Automation adoption is about to accelerate, but success is far from guaranteed. With economic recovery at stake, businesses risk making the same short-termist mistakes that have seen automation investments fail to succeed at scale over the past decade. Before rushing into quick fixes, business leaders should remember the old adage: haste makes waste.
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said last week the company had seen “two years’ worth of digital transformation in two months” thanks to coronavirus shifting everything online. 41% of respondents to an EY survey said they were investing in accelerating automation as businesses prepared for a post-crisis world. But unless businesses can lay the foundation for successful projects – a vision for strategic growth, human augmentation and cleared process debt – then this could all backfire.
Avoid repeating quick-fix mistakes of the past decade
Is this automation’s gold rush equivalent? If so, businesses should slow down and remind themselves that automation alone is rarely the answer, and jumping in at the deep end often leads to aimlessness and confusion. No singular tool can deliver profound transformation. The pitfalls of adoption are laid out bare in joint research from KPMG and HFS Research (below), which demonstrates that for all of the past decade’s investment in slick emerging technologies, the majority of businesses have failed to scale-up and industrialise for a truly transformative impact.
Why is this? Arguably, it’s because automation’s biggest strengths can also be a weakness. RPA is a great band-aid to fix current problems, but in doing so it helps to paper over the cracks and extend the life of legacy, rather than providing long-term answers. According to KPMG nine out of ten enterprise adopters failed to get past piecemeal projects and pilots to achieve proper scale. Integrated automation initiatives, with potential to scale across business functions and defer higher-value work to humans, are how end-to-end processes are transformed. What are the processes that are occupying the time of employees who could be doing more?
Above all, businesses need to establish clear goals before embarking on automation. General Electric’s ambitious GE Digital venture failed despite massive resources because it focused too heavily on creating technologies for short-term revenue rather than long-term vision. A lack of clear goals is a common factor in 37% of project failures, which often result from the kinds of piecemeal, siloed investments that have dominated the automation market.
Don’t build a house on sand…
You wouldn’t build a house on sand, and neither should you build automation atop a mess of cumbersome legacy systems and a mountain of process debt. Tech entrepreneur Ben Horowitz said it best when he related it to building a “dream home” on “toxic land”. This technical and process debt needs clearing to pave the way for profound transformation.
- What should be automated? Just because something can be automated, it doesn’t mean that it should be automated. Feasibility analysis and ROI estimation are critical activities before signing off on an automation initiative.
- How should it be automated? This is especially important considering the variety of tools and technologies available for automation. What seems like a quick-fix today might not even be relevant tomorrow.
- How does automation tie into broader business objectives and complement your team? Automation is so much more than headcount reduction. In an increasingly knowledge-based economy, replacing a team with years of enterprise experience is counter-productive in the long term. It’s better to view automation as another tool to complement your team, and free them up for value-added activities.
There are all sorts of short-term wins to derive from automation, but they need to connect into a long-term vision. Otherwise, they will fail. This has been proven by the past decade’s errant investments. Success lies in knowing what to automate, and how to harness the power of automation to maximise the skills that your people possess.