Heavy machinery


Enterprise automation lessons learned from the driver’s seat

Leaning into curves

Based on our work with hundreds of automation initiatives across a wide range of organizations, we’ve compiled a set of operating instructions that every organization can use to achieve speed, scale, and ROI based on a clear understanding of automation risks and returns.

Leveraging lessons learned to achieve transformation

The demand for automation shows no signs of stopping. In fact, Gartner has found that global spending on robotic process automation (RPA) software is estimated to reach $680 million in 2018 and is on pace to total $2.4 billion in 2022.1 As organizations rush to capitalize on the promise of automation, they may hit obstacles in the road that prevent them from implementing automation with speed and at scale.

Based on our experience and projects completed with hundreds of automation initiatives across a wide range of organizations, we’ve compiled a set of operating instructions that organizations can use to achieve speed and scale and to safeguard the ROI based on a clear understanding of automation risks and returns.

Here’s a look at some of these lessons learned—including success stories of automation done well and cautionary tales that foretell what can go wrong.

Gartner, “Gartner Says Worldwide Spending on Robotic Process Automation Software to Reach $680 Million in 2018,” Press release, November 13, 2018.

Start at the top

Does your organization have a chief digital officer? If not, is there someone who has been identified as the digital lead for your automation initiatives? What is his or her position and reporting relationship among other executives? In our experience, having someone in this role is a good indicator that an organization is serious about automation and has secured senior leadership support.

You can’t just allocate a couple of people and a few hundred thousand dollars and expect to realize significant value from automation. Without senior leadership support and a digital lead, you may find yourself toiling away on skunkworks projects behind closed doors. And that raises the risk of your budget being slashed and your projects getting scuttled.

Conversely, with solid leadership and visibility in place, you can have more confidence that your automation projects are tied to your organization’s strategic direction. You may be better positioned to secure appropriate funding while setting defined targets for value capture and ROI. And you can gain the support of your peers and reports, knowing its importance to the top brass and to business performance.

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Stop committing random acts of digital

You may already know this, but it bears repeating: Automation is not about technology. It’s about business—and business processes that are enabled by technology.

But we still see many executives make the mistake of focusing on technology first, approaching automation as a “digital technology project” that may not tie back to the ambitions of the business. These same executives are left wondering why automation projects fail to deliver the advantage and ROI they’re after.

Don’t get us wrong—digital technologies are the source of the different thinking that’s needed in today’s digital age. But these technologies merely enable your ambitions. You can’t start with them. If you do, you’ll likely only get piecemeal success and suspect results. Even worse, your organization may lose confidence in automation technologies entirely—resulting in budgets spent with unrealized efficiencies and missed opportunities to gain a competitive advantage.

Thankfully, there’s a better way. If you advance automation initiatives under an umbrella of well-developed strategy along with a solid governance structure in place, you can attain exponential—instead of incremental—ROI. By building a strong program with a “factory” development capability, your organization can develop at scale, flexing up and down to meet demand, and extend organizational capacity to achieve dramatic results. And that approach can give you a competitive advantage, even over other organizations that are leveraging the same technologies.

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Get everybody ready to roll

Imagine this: Your company is implementing automation for a certain business area. And you’re pretty far down the path—the road map is in place and the timeline is set. Then, someone on your team realizes that you can’t complete your project because its success is dependent on a different IT project that hasn’t even begun. So the whole thing gets scrapped.

Situations like this aren’t as rare as you might think. In our experience, many organizations often begin automation initiatives in a vacuum—without a full appreciation for how automation will impact various elements and infrastructure of your organization. Do yourself a favor: Take the time to identify and engage all stakeholders up front that may be impacted by your automation initiative. If you don’t, you could end up wasting an exorbitant amount of time and energy.

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Avoid potholes

What if you built a bot in one part of the organization—and then found out that someone else built the exact same bot in another pocket of the enterprise? That’s exactly what we see happening in some companies, right now.

Without centralized governance, you run the risk of building the same bot elements in two places—or in five or even twenty places. You also open yourself to new risks that go beyond just time and effort lost. Automation that is developed and implemented without proper controls and monitoring could result in poor data that impact strategic decisions. And that can have disastrous consequences for the business.

To roll automation projects out at scale, organizations should consider a contained and controlled approach to governing and managing them. We’ve found that implementing a center of excellence (CoE) is an important factor to help achieve this success.

