Analysts have coined the term hyperautomation to describe the rapid advancement of tools and technologies for automating tasks and processes (see infographic below). These technologies have great value, but enterprises often tend to implement them piecemeal, leading to a sprawl of costly technical debt. Technology and business leaders must build and run effective holistic automation programs in order to drive maximum value for their organizations.
A holistic automation program provides organizations significant benefits compared to a piecemeal approach to automation.
The piecemeal approach: Without any form of strategy, planning, or governance, large enterprises will naturally adopt a piecemeal approach to automation. In this method, individual lines of business, support functions, departments, and teams work on independent automation implementations. This can be fast and easy at first, but it results in siloed pockets of automation across the enterprise and, ultimately, in technical debt.
The holistic approach: When organizations take a holistic approach to automation, they apply strategy, planning, and governance. This enables the organization to make decisions that are more scalable in the long term. The organization can provide self-service platforms to individual teams and ensure that standards apply across the ecosystem so that sets of tools can talk to one another. This takes more upfront work and adds administrative overhead, but it will provide more value in the long term. A holistic approach can drive the following benefits:
The piecemeal approach is uncoordinated—it enables pockets of automation to arise quickly, but the lack of coordination will cost more time in the long run through technical debt and rework. If you want to launch a new product or service, piecemeal automation requires more time for custom development and integration in order to operate effectively with the scattered pockets of automation across the enterprise.
A holistic automation ecosystem provides plug-and-play-like capabilities, allowing the enterprise to adapt rapidly to change and challenge through technology innovation. Like a cruise ship with a coordinated, unified crew, holistic automation enables organizations to change course as needed.
The piecemeal approach favors hodgepodge point solutions, whereas holistic automation allows for choice technologies to work together effectively to provide scalable platforms that can be repurposed for other use cases. Stratascale’s Field CTO Dan Newman observes, “Lots of enterprises have a bunch of different groups each building their own cars. But they’d be better off investing in a factory with an assembly line.”
At its core, holistic automation encourages further automation through the creation of robust, scalable platforms fit for reuse.
Holistic automation reduces the time required for development and integration. When less time and resources go toward development and integration, more time can be spent on improving user experience and adding valuable features for end users. This ultimately leads to creating higher quality products and services that delight users.
The higher quality products and services enabled by holistic automation increases customer satisfaction. But holistic automation also increases customer satisfaction by reducing friction and improving the end-to-end experience. Customers hate waiting in line, and they hate waiting on hold. A holistic automation program enables organizations to embed automation and self-service at stages of the journey that would otherwise require lining up to be served by a human agent.
With the old piecemeal approach to automation, having full visibility across the organization was nearly impossible. Pockets of automation resulted in black box silos across different teams and different parts of the organization’s value stream. Executives were attempting to marshal fleets in the fog without any radar.
In contrast, a holistic automation program empowers the organization to layer the business capabilities on top of scalable, standardized platforms, enabling visibility and data sharing. By providing this visibility, holistic automation allows organizations to understand what is happening in real time, so they can make better decisions and drive maximum value.
Because holistic automation stretches across the enterprise, organizations might be tempted to treat it as a “big bang” waterfall project. That’s a mistake. Holistic automation requires evolving new capabilities and changing the way the enterprise works. Trying to do it all at once is like a couch potato running a marathon with no training or build-up—it’s bound to end in failure, pain, and suffering. You need to build that organizational muscle over time, and you do this by starting small. For example, you might start with an RPA program, or by building out a sandbox to learn and experiment.
Dr. Don Thomas, Stratascale’s intelligent automation expert, explains, “The big buy-in or preparation for holistic automation is having a true understanding of your organization. That’s where most organizations fail at this.” He continues, “Organizations can build a sandbox as a way to identify which processes should be addressed early versus what can wait. That might come in the form of a digital twin of the organization.”
By celebrating automation successes (even small ones), you can evangelize these successes to beget more. Newman says, “Sometimes achieving success in automating one area gives you the means and helps you make the business case to automate elsewhere.”
“To go back to King Arthur, holistic automation should be like a roundtable where all these experts come in and work together. They have no ulterior motive to say, ‘Well, my department needs to do this more.’ That comes down to proactively managing the change by establishing a CoE. Once you set out on your holistic automation journey, you prioritize what you’re going to automate and then manage it.” —Dr. Thomas
A Center of Excellence enables the various groups and stakeholders from different areas of the organization to break down siloes—this would likely include representation from lines of business, support functions (HR and facilities), IT, security, and enterprise architects. Having representation from diverse groups enables the CoE to make better decisions to serve the organization’s diverse needs and avoid becoming an ivory tower.
Setting up a holistic automation program, or improving your existing one, is an exercise in organizational change management (OCM). Organizations will be more successful if they apply OCM best practices.
Dr. Thomas explains, “You need a top-down approach to really garner enthusiasm and support. You need to involve management and stakeholders to get buy-ins from everyone.” He continues to explain the importance of communicating the holistic automation changes: “Now, you’ve got to expect to encounter employees that are going to have some fear and resentment due to replacement concerns, so it’s also important to manage those proactively and communicate that you’ll be freeing their time for more valuable activities.”
Process mining tools can give organizations a more accurate view of their processes by cutting through some of the human bias that comes through the older method of conducting interviews. Without understanding the current state of their business processes, organizations won’t know how much value holistic automation can actually bring.
Newman explains, “You want to get your processes clean before you look at automating them. When you talk about holistic automation, it’s the whole play. You need to evaluate your business processes and look for ways to improve them. You need to understand where you are and where you want to go before you put the time and effort into automating.”
Sticking to an effective holistic automation program often requires the discipline of checking the impulse to implement a quick fix.
Newman explains, "Sure, you can go ahead and automate something quickly by writing a shell script in a Linux box. But at the end of the day, that doesn’t scale, it’s not repeatable. It’s not conducive to a true holistic automation play. Don’t forsake long-term impacts to reach short-term goals.”
He continues, “If you’re going to try to automate or look at improving a particular process, think of the bigger picture. If you take shortcuts, then in the long term you’re going to have to come back and change the way you do it. You want to truly automate things end-to-end. Standardizing the toolset and the way you automate makes your life easier in the long term.”
Delta is one organization that has shared how they’ve made the most of holistic automation. In the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, they’re piloting their end-to-end automated flight experience using facial recognition technology. This offers passengers a device- and hands-free experience for check-in, the security checkpoint, and boarding. They’ve also automated their bag-drop experience so that customers can skip lengthy airport lines and drop their own bags off and track them along their journey.
Dr. Thomas explains, “You can check yourself in using a facial scan. That’s the beginning step of holistic automation. Then you drop off your bag at one of their self-serve bag drop machines and can see it immediately in your Delta app to be able to track it, which is holistic automation once again. It follows the customer’s whole end-to-end process, from checking in to when you land and pick up your bags. That is a complete case for holistic automation—companies have to be doing not just that one piece, but automating all the pieces that can be automated.”
Dr. Thomas concludes that “There will be hurdles. If you can make it through those hurdles, you will rise to the top very quickly in your industry.” If done correctly and at the right time, holistic automation can differentiate an organization and enable it to stand out in a time when all organizations are looking towards digital agility.
Contact our automation experts at Stratascale to learn more about how you can embark on your holistic automation journey.
Coming from a background in conducting original ethnographic research, Mary-Kate brings a humanities lens to the technology she writes about. She’s passionate about using her background in primary and secondary research to bring innovative solutions to clients in both the digital experience and automation spaces. Outside of work, Mary-Kate enjoys both traveling and hiking.