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Using Automation to Save Time and Money: The Dos and Don'ts

Mark Chamberlain, Vice President, Global Head of Infrastructure, ADP
Mark Chamberlain, Vice President, Global Head of Infrastructure, ADP

Mark Chamberlain, Vice President, Global Head of Infrastructure, ADP

With terms like Robotic process automation (RPA) and BPA dominating conversations, automation is widely praised for its ability to transform an organization. However, knowing how to start is harder than most may think. Processes are key to getting work done, especially when it comes to the routine. Businesses, both large and small, depend on processes to operate, whether it be to fulfill orders, process payments, manage employees, or communicate with one another. As a process becomes perfected over the years, it grows integral to the performance. Automating those processes can help drive digital transformation across a business, significantly improving efficiency and cutting costs. While implementing change surrounding any integral process can bring with it a degree of hesitation, there are parameters to help businesses determine how and when to automate best to optimize the benefits while reducing risk. 

The Dos of Automation:

Start small on your journey to automation. It’s often tempting to start with an automation project that gives you the largest ROI. However, automating bigger processes comes with complexities, where entanglement can occur or potential risks to safeguards in place. The agile mindset of starting small and failing fast applies here. It gives you the opportunity – and freedom – to get your learnings early on with lower stakes. Starting small not only helps you succeed faster, but it limits the risk that you may face and prevents you from getting discouraged or lost in layers of complexity. 

Embrace failure as a lesson. By starting small so that you are designed to fail fast, you can limit the impact of a failure. That said, when it comes to implementing change, failure can be a potential outcome. If a failure were to occur, be supportive of the work the team did, and find ways to apply the learnings. Practicing “Blameless Post Mortems” can go a long way in encouraging your team to try and take risks, which leads to creativity without fear – a true recipe for success.

  ​The most important step toward automation is beginning the journey. By understanding the historical context and starting small in a controlled setting, you can re-engineer and automate effectively while reducing risk  

Find the correct automation tool for the job. Identify how you’re going to automate by considering the talent and skills of your team and identifying the best tools accordingly. Many tools and technologies in the automation space can introduce complexity, but they might require skills your team does not have. Similar in approach to starting small, start with technology you already own or tools your team can readily navigate. By progressing naturally in your team’s development, you’re giving them the chance to grow in the direction of the industry. Encourage training to help fill the skills gap and evolve together as a team. 

The Don’ts of Automation:

Don’t automate an inefficient process. Many teams or organizations, when tasked with automating, automate a process that has existed for years. Before you jump in, spend time understanding the existing process in place. Can you solve for inefficiencies it might have? Is it fundamentally flawed in some manner? This line of questioning will help you get to the root of what is being done. If you find the process is still needed, re-engineer it based on the workflow of your team. A re-engineered process is typically more efficient, accomplishes the goals of the task, and through automation, will be much more efficient for your organization. 

Don’t get defeated. Between people, skills, culture, process, risk, and the myriad demands of running a business, it can be overwhelming to determine where and how best to start automating. Identify a few “Champions” on your team who embrace change and can introduce some quick wins. Sharing those success stories and positioning your Champions as both a resource and an advocate can inspire others forward. By sharing example code, they can help provide real, tangible examples of how to get started. Engage your technology to pilot a few different approaches. An initial attempt will never be perfect, but the only way to succeed is to start. 

Don’t get locked into technology. Whether it’s the public cloud, an automation tool, or a language, technology is constantly changing, and relatively quickly. Make it a practice to continuously revisit processes you automate or re-engineer to ensure the approach and the technology employed still make sense. You cannot “automate and forget.” Refactoring is part of the technology process. In fact, failing to review and refactor were likely contributing factors to your manual process landing in its current state. Encourage your team to consider past work while looking for ways to continuously make improvements.

The most important step toward automation is beginning the journey. Manual processes are in place because they’ve been augmented enough over time that they’ve essentially eliminated risk. Resist the cultural instinct to preserve those manual processes. By understanding the historical context and starting small in a controlled setting, you can re-engineer and automate effectively while reducing risk.

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