Automation is an essential pillar of productivity strategy since it has a significant impact on the three core elements of performance “lead-time”, “touch-time” and “right first time”. Organizations don’t have to choose between time or quality because with automation it is possible to reduce SLAs increasing throughput and delivery performance while creating sustainable capacity as well as improving accuracy and right first time. In comparison with traditional process improvement benefits, automation is playing in another league of sustainable capacity creation. Therefore, process improvement and automation programs must never compete within organizations but instead working together. Automation has a lot of potential but without a continuous improvement (CI) context won’t produce neither the expected benefits nor a sustainable productivity. First and foremost, it is not true that an organization can perform “automations anywhere” in doing so only bottlenecks will appear everywhere and unsustainable change will be achieved. Moreover, if automations are not prioritized valuable resources of the organization can be investing too much time in developing automations without any ROI. On the other hand, if automations are only prioritized by ROI and without having an E2E approach they are not going to have an impact on SLA and Throughput to increase the delivery performance. Furthermore, if change and stakeholder’s management is don’t apply, automations can not only produce severe disruptions in process performance but also have a negative impact on both customers and employee experiences.

Develop an Automation pipeline and ensure benefits

To begin with the first step is to baseline processes’ current state regarding to touch-time (cycle time) and right first time (accuracy). Then it is also important to assess the frequency with which processes are run since high frequency can turn a short-cycle-time process into an interesting prospect for automation. On the other hand, process needs to be considered for automation by adopting an E2E approach to create an E2E digital flow that allows to not only increase Throughput but also to reduce SLA improving delivery performance. Once baselines, frequencies and relationships are established, the next step is to assess how standard and streamline processes are within the current state and decide whether or not actions to eliminate re-work and hand-offs are necessary to not only make automations feasible but also get the most from them. CI can add value to automation programs not only by helping to develop the pipeline through baseline and process mapping but also by eliminating variability and wastes which will ensure both feasibility and benefits.   

Assign Automation opportunities and capturing benefits

Once the automation pipeline is fully developed and has been valued, it is important o validate the pipeline with organization’s upper management to assign the automation opportunities. The automation opportunities’ complexity might vary and cycle time (CT) is a good “proxy” since process with long CT is usually more complex than those with a short one. Through CI it is not only possible to make feasible automation by reducing variability but also processes’ complexity can be significantly reduced by eliminating wastes. Therefore, it is highly recommendable to improve process first and automate them later. Then, the level of automation opportunities can be assessed to assign them either to process owners (PO) with RPA development capabilities or senior RPA developers. Level 1 automations (short CT) could be performed by enabled POs and might have high impact on capacity depending on their frequency while more complex automation levels should be assigned to senior RPA developers. When capturing automation benefits, it is important to consider the development, licensing and maintenance costs, to determine the real ROI which will be heavily reliant on how the automation program is managed. Therefore, organizations should decide when paying for a licence is value added to enable POs and save time from a senior developer and when freeware automation software can be use by senior developers to avoid licencing costs.

Planning sustainability, stakeholders and change management

Whether the automation solution is developed by PO or senior developer, always stakeholders, change and sustainability must be taken into consideration. Firstly, stakeholders should be identified since in most of the cases will include customers and employees. Moreover, solutions should meet customer’s expectations as well as effective communication plans must provide with answers to employees’ concerns. Secondly, change management should include not only the solution’s testing but also “go live” into production to define a handover checklist as well as establish the terms that must be fulfilled for the solution’s final sign-off. Thirdly, sustainability plans must include not only monitoring and contingency plans but also maintenance ones as well. While monitoring can be performed through KPIs, it is important that contingency plans be oriented to “corrective” maintenance practices, for instance “quick fixes”, instead of performing manually the process since RPA are autonomous solutions. Therefore, it is important to design a maintenance strategy to reduce associate costs, which should include preventive and predictive maintenance as well as other elements from TPM such as its KPIs (OEE, MTBF and MTTR). To summarize, CI can make the most of automation programs by providing a framework to ensure not only value for the shareholders but also for customers and employees as well. To conclude, Sun Tzu stated: “All men can see these tactics whereby I conquer, but what none can see is the strategy out of which victory is evolved.” Organizations should go beyond RPA and “quick wins”, CI will allow them to see the strategy as well as perform an effective and efficient automation deployment to achieve short and long-term goals.

Thanks for Reading.

Marcelo Sauro is an internationally experienced performance and improvement senior manager. He holds an Executive MBA and Master of Science degrees and has helped people and organizations to transform themselves. Not only he led E2E transformations in Global Business Services, R&D, Supply Chain and Finance organizations at all levels within the LATAM and EMEA Regions, but he is also experienced in several industries including Life Science, Healthcare, Insurance, Fintech, Technology, Telecoms, FMCG, Chemicals, Automotive, Energy and Mining. Since 2015, he has been researching and developing content in agile and resilience through Value Ways, while working under contract for customers such as MetLife, Novartis, Vertiv (Emerson NP) and Experian among others. Previously, he worked for more than 7 years as Master Black Belt for a LATAM-based consulting group, which had ASQ, Qualtec and Oriel as business partners. Prior to that, he worked for more than 10 years at BASF and GSK in positions of growing responsibility in the area of Operational Excellence. Marcelo is currently working at Ferring's “International PharmaScience Center” (IPC) for the Global R&D organization in Copenhagen. To find out more please visit www.value-ways.com.

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