances of success are:
· Involve the Business: There is often a tendency to view automation as an IT concern, but any large automation program involves a lot of domain knowledge, changes how people work and needs a lot of goodwill to be successful. Start with the business people, if possible, and involve the affected groups across the organization early on.
· The Problem not the Technology: Modern automation projects often involve selecting and implementing new, unfamiliar technologies. But the real danger is in not knowing the market and what you’re looking for. Choosing the wrong software technology solution leads to ineffective technical work with very limited business impact and inevitable disappointment Reverse this trend by starting with the key business processes. What does a value stream analysis reveal about them? Where are the obvious automation targets?
· Incremental Delivery: A large, smart automation project takes time to implement and to meet all outlined goals, but small wins are possible along the way. Aim for waves of changes and improvements throughout the project, rather than tackling your largest need first.
· Selecting the Initial Project: When starting a new automation program, start with a project that is significant and visible so that it will deliver real benefit, but don’t expect your first try to be flawless – it is a learning process after all. (On that note, be sure not to select an initial project that might shut down the entire organization if there is a problem.)
· Architecture Led: A common mistake is to see automation as a single tool or technology implementation project. When it’s not. Make sure that your automation project has the same level of architectural design as a custom build or complex package implementation project.
· Measure to Improve: A large automation project is a continual exercise. To measure the impact of your automation work, build the metrics you need into the implementation, take baseline measurements before you start and measure regularly to focus on the most promising areas.
The key is to focus on the outcomes needed, rather than on specific technologies, and to pragmatically blend existing and emerging technologies to create a practical solution to automation problems. Smart automation enables organizations to become modern digital enterprises and can deliver important benefits, including efficiency, transparency and reliability. But this modern, agile and adaptive automation requires support from highly-capable software engineers who understand the entire system, and its value, to adapt to work with fast moving, complex technology, in a way that delivers robust solutions for the organization.
This support must be able to deliver robust and well-engineered solutions, using responsive agile approaches. This requires a high level of core software engineering capability, strong understanding of agile and lean methodologies and methods, and the ability to identify, adopt and apply emerging technologies in order to keep their clients at the forefront of the opportunities offered by modern automation technology.
An important part of IT delivery, smart automation, creates a lasting impact within the organization. Today’s changing, digitizing environment demands that companies re-evaluate existing approaches to automation to stay relevant. In many cases, harnessing new, smart automation technologies make automation the enabler of the digital business, rather than a legacy that threatens its existence.
Eoin Woods is chief technology officer of Endava.