The Challenge of Scale: Common Attributes & Capabilities Among Successfully Scaled Programs, Part 3 of 4

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Our first two posts in The Challenge of Scale series (Understanding Deep vs. Wide & Beware the Quick Win Syndrome) help explain why scaling is so difficult. But now, we’d like to turn our focus to those attributes that are inherent to an automation program that is ready to scale. We’ll also dissect how they impact the IA team directly and contribute on an enterprise-level to successful automation scaling.

Organizations that successfully scale and realize value from automation share the following attributes:

  • Relentless focus on process
  • Understanding that all change is enabled through people
  • Technical excellence including the capability to deliver complex automation and discipline to appropriately evaluate new technologies
  • The ability to deliver against commitments in a complex environment

Wait… isn’t that just the same old “process, people, technology” trope with a dash of delivery excellence? Of course, it is! As we’ve said in the past, automation, at it's core, is an enterprise grade transformation and those capabilities that have served us well in the past are just as relevant today.

Take shared services for example. One of the reasons why they’ve successfully scaled automation is due to their emphasis on standardized processes.  When an enterprises fully recognizes that variability increases complexity and risk, they are in a much better position to scale. Put more directly, for every variation that isn’t driven by a current (and real) business directive, you have increased the development time, monitoring and maintenance for your automations. 

Change management competency is a key factor in successful scale. The purpose of any change management process is, ultimately, an exercise in mitigating the “law of unintended consequences.”  Most organizations have an established IT change management function because they believe in the value it brings related to digital transformation. While the narrative of job elimination as a result of automation has not played out as originally told, roles and responsibilities change substantially for our human workforce. Even more so when taking a deep scaling approach.

Unfortunately, not many have placed the same emphasis on process or business change management.  Business change management follows the same concept of IT change management and recognizes the impact of uncontrolled business process change on their operations. If you’ve ever run customer service before, you know what happens when people change things and don’t tell anyone because they think “they’re the only one impacted.” 

Here’s an example of where that goes wrong:

  1. An automated process is set up to input data to corresponding fields from a templated form
  2. Someone decides to rename one field from Date of last visit to Previous visit
  3. Your robot begins reporting exceptions until someone takes the time to teach it that the data is the same

A business process change management protocol prevents slow-downs like this by coordinating changes to the form with changes to the automation.

Organizations that can scale effectively also leverage their automation practice into key activities that are already in place. Here are three ways to be better positioned for success:

  1. Learn how to account for and build digital labor into your workforce planning.
  2. Don’t assume the full impact of an automated process happens as soon as the “on” button is pushed.
  3. Look at the implementation schedule for new automations and build your human staffing models to appropriately reflect the “burn in” period before an automation can show its full potential.

Bring audit and internal control along on the journey to understand how automation is playing a role in and, in many ways, enhancing their insights into how the work is being done. Here are three tips to streamline:

  1. Settle the conversations about segregation of duties between digital and human associates at the start, and build your program to scale with those controls agreed to.
  2. Your disaster recovery and business continuity planning become even more critical as you increase your dependence on digital labor.
  3. If you have truly replaced human labor with digital workers, have a plan to account for extended system outages or other technical issues that slow or incapacitate your automation fleet.

Automation programs at scale also intersect with other enterprise initiatives – especially if you’re outsourcing work. The types of activities commonly outsourced are usually high target areas for automating. Your scale efforts could be hindered by the terms of your contract with your outsourcing partner. These programs should be viewed in context of each other to assure that you are not missing opportunities to apply the right approach to doing the work. 

So, if these are the key attributes to being successful at scale, how does it all come together.  In our final segment, we will look at how orchestrating people, process and technology is the key to overcoming the challenge of scaling automation.

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3 minute read