Why automation is about culture as much as technology

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Sarah Fardon

November 12, 2020

Watch our in-depth panel discussion on how to implement an automate-first culture without losing control here.

 

In the realm of technology, automation is no unfamiliar term. It’s something which has existed in many guises since the turn of the industrial revolution. In today’s world, as technology pervades the way organizations think and operate, automation remains fairly well understood by technical teams at least, but because this can cause it to become siloed, I think we can acknowledge that there are gulfs of knowledge between adoption and implementation. 

Automation remains an instrumental driver of technology and business decisions, data insight, continuous delivery, and business benefit. Organizations are therefore designing strategies to drive efficiencies and unlock the potential of their workforces beyond the expectations of repetitive, manual processes much better suited to machines. 

I’d argue this is no new argument either. We have all read the notion of letting the machines do the work where they are able so that the workforce can focus on activities that require uniquely human traits, like innovation, creativity, and superior communication, but the important question here is how? How can organizations bring in automation in a manageable, visible way without the risk of disruption and chaos? Where does culture fit in this, and how do we determine the best approach?

This is where an automate-first culture comes in. To enable teams to deliver, programs across the organization need to be architected with humans and machine automation running simultaneously. There is no disputing that implementing effective automation is challenging at the best of times, not least when embedding it across business processes and operations, spreading its impact from the traditional view of responsibility held by technical teams. In today’s highly-competitive, dynamic, and unpredictable world, businesses need to be able to act and respond quickly and have watertight processes and repeatable measures in place to do so, and in that context, it is inevitable that multiple automation tools will be in place across a business. The role of the automate-first culture is to join up these tools and build processes and flows of work across them. 

Culture, at the heart of any organization, sits with its people, and their value should not be underestimated in fostering an automate-first culture. We all know that humans do not always fare well with repetitive, manual processes, and human error is all too common as ‘brain drain’ sets in. That’s why automation is so beneficial, whether as a full replacement or a useful aid. That said, the nuances of human knowledge and experience are specific to particular individuals within teams and organizations, which can often be lost in translation, historic interactions, or through staff attrition. That’s why documentation and knowledge sharing is such a crucial mitigator and guardian of insight. The introduction of automation in combination with human insight in this context enables teams to prepare for failure, build and maintain that knowledge-sharing structure, and protect against any instance of technology failure. 

 

So how do you automate the right way?

The key considerations here depend on the purpose of introducing automation in the first place, the process involved, associated risks, and the potential impact of failure. At Cutover, we tend to categorize these in two ways: 

  • Fully automated - involving minimal or no supervision, this process is robust, successful, and highly repetitive. It can be run with confidence. 
  • Human augmentation - this is where human involvement is fundamental to add judgment, intervention, knowledge, and skill. 

 

These options aren’t mutually exclusive, and we are seeing organizations put both models in place depending on the context, risk level, and planned objectives. How to determine which combination of models works best depends on the existing technology landscape, but there are many success stories depicting various combinations. What is important when adopting this hybrid approach is to maintain any inherent knowledge of onsite processes to avoid any loss of information, mitigate risk, and plan for failure - including building and practicing a ‘Plan B’. 

It’s also crucial that automation comes from within the team it impacts. It has to be embedded in the work of people who are doing the jobs to be effective and dampen the impact of any resistance to change. This also acknowledges the fundamental point that the users are the holders of the knowledge, and they are the people who hold the potential to advance automation too. 

The challenges organizations face today in this context are solved by the design of a unified automation strategy. As technology evolves, organizations will undoubtedly have a collection of existing tools and skillsets forming pieces to the puzzle of a hybrid automation model that is fit for purpose across the business. Central to the automate-first culture must be a way to join up these tools and build flows of work across them that permeate the organization. For that, you need the orchestrator of orchestrators. This central system, the ‘orchestrator’, might not automate everything, but acts as the mission control to reach out and trigger the specialist systems across an organization that automates particular activities. This allows you to build value quickly, without having to discard any existing toolkits. 

It’s clear that there are several threads tying the success factors of automation implementation together, but culture and approach lie at the heart of it. By redefining an organization’s approach to automation, whether it be via roles and responsibilities, the pace of change, legacy factors, or unifying processes, we can build a more progressive, visible change across business models that can truly drive growth and add value. 

 

Interested in finding out more about the complexities and considerations of automation on culture? Watch our expert panel session on-demand here. 

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