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Why Automation Projects Fail- and How to Stop Them
Keri Smith, Director & Head Of Automation Practice, EMEA, Information Services Group
Start with the Problem, Not the Solution
The key to success is starting with the business problem, not the solution. You’d be amazed at how many businesses think ‘we need an automation strategy’ rather than ‘this is the problem I need to solve, could automation be part of the solution?’.
Your objective might be, how do I double revenue without adding employees? How can I lead in customer experience? Or how can I release capacity in my team to focus on higher-value tasks? Automation creates capacity, and capacity spots opportunity. What could you achieve with greater capacity?
Bring People with You
The biggest barrier to success is, unsurprisingly, people. Implementing RPA takes a shift in mindset. It should be seen as a change programme. This isn’t like outsourcing, where you’re giving the same work to a different group of people. You’re introducing something that didn’t exist before, that means people will fundamentally change what they do. In order for it to succeed, employees have to welcome that change. In a media environment where all the coverage of automation focuses on whether our jobs are going to be taken over by robots, you can see why not everyone welcomes it with open arms. But the truth is, very few businesses automate in order to make redundancies. They do it to grow, or to innovate.
Corporate culture plays a huge role here. Leaders need to lead the change and get ahead of concerns. Tell people what your objective is, so they support what you’re doing.
No-one achieves greatness by doing what they’ve always done. Real change doesn’t come in small steps. It takes radical thinking, great leadership and careful management
Create the Environment to Succeed
The possibilities of RPA are endless. But the ability of the average business to adopt change at scale is limited. I see so many RPA projects that start and fail, because a team had spare budget and thought “Let’s invest in some RPA and see what happens.” Because it’s a small project, and cheap, they don’t need a board member to back it. It’s done under the radar. It works for six months before the realisation kicks in that they’ve automated a process that no-one cares about. The project stutters.
Starting small is a good thing, of course, but make it part of a bigger strategy. And nurture the project. Whenever you introduce something new, it’s fragile and vulnerable - anyone can kill off a project in its early days. I see great ideas that don’t go anywhere because they didn’t have a chance to thrive.
Prove the Concept Before you Scale
Choose your pilot carefully. Don’t automate for the sake of it but choose something that fits your strategy. It should be a set of tasks that are transactional, well-defined, and well-documented; tasks that people are open to the idea of doing more efficiently. It could be a finance process, for example, where the team might welcome the principle of automation, and where RPA will do the task faster and with fewer errors. Or it could be a task manager that helps people keep up with what they need to do, so they’ll welcome it.
At first, keep the pilot low-key and controlled. Then add more people to it. Keep them interested and invested in it working. Then once you have initial results from the pilot, spread the word, and let it fly. Release control, so that people can think about the possibilities for their own departments, and how automation might support their objectives.
Appoint a Leader for the Project
A successful RPA project will have a clear leader, who’s responsible for its development and success, and who can see the possibilities for automation across other areas of the business. RPA technologies tend to be fairly flexible, and if you choose well, the tool you use can be applied to a range of different things. What you use in finance might be used to automate tasks in HR, or the call centre, for example.
But people are naturally resistant to change. So you need strong leadership to set the objectives, communicate clearly across the organisation, make investment decisions and push through change to make the project a success.
No-one achieves greatness by doing what they’ve always done. Real change doesn’t come in small steps. It takes radical thinking, great leadership and careful management. And it takes a new approach to automation: don’t automate the work you do, automate so you can do the work you want to do.