Waiting to automate? Here’s how it could cost you.

Why an ‘automation first’ mindset can deliver an ongoing competitive advantage

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The conventional wisdom concerning automation goes something like this: “First we stabilize the process, then we automate it.” At first glance, this makes sense. Why would you automate tedious, repeatable tasks before you’ve reworked a process for greater efficiency? Ultimately, though, this approach could cost you—in both the near-term and down the road. Let’s take a closer look at why an “automation first” mindset can deliver an ongoing competitive advantage.

The myth of the ‘stable process’ can stall innovation.

Business processes change. It’s inevitable—and it’s ongoing. The cycle never stops. Everything from the individual steps to the systems used to the experience of the people involved will continue to evolve. If you wait until a process is stable before you automate it, you may never stop waiting.

In the meantime, you’re losing out on the efficiencies that automation can deliver. For example, let’s imagine that a company is planning to change its human resources (HR) onboarding platform—and it chooses to wait until the new onboarding process is defined and stable before it begins automating processes. Then imagine that the company’s onboarding needs suddenly spike before it had completed its process redefinition. If the company had already automated existing onboarding tasks (such as account setups, system access requests, hardware procurement, training enrollment, direct manager notifications, and reminders), it could have accommodated that volume spike and continued with its process redesign. Instead, it may have to hire contractors or add to the responsibilities of existing staff just to manage the bigger workload.

Waiting to automate is disruptive for employees.

With an impending process change, employees have to navigate a change-management cycle for the new system and the new process steps. Then, when it’s time to automate the “completed” process—in this example using robotic process automation (RPA)—employees have to learn how software robots will perform in the new process and how they’ll interact with those robots. So, they need to learn a new process and system from the ground up—and then relearn how they’ll work when software robots are deployed.

With an automation first  approach, employees undergo just one cycle of change management. Because they’re already working within an automated process, they simply adjust the steps the robot performs in the newly redesigned process. It can be less costly and less disruptive to complete a code change on a single automation than to cycle dozens of employees through a large-scale change-management process.

Using automation to seize the moment—and protect the future.

The disruption in the past year taught us all a lot about the importance of resilience and flexibility. In areas such as small business loans, home refinancing, online ordering, delivery, and mobile services, business volumes grew overnight. The organizations that already had robots in place to support their critical processes had the capacity to weather the volatility. They were ready to capitalize on the unexpected and unprecedented opportunity, while those that had taken a wait-and-see approach to automation lost out. 

How will demand fluctuate in the future? We obviously don’t know—and that’s the point. You want to be ready to accommodate the next spike in demand by automating critical processes, even though you can’t predict when a spike will occur. Automating now can put you in a position to seize a time-bound opportunity—while also preparing you for more gradual increases in demand over time.

Don’t wait to automate.

Here’s the takeaway: If you’re waiting for stability and predictability in your processes and your market before you automate, you’re likely to get left behind. But by automating now, you can:

Businesses are always on the lookout for better ways of doing things, which means the processes they rely on will continue to evolve. By making automation a priority, you can navigate the uncertainty more effectively, be ready for the future, and realize a host of short-term gains.

Want to hear from other business leaders who have grappled with these same questions? Check out the recording of our recent It's Time to Automate event.

Copyright © 2021 IDG Communications, Inc.