Transformation has many tenets and at the heart of it sits “Automation”. Whether we are talking about smart home devices, business processes or mundane IT tasks, automation is the key to achieving multi-pronged benefits ranging from faster turn around times to cost efficiencies. It’s hard to argue against the fact that automation is an age old concept which has been pivotal in human evolution. A simple task of turning on the tap to get water has multiple automated steps behind it which are shielded from end users. And that’s what a successfully automated solution should look like; just like turning on the tap!! I am sure as tech enthusiasts and practitioners, we all appreciate the “why” of automation (read: I won’t bore you with it) but when it comes to the “how” of automation, I have seen teams struggling. So in an attempt to reduce this complexity, I have defined a simple automation approach framework.
If we try to define automation, in very simple terms it is a method to execute a task with minimum human intervention but a deeper look into it means we want human capabilities like intelligence, cognition, decision making and execution to be replaced with technologies. The layers of these definitions can even be further complex if we throw machine learning and cognitive thinking in this mix but I am a proponent of simplicity.
So to keep things simple, first rule of thumb is that automation is an ever evolving journey. In my experience this journey has few critical steps which must be climbed to achieve successful automation, irrespective of the domain. The following simple framework can be used to create automation strategies and automate the process of automation.
As you would have realized, it is a self explanatory framework with 6 key steps:
- Identification: Focuses on finding the processes which will provide benefits by automating. Not everything needs to be automated together.
- Simplification: Focuses on finding the best way to fulfilling the process with maximum benefit
- Standardization: Focuses on ensuring the widespread/standardized use of simplified steps to ensure benefits of scale
- Automation: Focuses on identifying the right technology or method to automate the process to achieve desired benefits
- Improvement: Focuses on improving the efficiencies of automation to ensure the desired benefits are maximized
- Cognition: Replicate the lessons and success of automation of one process to other processes and make “Automation First” as a norm.
The framework is simple and straightforward to apply to any process but from experience I can share that each of these steps and related questions can have varying levels of complexity. For example, the first step of identification probes you to calculate about effort vs return, which is a very complex problem to solve in many cases. Organizations have teams of commercial analysts to calculate these for the business. Can you do it for a certain process? What are the metrics which you will use to measure the benefits and how will you calculate the effort? An easy answer is to this question for trivial processes is to identify the man-hours saved and try and convert it into dollars returned to business but when the processes start exchanging hands and approval flows kick-in, the man-hour calculation becomes a non-trivial task.
Or if we take the second question about the “Simplification” step, how do we define “best” method? Why is one method better than the other? A simple solution is to use certain KPIs being fulfilled by the process and measure the speed of each method against those but many a times these KPIs are a subset of a larger chain and it’s hard to gauge the benefit of one method over other.
Besides this, when it comes to the “Standardization” step , the primary challenge is mostly around process and organizational changes instead of technology. The biggest question I have always faced when designing automation is that what’s in it for a person to give her/his job to a machine? And as you would guess, there is no one size fit all answer for this.
Last but most importantly, when you reach the “Automation” step, the key requirement in today’s world is to ensure the solution is platform agnostic. You don’t want to be running different type of automation solutions when you change platforms. Especially in case of IT tasks being automated, it is of utmost importance to assume that many of these tasks would be running on cloud as well as on-premises, so the automation has to hold fort on both sides.
Hence, circling back to my initial point , automation has to be a journey and must be thought through properly. It is of paramount importance, especially when it’s a case of Digital transformation of a business being led by an IT industry. The switch in role of IT being a back office to being a business partner has to be accelerated by multi-layered automation.
Leaving you with the golden rules of Bill Gates for automation:
- The first rule of any technology used in a business is that automation applied to an efficient operation will magnify the efficiency.
- The second is that automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency.
Happy to discuss your automation journey & roadblocks!!
This article first appeared at lindekin.com
About the Author
Based in Singapore, Ashish Nainwal is an experienced transformation strategist. He is adept in liaising between business leaders and technologists, especially for defining business values of solutions built for Cloud, NFVI & DevOps transformation. He is passionate about various tenets of digital transformation, like crafting roadmaps and the impact of technology on people & process aspects. He is an avid writer and has co-authored IBM Redbooks and various articles on LinkedIn.