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The link between automation and operational excellence

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The Link between Automation & Operation Excellence | OpEx

Automation is a concept that has been around for decades. Essentially it has evolved from automating a few simple tasks to addressing more complex business processes. Today, as organisations are faced with succeeding in a world defined by digital disruption, leaders are looking at solutions that can help their operations run with more efficiency, scalability and reliability.

It is within this context that we spoke to automation expert, Kellie King about her journey as an expert assisting organisations in the automation process. Kellie’s experience tells us that automation done well ultimately leads to a culture of excellence and transformation.

Tell us a little about yourself and your background

Most of my career has been spent overseas, assisting large organisations automate manufacturing, logistics and distribution business processes. Now I am enjoying working with the new Intelligent Automation (IA) tools, Robotic Process Automation and Digital Assistants.  I really enjoy working in this space, helping organisations with their strategy and vision and define a roadmap that they can then implement.  So many organisations have a vision for digital transformation and might even put together a proof of concept but struggle to go beyond that. I enjoy solving their issues and looking at ways to make their business more efficient and transform their customer experience.

How has automation changed over the years?

I get asked this a lot! In years gone by there would have a one-way interaction between customers and suppliers (a very rigid process you could say). Conversely in today’s environment, customers, suppliers and employees can interact with all the organisations’ ecosystem.

For example, today you can have your Sales system, Customer Relationship Management (CRM) and Knowledge Management systems all being updated in real time, giving employees and customers the information they need when they want it.

So, for me, that’s the real difference – how do you manage the multiple interactions that customers have with your organisation so that you are enhancing the overall customer experience.

What processes are organisations trying to automate?

Typically, we’re finding that finance and insurance companies, health insurance and power companies are leading the way in automation because they have a lot of high volume, standard, structured, repeatable processes that can be automated.

For example, the bank reconciliations – downloading bank files and reconciling credit card transactions is a very repetitive process. If we can automate that, employees can then focus on looking at exceptions rather than doing the actual time consuming, grunt work. If we can enhance the employees experience by removing mundane processes and empower them to do the more detailed, analytical work that’s a win for everyone.

Another area of focus for automation is the onboarding process. When you have multiple systems that requires a name and address record to be the same, automating the process ensures accuracy and removes human error. Equally, the exit process from an organisation can be automated and performed simply and securely. It removes the element of risk when these processes are automated and gives a consistent outcome.

Ultimately, it’s not about getting rid of people. Rather its about balancing the ebb and flow of work, helping organisations be more productive and empowering humans to do be more efficient.

Once an organisation has committed to embracing automation, how do they make it happen?

Once you’ve decided to automate it’s about finding the right processes to automate. Look closely at your business process – which ones are your people spending a lot of time on highly structured, very repeatable processes? Which processes are high volume (i.e. something that people are doing hundreds or thousands of times a day in the same way). These are the processes that can be automated, ones that will free up resources to spend time elsewhere and add more value to the business.

What are some of the key challenge’s leaders face in automating processes?

I would say the key challenge is around cultural change within the organisation. It is nothing to do with the technology. The technology works, it’s much more about how leaders and employees manage the change in the organisation.

Introducing digital workers into the employment environment can be challenging – how do you retrain people to embrace robots? What do I do vs. What does the robot do are common questions, as well as ‘how do I manage the robot’? Managing the cultural change and getting it right is the key to success.

I have seen some organisations succeed in this area – they have introduced the robots in to the business area, they have given them Robot names and identified them in all the systems with their own user id.  The staff love bringing the robots to life.  The robots become just another worker in the team and the staff can see the benefits – the robots are doing all the work they don’t want to do!

Lastly, what does the future of automation look like?

We are just scratching the surface, we have not fully embraced the technology. I’d say in future organisations will embark on full scale end to end process automation, coupled with Digital Assistant for the repeatable customer conversations, you really start to accelerate digital transformation.

Leaders striving for excellence need to embrace technology, see automation holistically and understand the benefits it brings not just to the customer, but the employees, then you will see the productivity uplift and the enormous benefits of being a digital organisation.

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