I have been pondering for a while trying to capture the essence of what I really think those of us responsible for automation implementation are trying to do. Can we narrow it down to a handful of things to use as anchoring points? We all just want it simple and efficient, don’t we?
We have too many things going on. Too much to think about and keep up with. We live in a world of bit-sized nuggets of information, so we don’t have to linger too long on one thing. That’s why I think list books are often so popular. The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Nine Keys to World Class Business Process Outsourcing. The Five Disfunctions of a Team. There are a ton of them trying to distill concepts down into more digestible bites.
Having had a former colleague who was great at applying the “rule of three” when presenting concepts, I wanted to try and keep it as simple as possible. This is where I landed. You may agree or disagree with them. You may think it’s too simple and doesn’t really reflect the complexity of what you are responsible for. I would argue that we are masters of over-complicating things to the point where we lose the basis for what we are doing.
So, here’s what I came up with. Call them the “3-Ds” of Intelligent Automation if you like.
- Decompose – Now, I understand that this word can elicit many different mental images, and I’m completely fine with that. So much of what we have done to overburden our processes needs to be trimmed off and allowed to turn to dust. After years of Lean and Six Sigma, it’s amazing how often you still find so much junk layered onto the way people are asked to do their work. You hear lip service paid to a “continuous improvement” ethic, but so little actual proof of execution. It’s another one of those things (like change management) that enterprises talk about how important it is but aren’t willing to invest in resources to do it well. Which leaves others with the tough task of leading the charge. If you are the leader of an automation initiative, you are an agent of change. Live with it, and take action for one of the most critical changes: that the organization no longer accepts broken and bloated processes. The lift and shift, “your mess for less” approach was easy, but not sustainable. We have to get back to basics and challenge the “why” behind the way things are being done. You don’t have to change. You can take the generic “that’s the way we’ve always done it” or “that’s the way it has to be because such and such says so”. But not challenging those things leaves you in the same place that outsourcing did – with a mess that prevents you from more efficiently and effectively being able to automate. Break the stuff down. Build it back up the right way. Decompose the way things are done.
- Digitize – I try really hard not to add to the overblown hyperventilating about all of the great new toys that are out there that will “revolutionize” the way work is done. I have not always succeeded. Enthusiasm can get the best of you. HOWEVER, the extent to which organizations recognize the need for and take the right steps to begin the digitization and capturing of your information will decide how successful you will be in “the new machine age”. “Digitize” is not a buzzword. It’s a call to arms. Some may not like it. Others may not agree with it. Heck, many may not be able to afford some of it right now. But it has to be done. I remember being told by physicians in the mid-90s that they not only would not be submitting insurance claims electronically, there would never be a computer or the internet used in their office. How do you think that worked out? I get it at some level. At that time, the basic tools of the trade were expensive or, in the case of internet access, unavailable in some locations. And I’m not just talking about the hinterlands. One of the physicians I mentioned above was on Park Avenue in NYC. As with most technologies, eventually the price point will be where more will be able to invest in things like machine learning, smart OCR and other technologies that seem to be out of reach to all but the largest organizations. But you need to start preparing now. Even if all you do at this stage is catalog what information you already have in a digital format and what you don’t. Use standard electronic forms where ever you can. Buy a cheap flatbed scanner and start imaging those documents piece by piece over time. Digitize what you do.
- Deliver – This should be a no-brainer but seems to be the hardest to pull off at scale. Delivery relies on so many different people, from front line subject matter experts to IT leadership in order to be successful. It requires an ability to navigate the politics, the misperceptions, the real concerns and the entrenched viewpoints on how things are done. Is this an IT project? Is it an operations project? Is either side willing enough to acknowledge that they don’t know everything and need to work together to get this done? On top of it all, automation leaders may be asked to manage through a matrix-like model of governance and execution that makes everyone feel like they have a voice, but all of those voices can say “no” and none of them can say “yes” on their own. It becomes even harder when you have “tapped out” on all of the available opportunities in the organization. In other words, it can be very challenging. Ultimately, the job of the automation team is to create opportunity for others. Most of you won’t have the authority (or will even want it) to be able to effectuate the way in which the opportunity is reacted to by the business. You don’t manage the staff and you don’t generate new business, but you are accountable for using the tools at your disposal to help create options and capability. And to be successful at this “D”, you have to push for the first two. You have to drive the vision, recognize the practical impact of what you’re doing, and you have to deliver.
So, there you have it. My “3-Ds”. My attempt at getting down to brass tacks. If you’re a part of an automation effort, despite everything that gets thrown at you, never lose sight of fundamentals and you will make progress.
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