Embrace automation and make it work for your business and its people, says Terry Walby.
Businesses are increasingly looking to intelligent automation as a way to reduce costs, improve customer service, ensure regulatory compliance and, ultimately, to tackle the productivity issues which threaten their future growth.
Many organisations are already seeing the benefits of a well-structured, strategic automation programme, and rapid advances in AI and robotic process automation technology means that the pace of automation is set to increase significantly over the next five years.
Automation is about people as much as machines
Generally, when people think about automation, they think about robots and the technology itself, and then they think about the financial benefits to businesses, in terms of reduced costs. However, automating processes is not and should never be simply a technology or process-driven initiative to be led by the IT department, or perhaps the finance department.
There is always a significant ‘people’ element to automation, not just for those staff who are seeing parts of their work automated, but also across the wider workforce, in terms of the skills, mindset and cultural behaviours required to make automation a success.
It is the organisations that think about this ‘people’ side of automation from the outset and bring in the HR and L&D department to help shape the programme, that are most successful in integrating a virtual workforce alongside their existing people.
Fewer than one in ten organisations implement automation to reduce headcount; instead, most use automation to do ‘more for less’
So what are the key considerations for L&D leaders when thinking about automation and what are the skills and competencies that need to be brought into the business to drive results? Longer term, how does automation impact on L&D with regards to new training and development requirements in a world where more mundane tasks will increasingly be carried out by virtual workers?
Mapping the skills and competencies needed for automation
When it comes to training and development, there is obviously a need to bring in or develop specialist skills to lead on an automation programme. Typically, organisations look to build an automation team by re-deploying people whose existing work is being automated.
Fewer than one in ten organisations implement automation to reduce headcount; instead, most use automation to do ‘more for less’, drive productivity and to free up their people’s capacity to focus on more value-added tasks.
Re-training people to give them the skills to oversee the automation programme is a great way to do this.
It’s good for the business, in that talent is re-deployed and it avoids the pain and cost of recruiting new people, and it’s good for the individuals concerned, who move from doing what is often mundane work (hence it being automated), to becoming trained up in one of the most dynamic areas of business today.
What’s more, very few organisations have a budget line dedicated to automation projects, so it’s often a case of starting small, re-skilling people internally to build a team, and then scaling up once the business case has been proven.
Automation as a change management initiative
One thing to be aware of, particularly where the automation team is relatively inexperienced and learning on the job to some degree, is that automation touches nearly every corner of an organisation and its operations.
Clients who are setting out on their automation journey should map out all of the ways in which automation will impact the business and ensure that their change management policies and procedures are closely followed. It’s important to think of every possible scenario up front in order to avoid potential issues down the line.
For instance, if there were to be an issue with an automated customer-facing process, it’s vital that people on the support desk understand which processes are automated, can triage the problem immediately, and then flag it to the automation team to resolve.
This can only happen seamlessly with the right level of skills and understanding in each area of the business.
Part two of this piece will be published next week.
About the author
Terry Walby is founder and CEO of Thoughtonomy.