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Getting started with automation: Identifying your quick wins

Automation is a hot topic in the world of technology, and with good reason. Done right, it can lead to significant efficiency gains and optimize all manner of costs.

However, with the pace of business evolution quickening and market pressures intensifying, many organizations are rushing into an automation strategy that does more harm than good.

If you are just getting started on your automation journey – or perhaps have run into challenges with your current strategy – this post aims to give you some advice on how to realize quick wins that will set you on the path to more ambitious and ultimately more rewarding automation initiatives.

The Many Use Cases That Can Benefit From Automation

There are many reasons an organization may start with automation. Some want to automate repetitive tasks, allowing staff to refocus on more value-added activities. Others are focused on delivering products to market faster than the competition and improving the overall customer experience.

No matter the drivers, the processes that are automated should be aligned with the organization’s business objectives. A strong, well-planned strategy is imperative. At least, that’s the theory.

Where To Start With Automation

Many organizations make a simple but fatal error when they embark on an automation strategy: They adhere to the above theory a little too closely and aim too high, starting with processes that are not just aligned with the organization’s business objectives, but are critical to how it functions.

Automating high-risk and complex processes may have a higher impact on the business, but it requires a greater investment, can take longer to implement and has a higher risk of failure. Almost the antithesis of a “quick win.”

For organizations in the early stages of their automation journey, the most successful approach is often to identify low hanging fruit. Start with a simple automation with low risk; demonstrate and tout your successes.

Then use the experience to identify more complex and value-added automation opportunities.

How To Identify Quick Wins

To formally approach automation, organizations will do an assessment of their business processes. The tasks that are common, repeatable, and add value are the most appropriate candidates when identifying quick wins.

You are looking for that “Goldilocks” process (the one that’s “just right” – not too big or small, not too critical or peripheral, not too simple or complex). Tasks that are seldom performed or have an insignificant impact are not ideal candidates. The same can be said for tasks that are the lifeblood of the organization; these are perhaps better left to round two or later.

During this initial assessment, business processes are analyzed and categorized by business unit, and dependencies are analyzed. This exercise identifies automation use cases, pain points, and complexities with current business processes.

Ultimately, this will help drive automation targets based on the level of effort, degree of complexity, and the overall value to the business.

Avoid Common Pitfalls

Automation is a powerful and even necessary tool for any business looking to improve efficiency and be more competitive in the market. However, it does not replace humans and does not cure cancer (yet). Too often, businesses try to automate the most challenging or risky processes first, or think automation is the solution for everything.

To avoid these pitfalls when embarking on your automation journey, keep these guidelines in mind.

  • Don’t boil the ocean – Automation is a journey and a competency that gets built over time. Having false expectations that everything can and should be automated is unrealistic. Like any competency, it should be built on a foundation of quick wins and early successes.
  • Continuously improve – Monitor what is being automated, validate it, and continuously review for areas of improvement.
  • Avoid automation anxiety – Evangelize automation as a means to handle repetitive tasks. Automation cannot do everything a human can do. It isn’t capable of outside-the-box thinking, problem solving, or analysis.
  • Automation takes effort – Automation is not a product. Automation is a tool to create your own automated actions and workflows, but you still need to tell it what to do. When process changes arise, existing automations need to be reviewed and updated.
  • Align with strategic objectives – It’s important to have support from senior management and to align to the organization’s overall strategy. If your automation is functioning in a silo, it’s much less likely to add business value or pick up momentum in the organization.

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