At The Royal Free London, we have the pleasure of working with and supporting private and public sector organisations at different stages of their automation journey.
The vast majority are in their infancy, which affords us the privilege of building a foundation of best practices to support the growth and scaling of processes over the next 12 to 24 months, but others with whom we work have been deploying processes either on their own or with support of a vendor for several months.
Having been working with healthcare organisations for over seven years now, it is evident in my mind that there are four ages of automation.
Welcome to The Renaissance
In the age of the automation renaissance, business leaders and executives are excited about technological miracles from faraway lands. These new inventions called robots can fix all of your business problems, The same problems humans have failed to fix and even better than this, it is so easy! Using low-code / no-code solutions means anyone in our organisation can create bots. Draw a flow diagram and click start - it's so easy!
In this age, vast sums of money are spent buying software licences, technology infrastructure (if not the cloud) and partnering with a technology vendor to implement the bots and build the first wave of processes.
The excitement and enthusiasm of The Renaissance brought with it many shortcomings and mistakes that are costly and can be avoided with planning and thought.
Investing in the technology without understanding the problems to be solved.
Furthermore, focusing solely on the technology distorts the original business case and projected return on investment, as additional spending would be required to deliver the entire programme objectives.
Platform choice is determined by the skillset and capability of the automation partner, which is sometimes commission-driven or has to do with the profit margin on automation licence sales, not always the best product set for your needs.
The ability to scale the technology effectively and efficiently is not considered, creating a legacy technical debt to be solved and addressed later and an additional financial cost.
Failing to create an automation strategy and a quantified pipeline of opportunities.
This leads to a corporate fishing expedition where we rapidly move from one bright idea to the next, often failing to deliver anything tangible and undoubtedly little that supports our corporate aims and objectives.
We focus on the wrong processes, those that are easy and return very little value. The cost of developing this automation far outweighs the benefit. It remains cheaper and more efficient to use a human.
It is impossible to appraise executive sponsors on progress and achievements.
Choosing a low cost of entry may ultimately lead to overbearing financial pressure.
Some vendors repackage RPA technology and sell access on a utility-based model, for example, price per action, consumed bot minutes or a price per process. This is a great way to start automation but will become costly as you scale and do more.
Buying an entry-level automation platform may have limitations on functionality, and adding additional functions such as optical character recognition (OCR) or cognitive services (language translation, audio transcription) means there are cheaper options. But, again, this goes back to the need for an automation strategy and qualified pipeline to ensure the right tools are purchased to achieve delivery.
What can we learn from The Renaissance?
Be excited about automation and what it can do for your organisation
Be realistic yet ambitious and plan a long-term automation programme.
Look beyond the technology costs and think about the eco-system of humans required to deliver a successful automation programme and to scale over the long term.
Seek help and guidance from people who are actually doing automation and are not just talking about it.
Don't waste time creating 'proof of concept' or 'proof of value' - what are you trying to prove? Looking across all industries, we know that this technology works and proof of whatever will give an unrealistic view of automation.
Don't fall for vendor and market hype. Ask for real-world examples, speak to existing customers and compare the progress of organisations within your own sector.
Don't believe that all suppliers deliver quality outcomes. A high consultancy rate doesn't guarantee the best quality automation.
Don't assume that finished automation will just manage itself.
We love talking about all things automation. If you are thinking about starting an automation programme or your first steps are rapidly becoming a disaster, I am happy to share a virtual coffee to discuss how we can help across any industry sector, individual, company, buyer or reseller!