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Maximize ROI of Automation Initiatives with a Center of Excellence Approach

Srivatsan Parthasarthy
   

What is common between the following scenarios in the passage of time?

  • Homer’s epic poem The Iliad talks about Hephaestus, the God of blacksmiths and fire, inventing Automatons, self-directed metallic machines, to speed up the manufacture of weapons.
  • Machines replace human labour and boost production in the Industrial Revolution in the 18th century and early 19th century. 
  • Today, tools extract data from insurance documents to speed up efficiency and optimize processes in the current world.
  • By 2025, World Economic Forum reports, more than half of all workplace tasks will be completed by machines.

You guessed it right. It’s all automation! Whether it is 762 B.C. or the 21st century, automation has always helped humans and businesses ease operations and deliver more with speed. Talking about businesses, it is a no-brainer for present organizations to jump up the automation bandwagon to power their processes. Automation not only brings more efficiency but also helps save costs.

The evolution of automation has also seen a lot of changes. Not only have requirements and team composition changed but dynamics have also evolved by leaps and bounds. Data storage, analysis, management and intelligence have swiftly made inroads into automation projects. To better manage automation efforts, new roles like Chief Automation Architect and Chief Automation Officer have also sprung in. And the target is towards getting the best out of automation in enterprise with an eye on ROI, efficiency and time to market.

Why can’t present automation reach its full potential?

With new-age technologies and strategies in place, it would seem for automation to go like clockwork for businesses, right? Wrong. Most large organizations are unable to get the best out of their automation initiatives. When there are multiple automation initiatives — headed by respective BUs — in a single organization, they are bound to produce issues of efficiency and scale.

  • Businesses may encounter tech resources overwhelmed with the scale of operations.
  • They have to sift through multiple obligations that come with multiple vendors/ partners. Implementing them and managing them becomes a task.
  • Too many internal automation initiatives mean a lack of proper visibility into operations.
  • A lack of proper central leadership, governance, and problem-solving strategies mean a lack of standardized and common best practices or training and skilling methods.
  • Duplication of solutions to solve the same problems across the organization raises licensing, maintenance and resource costs on an ongoing basis.

The outcome of efficiency issues? Low ROI, spiraling costs, and an aversion to adopting newer automation initiatives in the future.

Then comes the issue of evolved expectations. Today, along with performing the basic necessities of any automation project (streamlining tasks, creating processes, enabling a unified interface, etc.), the requirement is to ensure enhanced UX, security, privacy, user adoption and a truckload of data extraction and analytics work. The team structure has also evolved. Along with a core team of developers, testers, business analysts, program managers, automation projects need pods consisting of data engineers, data scientists, solution architects and BI resources.

To meet these new objectives, enterprises cannot rely further on traditional methods and strategies. Nor can they carry on further with large resource costs that arise due to having multiple ungoverned automation initiatives in one organization.

The automation COE advantage

Imagine all these multiple automation projects being guided by a common set of rules, guidelines, policies and best practices that can be reused. Imagine a central governing body that aggregates automation solutions across the organization, keeps a close tab of the initiatives and reduces duplication of work, solutions, frameworks, etc.

Automation centers of excellence (CoE) are built on the premise of having a multidisciplinary team (governance, technology, process and operations) lead, govern, manage, control, secure, and support various automation initiatives or create a set of universal best practices to be followed by every business unit within an organization that has embarked on automation projects. Automation CoEs not only bring discipline to automation initiatives in an organization but also paves the path towards scaling effortlessly when required.

The key responsibilities of an automation CoE are as follows:

  • Assessment: Auditing current automation initiatives, assessing risks
  • Planning: Planning strategies, standards, guidelines, and best practices; Creating plans for issue identification and fixes
  • Management: Managing end-to-end processes and automation CoE functions along with ensuring the security practices; Enabling testing, training, skilling, and change management; Aligning multiple partner/ vendor contracts; Implementing business continuity plans that factor in IT upheavals
  • Analysis and reporting: Ensuring proper visibility through unified tools and dashboards; Establishing KPIs to measure the success of automation CoE; Monitoring, analyzing, and deriving insights from the performance of operations

The various models of an automation COE

Automation COEs can be of three kinds:

Decentralized: In this model, the automation CoE is formed in one of the BUs, mostly involved with POCs than actual implementation. However, this model is fraught with sweeping efficiency issues. In the course of time, every BU might end up having its own Business Process Management tools, its own RPA tools, its own toolsets, processes, and best practices. The overhead of managing it all efficiently and struggling with the problem of scaling turns huge.

Centralized: In this model, the automation CoE is formed at an enterprise level with a directive from the top management — all with an aim to reduce costs and effectively manage resources and assets. This is more of a top-down approach. In the centralized model, there is very little flexibility for individual BUs to make decisions at a framework level. The overall framework and methodology need to be adopted and tweaked to the needs of the process. Even the modifications have to be presented to the central team to get their blessings before implementation.

Hybrid: Marrying the best of both worlds is the hybrid model. Here, the automation CoE functions are centralized within the core group but to enable scalability, their capabilities are federated out among BUs that need them. Mostly, such a model involves an execution engine that takes a stock of demand and delivers the capabilities to BUs that cannot manage with their own automation engines.

A proven model

At Imaginea – Part of Accenture, our automation COE journey begins with assessing an organization’s current business and technological environment and then creating a COE model based on them. We introduce this model to BUs, use it to run automation initiatives, handhold them and eventually make them ready to scale. Our focus also remains on continuous improvement, maintaining the COE, assimilating learnings, and so on.

We have created and maintained similar automation COEs with some of our clients — and they have proved to make a direct impact on the company’s balance sheet.

  • Inefficiencies have reduced substantially
  • Costs have come down
  • FTEs have been reallocated to more crucial projects
  • Automation factories have been set up and managed efficiently
  • Scaling issues have been sorted
  • ROI has seen a strong turnaround
  • Time to market has taken a leap
  • There has also been a positive impact on the overall digital transformation target

Stay tuned

Our approach is not one-size-fits-all. But we can certainly make tweaks to the approach based on your requirements and come up with a model best suited for you. It’s high time you stop making compromises with rising inefficiencies and mounting costs and get the COE advantage for your automation initiatives.

If you want to know more in detail about automation COEs and the way they operate and run, keep watching this space for a whitepaper on the same which is in the works.

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