How to use automation strategically so that employees benefit

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CIO Digital Transformation 2

Automation still conjures up robotic bosses and impersonal workplaces. It’s becoming clearer that it is much more complex than that, especially as the Internet of Things comes to the forefront. Blue Prism co-founder and CTO David Moss explains why automation will be a boon to our businesses – and our job opportunities.

CIO_Q and A

The Enterprisers Project (TEP): What is the first step in identifying a process for automation?

David Moss: For most businesses, the work best suited for automation are the back-office clerical tasks that are tedious, rules-based, often manual, and repetitive in nature. These are “swivel chair” processes, and are susceptible to human error that stands in the way of efficient, effective delivery of products and services. More importantly, employees in these roles can be freed up to contribute higher value work to the organization.

The first step of any automation project is to ensure that both IT and business operations are invested and involved in it from the start, and that they work together to create a strategy and plan for the ongoing automation program. Too often, organizations start with a flurry of automation activity only to later discover discrepancies between what the business needs and what degree of governance IT requires, leading to the two sides becoming misaligned. Mission-critical operations in highly regulated industries require IT to ensure that all solutions comply with strict security, governance, and resilience criteria. Working together at the outset to identify a pipeline of processes and build a great business case, along with agreeing upon the governance platform, will underwrite a much more successful project with longevity and resilience built in.

TEP: How does automation blend with the public concern of "bringing back jobs?"

Moss: While many people believe automation eliminates jobs, in my experience, it’s simply not the case. Rather than remove resources, automation reallocates them – putting human and technological capital to its best use within the organization. By automating the repetitive, mundane work, employees have more time to do the strategic, creative, and customer-facing work that they’re better suited for.

In the end, if companies are using automation strategically, employees should benefit.

Since the Industrial Revolution, we’ve discovered and invented ways to make our work faster, less intensive, safer and, ideally, more enjoyable. Enterprise automation and the optimization of process work via technologies like artificial intelligence and robotic process automation (RPA) is just the latest phase in this evolution. In the end, if companies are using automation strategically, employees should benefit. This means using automation tools to automate very repetitive and boring work, increasing productivity, customer service, and quality and freeing up the time for internal staff to work on tasks that are more varied, complex, and interesting. Rather than eliminating jobs, automation transforms them.  

TEP: What is the smartest advice for building teams of IT and business leaders for automation projects?

Moss: The best advice I could offer organizations launching an automation project is to understand both the business and cultural imperatives required to be successful. Of course, this begins with the understanding that business operations and IT must be working together, but more broadly, it should be the commonly held belief that automation is not a “silver bullet.” It will require significant time and effort invested by both sides, so early buy-in is key if the desired outcome is organization-wide transformation.

It will be the responsibility of senior leaders to understand, educate, and engage both their human and robotic workforces to work together to achieve business success.

One way to do this is by developing an automation strategy that sets the direction for the entire project – aligning expectations and tying back to a single common vision. Agreeing and collaborating on a few priority deployments at the outset can help alleviate these issues and work towards developing a project roadmap that will carry the organization from current state to desired outcome with a smooth transition.

TEP: How do you create workforce competencies so automation, once in place, can be managed properly?

Moss: The key to properly managing automation is to make sure you’ve established strong standards and best practices. You can use the first batch of automated processes to establish that ideal methodology, and leverage it as a foundation for subsequent process deliveries. Establishing a tailored, centralized model that aligns with the organization’s business goals and structure will ensure that the automation program meets its ROI goals. By this point, the organization will have a number of people with experience training and managing the digital workforce, creating an internal center of excellence that can help ensure quality across the board and apply automation in new, innovative ways throughout the organization.

TEP: In five years, what will be the relationship between automation and the workforce?

Moss: Automation is redefining the way we live and work. Organizations of all sizes and scopes are making it a critical part of their business strategies, and I don’t see that slowing down. The evolution of automation technologies and humans’ roles in the workplace will take place in tandem. It will be the responsibility of senior leaders to understand, educate, and engage both their human and robotic workforces to work together to achieve business success.

Damon Brown is a consultant and advisor for potential entrepreneurs, budding startups and established media companies. Damon’s latest book, "The Bite-Sized Entrepreneur: 21 Ways to Ignite Your Passion & Pursue Your Side Hustle," shares the tactics he used to lead his last startup, Cuddlr, to acquisition within a year.