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Automation: the silver bullet that wasn't

Automation has long since been considered the holy grail of enterprise productivity, but organizations are struggling to scale their efforts. What’s the missing piece?

We’ve been dreaming of enterprise automation for a long time — from the stuff of sci-fi films, to the time-saving, productivity-enhancing promise of Robotic Process Automation (RPA), and now the hype around Hyperautomation. Yet despite significant investments in the technology, we’re still some way away from the real thing: intelligent, real-time, end-to-end automation that delivers millions of dollars in value, with minimal disruption to the business.

In a recent survey by McKinsey, 66% of respondents were at least piloting the automation of business processes in one or more business units or functions. Of those however, only 16% have fully automated a process, and just 15% have set up an automation program and are scaling automation technologies across multiple parts of the business. So while many companies are dipping their toe in the water, few are managing to scale their efforts successfully just yet.

There are reasons for that, of course. Depending on the type of automation you’re using — whether it’s RPA or DPA, Digital Decision Platforms or Business Process Solutions — it can be extremely difficult to scale. The time it takes to implement is long, and the time to value even longer. The longer it goes on, the more expensive it gets. And you still need to train your employees, most of whom will be unfamiliar with the technology.

On top of that, enterprise systems are complex, rigid and fragmented — not to mention opaque. It can be difficult to identify the right candidates for automation. Automate a broken or inefficient process, and you’re just replicating inefficiency at speed. RPA — often the first port of call as it’s sold as a cheaper, simpler option — also happens to be brittle. Because it automates click paths, it breaks any time there’s a system or interface change, and has to be rebuilt from scratch.

It’s no wonder we haven’t got very far.

But all is not lost. The solution lies in considering automation not as a stand-alone catch-all, but as one technology in a broader transformation effort. The combination of analytics and automation, for instance, is becoming increasingly important. Automation for automation’s sake is not going to cut it — you need the insight and oversight provided by a technology like process mining, for example, to make sure you’re automating (and monitoring) the right things. Add in intelligence — in the form of machine-learning — and you’ve got a system that’s flexible enough to adapt and learn over time, unlike the aforementioned RPA bots.

Talent is another crucial part of the equation. Not many companies have centers of excellence for automation. Some companies might have an IT division focused on automation. Others have process excellence departments. Those different teams don’t necessarily communicate — they work on different projects, look at different dashboards.

If you’re talking about combining technologies, then you need to bridge that gap. Your center of excellence, when you do set it up, needs to bring those people together. By combining their expertise, and making sure they’re all looking at your processes end-to-end, you can maximize your chances of success.

The complexity and effort involved in this kind of endeavour is naturally off-putting, but it’s worth the reward. Nor is it truly as complicated as it sounds — execution management systems, for example, already bring together technologies like process mining, automation and AI into one intelligent execution layer. Bring in or train the right people to champion it, and you’ve got a headstart on the next step of the journey.

So while many companies haven’t been able to bring the full promise of automation to bear at scale just yet, that promise is getting closer to becoming a reality every day.

Find out more about the Celonis Execution Management System, and how it can help deliver intelligent, real-time, end-to-end automation that delivers value without disrupting your business.