Enterprise Automation is the future. Technology that connects different elements in organizations (i.e., people, data, processes, rules, data, technology, etc.) and streamlines processes and decision-making logic will increase organizational efficiency. When considering any type of enterprise automation, the real challenge is to answer a particular question:
What is the role of the specific automation project or initiative in my organization?
Answering this question is critical because it defines everything – goals, technology, approach, toolset, cultural requirements, etc. Based on the answer, you are either aligned with competitive advantage or competitive parity scope of automation.
Enterprise automation can help you to increase operational efficiency by decreasing the costs (i.e., time, money, resources, etc.) of operations and increasing the quality of products and services to customers, as well as internal and external stakeholders.
Enterprise Automation Role: Competitive Parity vs Advantage
In organizations, some scenarios should aim for standardization and simplification. For example, during company mergers and acquisitions, many new processes and ways of doing things will be introduced for the obvious reason that new company will probably operate differently, having different systems and processes as well as different operational decisions. This can create chaos, whereby introducing standardization makes sense. Rather than processing claims in twenty different ways, for example, it is necessary to aim for processing claims in one consistent way, while making a couple of exceptions for special accounts. This is called competitive parity – moving from chaotic conditions to more standardized conditions and environments.
Also, there are many scenarios by which organizations may aim for personalization. Companies that have a digital transformation ambition will try to provide a highly personalized product offering to their customers. This will require the company to have a dynamic and agile way of implementing personalization in operations using the decision-centric approach for operational business decisions within the organization. In such scenarios, in order to provide customer-centric engagement, organizations start moving from standardization to highly competitive and personalized offerings to customers, thereby creating more value for them. These are scenarios such as value-based health, next best action, etc.
Automation that is part of competitive advantage is part of more sophisticated architecture than utilizing a single technology (i.e., RPA). These require more investment in terms of time, money, training staff and customers, and so on, but will have more impact on your organization and your customers.
In organizations, the Enterprise Automation strategy should cover automation across a broader scope that includes: tasks and activities, workflows and processes, data and services, business rules and decisions.
The Elements of Enterprise Automation
There are different elements involved in any digital automation effort. Depending on the complexity and depth of automation, one or more elements may participate in the integration. Understanding different elements of digital automation and using the right tool will determine the success of the automation. A successful digital automation is scalable, reliable and ROI driven, and includes decision-centric automation.
There are couple of major elements playing a role in any digital automation:
- Data: This one is familiar to everyone. We will have structured and unstructured data in any organization that needs to be part of the automation. Integration with different datasource is an absolute must.
- Service: There will be many internal and external services in organizations. Digital automation requires integration with these. They can be REST, SOAP or non-standard endpoints.
- UI (User Interface): The applications that are used in the organization for any purpose will be part of the automation. The UI enables interactions of users with back end (i.e., data, service, etc.) of applications. This will be used in taking action and/or reading data in and out.
- People: obviously humans are a big part of organizations and as such are definitely a big part of automation. They may play different roles as the customer, service provider, etc. For each of these personas, different technical requirements and capabilities will be needed.
- Operational Decisions: Regardless of the organization you pick, it lives on top of operational decisions which are derived by internal and external forces (i.e., policies, laws, legislation, constraints, exceptions, etc).
Connecting applications via the user interface in order to build data in and out of these applications.
The Robotics Process Automation (RPA) can help in these scenarios. You would need to connect different types of application (i.e., Web, Windows, Java, Flash and Silverlight, Terminals, Console and Shell, etc.). This technique can be used to take action using an application, or for collecting data from a legacy system.
RPA is suitable to automate tasks and activities not intended for the whole process or workflow. Tasks and activities must be repetitive, well understood and documented. It should not be used for ad-hoc, dynamic tasks and activities.
Any organization will need to extract data from disparate data sources and transform these appropriately before loading them into other databases, warehouses and so on, for different reasons (i.e., reporting, analysis, data synchronization, etc).
This is where you will use any ETL (Extract, Transform and Load) tool to complete the automation.
Service and Data
Very soon you will find that a more complex scenario, which involves load data via a service (REST, SOAP) from internal and external to enterprise, is required.
This is where integration layers with support for REST, SOAP, non-standard protocol and Databases coming into the picture. This integration layer should provide an easy-to-use (possibly none or at least less of a code platform) to build up the whole flow of data to be read, transformed and passed to the next step.
Service, Data and UI
This is where it gets interesting. The integration and data, services and taking action via the application User Interface.
Sometimes, the UI itself is for data collection (reading data) from applications that do not provide other ways of collecting data. Just because the user interface is needed in this scenario, it does not mean it is an RPA solution. You need to understand the velocity and quantity of the data that is being accessed and processed.
Service, Human, Data and UI
This is where the integration of BPM and Workflow is required with an RPA, depending on the complexity of data access and any necessary service to the other set of the capability.
More often than not, the data from different sources is not ready for immediate consumption, with service and RPA (when taking action on UI) and for all different types of transformation and validation will be required.
Service, Data, UI and Business Decisions
This is where the most of automation value is. Automation of everything around business decisions.
This is where RPA can integrate the UI, but definitely is part of the whole sophisticated architecture. Particularly when it comes to the automation of operational decisions, make sure the toolset supports the decision-centric approach. This scenario is suitable for dynamic automation where changes are frequent, or there are many exceptions to handle, such as policies, regulation, etc.
Next time there is an enterprise automation project, try to ensure that you understand the role of automation. Enterprise Automation that is part of competitive advantage is also part of a more sophisticated architecture than utilizing a single technology (e.g., RPA). It will require more investment in terms of time, money, training staff, customers and so on, but will have more of an impact on your organization and your customers.
Automations that are part of competitive parity are much more localized, and have a faster return on investment, but with less impact on the organization. The expectation with this type of automation should be for standardization as well as reducing both chaos and rates of error. As a result you will increase productivity, which is still a considerable achievement.