With a CoE in place, automation efforts belong to the organization instead of the individuals who built them, enabling you to share leading practices and enhance control while increasing speed and ROI. This approach works even if the organization chooses a decentralized approach to opportunity identification or works with multiple partners for automation development—a centralized governance model maintains oversight, agility, and consistency across the enterprise, helping save time and effort—resulting in new ways of doing business. There is an opportunity to reduce the overall risk profile within your organization if the automation effort is done correctly; otherwise, you may end up with the elevated levels of risk caused by automation efforts.

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Go deep to find synergies

When clients are looking at their first set of automation, it’s common for them to say, “Let’s start by building five small bots—one in each of five different departments.” Although executing multiple pilots is a logical place to gain initial support for automation across the organization, it’s not focused on scaling your efforts—and likely won’t drive the full ROI the organization is after.

Consider focusing on a limited number of processes and then build for scale—then automate that sample process across the organization. Using this approach can mean the difference between incremental and exponential ROI.

For example, one client we worked with built a bot that turned a 13-minute process into a 20-second process. While this is a significant time reduction, from an ROI perspective it may not have been worth the time and effort it took to build the bot in the first place. But when the client applied this bot to the same process across the organization, it was able to save 500 hours—every month. How’s that for exponential ROI?

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Remember the humans

As automation permeates the workplace, some companies lose sight of the human workforce. In fact, as automation explodes, people skills such as critical thinking, creativity, and problem-solving are more important than ever.

While some organizations are increasingly using technology to automate existing processes, true pioneers are radically rethinking work architecture to increase the value of both humans and machines—creating new opportunities to organize work more effectively and redefine the human workforce’s skills and careers.

In our work with clients, we encourage them to think about how the work, the workplace, and the workforce will change as a result of automation. By visualizing what a day in the life of workers will be like in this brave new world, organizations can shift their focus to creating value for customers and meaningful work for people. Clearly stated automation ambitions give people the opportunity to understand where they can push boundaries to drive innovation.

In many cases, we’ve found that automation, done and communicated correctly, actually improves morale. The tasks and processes most suitable for automation are typically the ones employees find most mundane and least satisfying. Employees relieved of these tasks can focus on more rewarding and higher-value activities that involve intuition, judgment, creativity, persuasion, and problem-solving—the type of work that makes for happier human beings.

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Think beyond one automation technology at a time

Have you heard of the law of the instrument? That’s the one that says if the only tool is a hammer, everything starts to look like a nail. This law is especially true when it comes to automation technologies.

Because RPA is “hot” right now, some organizations see it as the cure for all their ailments—and they want to start building RPA bots as soon as possible. We think a better approach is to identify processes that need to be improved and then decide which technology can be best utilized to improve them.

For example, we recently worked with a client where we discovered that, instead of RPA, a small piece of natural language generation could do wonders. On another engagement, we found that through machine learning, the company was able to improve predictability and operations based on data they receive over time, enabling the organization to identify trends that inform strategic decisions.

Although RPA is the most common process automation technology, there are many technologies on the tool belt. So start with a focus on the process itself and be sure to consider all the technology options from the get-go. A mix-and-match approach may be the right solution—it should be an element of your overall digital strategy.

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Avoid analysis paralysis

After reading about the pitfalls and missteps chronicled above, you might be inclined to pause your automation program. Our perspective: Not tackling automation can be just as risky as approaching it the wrong way.

Many companies, even those that have successfully scaled automation programs and built internal capabilities to run their own programs, realize the benefits of consulting with a trusted adviser. Leveraging the knowledge and experience of your adviser can help you achieve transformation, accelerate performance, and shift your organization onto the automation autobahn.

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As the competitive advantages of automation continue to expand, and the use of automation technologies becomes more common, the need for organizations to accelerate their automation programs and quickly move to scale becomes more urgent. It’s time to move into the fast lane:

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Lets talk

Valeriy Dokshukin
Partner | Digital Risk Management Solutions Leader
Deloitte Risk and Financial Advisory
Deloitte & Touche LLP

Coleman Rowland
Deloitte Risk and Financial Advisory
Deloitte & Touche LLP

Nathan Newell
Senior Manager
Deloitte Risk and Financial Advisory
Deloitte & Touche LLP

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