To Succeed With Automation, Focus On People

Barry Mitchell

The global market for robotic process automation (RPA) software and services is expected to grow to $1.2 billion by 2021. The factors driving this growth are clear: automation technology has matured greatly in recent years, evolving from basic automation capabilities (event-driven, scheduled, or human-executed) to intelligent automation, where artificial intelligence (AI) is infused throughout processes and plays a leading role. This changing reality was summed up best by Pushkaraksh Shanbhag of IDC:

“The next couple of years will see intelligent automation emerge as one of the most significant drivers of enterprise digital transformation as enterprises move beyond routine process automation for operational efficiency to AI-powered automation…”

Taking a human-centric approach to automation

With this worldwide rush to automate, many companies are worried they’re getting left behind. In addition, much has been written, both positive and negative, regarding the potential impact of automation on jobs and how work gets done. Even though organizations are acutely aware of the potential benefits of intelligent automation – including cost savings, fewer service desk tickets, and reduced system recovery time – many of them aren’t sure how to start pursuing those benefits given that there could be significant organizational disruption along the way.

The move beyond basic automation using RPA to intelligent automation, incorporating AI and cognitive capabilities, is highly dependent on developing ways for people and robots to interact. This will require organizations to rethink the roles their human workforce performs as they evolve to focus on more value-add activities. Up to now, this is something many companies haven’t even started thinking about. A recent study by HfS Research found that only 44% of enterprise leaders have definitive plans to retrain staff impacted by their current automation investments.

To be successful with intelligent automation at scale, organizations must encourage widespread adoption and acceptance of the technology among their employees. To get employees to “embrace the bot,” it’s important that organizations include the perspective of human change management within their automation initiatives. Employees who might be affected by automation need to be directly involved in defining exactly what processes should be automated so that they feel personally invested in the effort.

Directly engaging employees as valued stakeholders gives them the opportunity to see first-hand that much of the fear, uncertainty, and doubt surrounding automation may be overstated. Automation is bound to create a certain amount of upheaval, but it doesn’t necessarily have to result in widescale job loss. If organizations approach intelligent automation the right way – the human-centric way – they can enjoy all the promised benefits of automation while still keeping employees engaged in the process.

Automation empowers employees to do more

When humans spend less time on low-value manual tasks that can easily be automated, it frees them up to spend more time on the kind of high-value tasks that benefit the most from a human touch. This could include things like proposing innovative ideas, making informed business decisions, and coming up with creative solutions to business problems. Most importantly, automation allows employees to spend more time interacting with and delighting customers.

In instances like these, automated systems serve as partners for human employees, not replacements. Once employees get the chance to see this for themselves, they’ll be much more likely to embrace the potential of automation, which in turn will maximize adoption of automated capabilities throughout the organization.

Getting started with automation the right way

Many of the same companies that are looking to get started with automation today are simultaneously planning to migrate to a new digital business platform. For these companies, migration will be more like a re-implementation, requiring them to significantly or completely reinvent existing business processes.

Savvy business leaders will recognize that such a migration can be both a challenge and an opportunity. Migrating platforms creates a lot of additional complexity for businesses, but it also gives them a great chance to build automation into their future business processes by design.

Taking a human-centered approach to automation won’t always be easy; it requires equal doses of imagination, communication, dedication, and trust. However, when you make it a part of your platform-migration project, it’s possible to realize the benefits of automation while maintaining a workforce that’s highly engaged, productive, and efficient.

If you’re planning to tackle automation as part of your SAP S/4HANA migration, IBM offers a number of tools to help you get started. Request an SAP HANA Impact Assessment, or connect with us at SAPPHIRE NOW and ASUG Annual SAP Conference to learn more.


Barry Mitchell

About Barry Mitchell

Barry Mitchell is the Global Offering Leader for IBM’s Automation Production and Automation As A Service offerings, as part of the IBM Automation service line within IBM Global Business Services. In this role, he is leading the development and deployment of automation services and solutions that help clients transform to a digital enterprise and establish a digital workforce for the future. With over 25 years of experience in enterprise IT, Mr. Mitchell focuses on leveraging automation and AI to continually reinvent and transform business and IT processes.