8 process keys from top global IA practitioners

Seth Adler

As organizations embrace automation, best practice has begun to emerge. AIIA Network has observed specific areas of agreement from intelligent automation practitioners at leading global businesses.

IA processesPhoto by Headway on Unsplash

Intelligent Automation practitioners are coming from a number of backgrounds including Shared Services, IT and most notably Process Excellence. These executives are utilizing lessons learned from the insights they’ve gleaned from a carees worth of experience.

The first key is to conceive the big picture:

8: Your corporate strategy is your IA strategy

When conceiving an automation strategy, successful IA practitioners are implementing the technology directly in line with corporate strategy.

Intelligent Automation “fits really well into the innovation part of our strategy and helps to deliver better service to our end customers,” says Vytis Ciemnolonskis the director of digital operations for Western Union in episode 25 of the AIIA podcast.

In one sentence, Vytis notes how IA delivers for the organization and the customer simultaneously.

In episode 22 of the AIIA podcast, the Director of Transformation for Ericcson, Alexander Hubel, notes how his research for the organization’s digital strategy led to Intelligent Automation. “I have my background in the outsourcing industry, so I kind of know what type of things that have been traditionally off-shored and outsourced. So this is exactly ‘these things.’”

Hubel notes an evolution of his organization from outsourced thinking to automation thinking. Which brings us to the second key:

7: Your IA strategy is continuous improvement

Intelligent automation is a direct descendent of every other strategy, process and technology that has been used for continuous improvement. While it has more advanced capabilities, it is not different.

“Applying the lean continuous improvement lense to processes, and simplifying them as far as possible, then automating is the best conclusion”

In episode 28 of the AIIA podcast, Danske Bank’s Head of Robotics Center of Excellence, Nick Burrows says, “The opportunities [primarily] relate to continuous improvement activity.” He further explains, “Applying the lean continuous improvement lense to processes, and simplifying them as far as possible, then automating is the best conclusion.”

Intelligent automation is the next step in continuous improvement.

“The continuous improvement teams within the business areas have the right skills, they recognized through their CI [competitive intelligence]training through their lean techniques, they recognized where the waste was within processes. So with a minimum amount of support in terms of helping them understand the capabilities of the technologies that were available, they were able to spot the opportunities and feed the pipeline so it became sort of self-fulfilling to many effects. The pipeline was constantly full of ideas and for specific automations.”

He has simply plugged IA into his CI talent. They’re continuing to improve the organization unabated with rapid speed.

Which brings us to the next key:

6: Continuous improvement is transformation

As a global business truly dives in on transformation, the definition of transformation continues to change. December’s Harvard Business Review (HBR) notes “digital drives the road maps and goals of entire companies as well as functions including marketing, sales, and HR.”

But “digital” is a means to an end. What good does allowing digital to drive your roadmaps and goals if you simply take it from the organizations point of view? You can successfully engage in digitalization but fail your customers, albeit more seamlessly.

In Episode 33 of the AIIA podcast, Head of Transaction Banking for ABN Amro, Bart van de Sande, shares the questions he always asks, “Do you love your clients? Do you have patience for your clients? Do you want to go the extra mile and do you know what drives them? And how are you going to help them to fulfill their dreams? Or maybe, sometimes help them to get out of their worst nightmares?”

“That,” he says “is the core of transformation and also the digital transformation.”

But van de Sande does not allow intelligent automation tools fool him. This brings us to the next key:

5: IA is a tool not a solution

“These techniques are only new tools to work with…” Bart is steadfast that “RPA and AI are just two more instruments.”

Intelligent automation is not a panacea; “it starts with your people and the people passionate about your clients.”

This brings us to the next key of ensuring that the cart doesn’t lead the horse:

4: Fit IA into your structure not the other way around

What’s the best way to engage in intelligent automation? What’s the best structure to ensure the best level of success?

“I wanted to know what our world of work was. We actually went out and looked in every part of our organization. We came up with 1,300 processes that we do. That's a day of our work. We've gone out, we've documented them all, we've done value stream mapping, and some of them, we've done LSS projects on. The way we're looking at it, I could take that value stream and say, okay, we eliminated duplications non-value added, but here's a step in here that I have 30 people doing on a daily basis and they're spending 4 hours a day. There's a lot of time being spent. When you examine the process at a deeper level, you say, this is a perfect candidate for a bot,” explains Seth Fargen, deputy director of the US Coast Guard, in episode 14 of the AIIA podcast. His approach leaves no stone unturned and ensures success. Is that realistic for your organization? If it is—great, go forth and concur. But if it’s not, don’t do it that way.

"When you examine the process at a deeper level, you say, this is a perfect candidate for a bot"

“We were looking at some end to end processes that we wanted to do improvements to. Working with this third party vendor, we set criteria of questions that we wanted to educate the employees to say, ’When you're thinking about your process, ask these couple of questions about automation. Can you do this and do that?’ We found that we ended up with a list of automation items just based on a simple little bit of education to our employees. It went a long way. Now we have process improvement and automation improvement. What we did: we prioritized them and that's the ones we chose to do the pilot with,” said Henry Lyles, director GBS at McDonald’s, in episode 13 of the podcast. Does that sound more like your organization?

