Automation should sing, not just talk!

Graham Lloyd | 01 December 2018

It’s all too easy to get automation very wrong whilst trying very hard to get it right. In this short commentary, Graham Lloyd, Head Of Strategy at Latentbridge, considers the differences between the winners and losers and why appropriate external advice is important.

The beauty of opera derives from the fact that you can clearly hear several people sing at the same time; its combination of collectivity and individuality is what makes the delivery attractive to the audience and powerfully productive for the cast. Contrast that with the output when 3 or 4 people talk simultaneously; it’s just a grating cacophony with little value or appeal.

This metaphor summarises what we see in many firms’ approaches to automation. Despite everybody’s best efforts, somehow it doesn’t deliver more than a fraction of the expected benefits. Conversely, those who understand how to make their AI and RPA truly sing enjoy a different set of outcomes - for both themselves and their customers. These are the key differences between the two types:

Successful firms recognise that automation is a top business strategy initiative. This is because, properly done, it will revolutionise the entire customer experience, optimise the operating model, multiply productivity and ensure constant compliance. They then make these outcomes the relentless and overriding drivers of an enterprise-wide programme.

The more usual, but far less effective approach, is to take things a step at a time, starting from today’s TOM or systems and expanding the project if early results prove promising. This is understandable - the whole history of IT initiatives screams “overruns and risk” - but it’s the root cause of the cacophony. Partly it’s because there’s an implicit assumption that the effort and success of each subsequent project will be similar to the first, when this approach almost guarantees they won’t; and partly it’s because each piece of the jigsaw is effectively designed blind ie focused on itself without cognisance of how it must fit with other components of the business. Separately, if customers are getting, say, a brilliant marketing experience but a rubbish onboarding or records update, the slower components will destroy the value of the good ones.

Successful firms also recognise that the journey is ongoing. Nobody declares victory, even when all the goals have been achieved. Instead, they recognise that their competitors are still on the field and shift efforts into ensuring that their entire automation set learns superbly, updates asap and generally renders itself truly sustainable. Note that this doesn’t necessarily equate to great cost; aside from the RoI often being within a single financial cycle, the learning often uncovers greater efficiencies and the kind of marginal performance gains so valued by sports teams and opera houses the world over.

The single biggest thing firms can do to help ensure real success is to say, “No”. No to one-size-fits-all automation products, because they never do. No to pure DIY, because any internal confidence will be based on optimism rather than real understanding. No to ‘try it and see’ because any success at component level will actually create problems down the track. But that still leaves the question of when and to whom to say, “yes”.

The level and rate of change in automation is such that all firms need solutions that are tailored to their specific circumstances and expert external advice to ensure this is so; a big part of this is getting a proper grip on what is feasible and sensible within the ambitions and budget of the individual firm. Until recently, such advice and tailoring was available at an objective level only for the very biggest firms - it’s where the money is.

Happily, the same opportunities are now there for mid-caps as well, from automation experts who also understand the sector. They are already helping smaller firms sing their way out of/around the cacophony and on to enterprise-level success!