Automation has been at the heart of technological progress as far back as the first industrial revolution. In 1733, John Kay’s revolutionary invention of the flying shuttle increased weaving speeds and changed manufacturing forever. The fourth industrial revolution, also known as Industry 4.0, began in 2010 and ushered in an era focused on digitization and virtualization fueled by IT automation. In fact, digital transformation and IT automation are inextricably linked, and success with both requires organizations to embrace a digital-first mindset.
Businesses have turned to digital transformation over the last few decades to cope with a variety of challenges. The last twelve months have seen an incredible acceleration in these initiatives in response to the challenges posed by the pandemic. IT teams faced a new set of demands as workforces became remote and digital channels became the lifeblood of our personal and professional lives.
Digital transformation has also been driven by astronomical growth in data volumes. According to a recent IDC report, data volumes increased from 2 zettabytes in 2010 to 59 zettabytes in 2020, with claims that this figure will reach 175 zettabytes by 2025. More data means more insights, better predictive capabilities, and further business optimization, yet these volumes of data are overwhelming and require new solutions, like automation and artificial intelligence (AI), to make sense of all that data. Businesses that invest in automation and AI will reap the rewards with rich analytics that drive agility and innovation, enabling them to not only endure constant global changes but to thrive in our current environment.
Not surprisingly, strategic leaders are looking for ways to quickly advance their organizations’ automation maturity. It is no longer enough to simply automate repetitive tasks. Companies must be innovative in what and how they choose to automate. As organizations move from automating simple processes and achieving quick wins to hyperautomation scenarios that can handle more complex use cases and advanced integrations, part of the challenge is properly assessing the full scope of automation’s capacity. With so many promising opportunities for optimization, it is difficult to know where to begin. Introducing an automation Center of Excellence (CoE) is not only an essential part of the journey, but the very foundation from which to start building.
A Center of Excellence brings together a cross-functional group of experts who are dedicated to deploying, scaling, and leveraging a specific technology (or group of technologies). Their sole focus is to improve business outcomes by leveraging that technology to its maximum potential and ensuring that it is being utilized in an innovative and successful way, which also complies with corporate governance and compliance standards. To form an automation Center of Excellence is to guarantee this technology is tested, analyzed, and brought into operation effectively and efficiently.
In practice, a CoE establishes the overarching automation strategy and framework, develops the operating model, and ensures the appropriate skills are in place to support the strategy. The very existence of the CoE also signifies an organization’s dedication to automation and can foster the culture required for automation to succeed.
Measuring, sharing, and communicating the value of automation is critical for the long-term success of your automation initiatives and is a core responsibility of the Center of Excellence. Illustrating automation ROI secures the cross-functional support required to scale, from the C-suite members who control the purse strings to the practitioners who are in the automation trenches.
Adopting a data-driven approach also enables a CoE to identify where automation can be leveraged to provide the best business benefits, including areas for quick wins. Tracking and reporting on key metrics, such as hours saved, cost savings, and improvements in service delivery, can be done at a granular level for each automated process. These metrics offer visibility into which automation candidates should be prioritized next for the greatest gains. And, of course, aggregating these metrics across the entire automation ecosystem measures the overall impact of automation on business outcomes.
There are many additional KPIs that can be tracked as indicators of automation success, going well beyond costs and hours. Examples include mean time to repair (MTTR) problems, call volumes, the number of incidents or requests handled solely by automation, or the time required to complete service requests. Customer satisfaction and employee happiness are also important metrics for many organizations. An automation Center of Excellence should develop a committee to determine which KPIs are most important based on business goals and dynamics, and then develop a baseline for each one to show demonstrable improvements post-automation.
Fostering a culture of automation is critical for automation initiatives to succeed, and every CoE member should be prepared to take an active role in driving cultural shift. The CoE bears responsibility for creating an environment where new ideas can flourish and that prioritizes innovation, cultivates collaboration, inspires participation, and offers employees new opportunities.
Within a CoE, collaboration and unity are key tenets. Siloed thinking and competitive departmental rivalries must be avoided at all costs; working together toward a positive result should be the central focus. From here, it is possible to achieve a company-wide sense of collaborative culture, as well as enthusiastic automation ambassadors within every department.
An automation CoE is the essential foundation needed to successfully launch automation initiatives, and, in doing so, becoming a business that thrives within the ever-changing and challenging business environment. Gartnerpredicts that 69% of routine work currently completed by managers will be fully automated by 2024, making it clear that automation is clearly here to stay and will continue to play an integral role in digital transformation. Do not get left behind.
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