HBR’s January/February issue notes, “if your firm plans to launch several pilots, consider creating a cognitive center of excellence or similar structure to manage them. This approach helps build the needed technology skills and capabilities within the organization, while also helping to move small pilots into broader applications that will have a greater impact.”

That said, if you’re a decentralized organization, asking the question, “would a COE work here?” it is cogent business practice.

And so Alexander Hubel’s approach at Ericsson might be the best of both worlds, “a centralized model is not really the way Ericsson used to operate. We usually operate a decentralized model, with a lot of focus close to the customer, with a lot of innovation close to the customer. So that is how we work. Then we need to adopt it out. In addition, we think that we need a strong central team as well, to kind of enable the units to succeed with the automation agenda.”

Which brings us to the next key—your team:

3: Balance your team with specific players

When assembling the team, Danske Bank’s, Department Manager for Process Automation, Suzanne Skaarup notes, “it is important to have the change mindset, the process mindset, but also good leadership skills, keeping people motivated, engaged. I think robotics is very much about having the passion people around it,” in episode 23 of the AIIA podcast.

Suzanne does not mention technical capability as the primary factor—she mentions passion. Soft skills are imperative.

In episode 29 of the AIIA podcast, Head of Intelligent Automation & Change for Fidelity International, Charles Mulinder agrees, “the quicker you get to that model of where you're finding those points within the organization who can help you generate momentum, enthused and excited and successful, the quicker you generate that momentum.”

But ensuring you’ve got in-house technical capabilities is certainly important. Chris Wolff, head of process management & automation at Wüstenrot & Württembergische AG shares insights: “We had a little help from one or two people from a consultancy firm that were on another project that helped us, but we had five people internally who developed the bots, and took our process managers who are working in the company to design the processes, to modeling the processes, to help the people talk about the processes,” in episode 21 of the AIIA podcast.

HBR’s January/February edition also highlights this point: “Companies will need to leverage the capabilities of key employees, such as data scientists, who have the statistical and big-data skills necessary to learn the nuts and bolts of these technologies. A main success factor is your people’s willingness to learn. Some will leap at the opportunity, while others will want to stick with tools they’re familiar with. Strive to have a high percentage of the former. If you don’t have data science or analytics capabilities in-house, you’ll probably have to build an ecosystem of external service providers in the near term. If you expect to be implementing longer-term AI projects, you will want to recruit expert in-house talent. Either way, having the right capabilities is essential to progress.”

Challenges of AI

Source: Deloitte/HBR

No matter where you are on your intelligent automation journey, it’s already having a cultural impact. This brings us on to our next key:

2: Actively manage what IA is already doing to your corporate culture

In episode 27 of the AIIA podcast, Senior Process Automation Designer at Swiss Re, Cyndi Creamer sums up succinctly, “Don’t make it all roses if it’s not. Make it realistic so that they can make good decisions. Failure culture just doesn’t exist in a lot of corporations, and I know a lot of corporations are trying to change that.”

Having discussed corporate strategy, structure, technology and people, our final key focuses on the customer:

1: Define how IA improves your customer experience

How does intelligent automation affect the customer experience?

Practitioners note that what’s good for the organization should be good for the customer. Nick Burrgess believes organizations should focus on the wider picture. He asks, “What are the return and investments for specific deliveries?” and “What is the customer impact? How have we impacted on a customer journey?”

Charles Mulinder notes “with automation, it seems to be easier to change the production, the cost, the efficiency, and also be able to change customer experience. That, to me, is quite exciting.”

In episode 35 of the AIIA podcast, Nigel Trout, former head of re-engineering and production management at HSBC put the customer experience through a description of intelligent automation process: “Better service doesn't just mean happy customers, it means less rework, because nobody has, states that need to be changed, and put right. So it's not just a cost play. But initially, that's where the executive of banks were interested. If you were customer, you wanted to change your address, then at the moment, what you'll find is they have to input the information into several different systems for each product, to update the address. With robotics, the customer might enter the information online, on the internet. Then the robot can take that information, and populate it into every single product application it needs to do. You just need to tell it, which product application it needs to actually go and put the information into. No mistakes, done instantly, no chance of a customer getting his correspondence to the right address for seven products, and to the wrong address for two products.”

The intelligent automation strategy is to deliver on the corporate strategy through continuous improvement that ensures organizational transformation.

Intelligent business process delivers for your organization, your people, your culture and your customers when you keep each aspect in mind.

8 keys of intelligent business process from global 2,000 IA practitioners

  1. Your corporate strategy is your IA strategy
  2. Your IA strategy is continuous improvement
  3. Continuous improvement is transformation
  4. IA is a tool not a solution
  5. Fit IA into your structure not the other way around
  6. Balance your team with specific players
  7. Actively manage what IA is already doing to your corporate culture
  8. Define how IA improves your customer experience

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