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Task automation: Are SaaS and RPA tools distracting you from true progress in your digital transformation?

Task automation is a critical aspect of digital transformation

It’s a funny thing. When leadership teams get wrapped up in software app selection discussions, the PURPOSE of technology can get so easily lost. It’s as if, the more technology options and possibilities come into the foreground, the more they become the SUBJECT, not a CONTRIBUTION to the desired outcome.

Particularly when enterprises are considering a digital transformation, this technology ‘target fixation’ is a real issue.

Leaders have to be technology aware these days – DIGITAL TRANSFORMATION is too big for the CTO alone.

Businesses today live on data and their relationships with customers and suppliers exist as data flows through a software conduit. The technology organizations use defines them to their customers. It also makes a huge impact on profitability (i.e. how efficiently an organization translates its customer value into shareholder returns).

I am always surprised by how many experienced sales and marketing leaders say they are awash with software apps and robotic solutions for task automation. Each of these tools had been selected for doing a particular task or job really well – and I’m sure they do – but the unintended consequential impact of using all of these tools was a paucity of technology that did little more than distract from their core agenda.

The world of business computing has shifted from a discussion around best-of-breed apps to solve particular needs, to looking more holistically at business models and how enterprises can maximize customer experience and shareholder returns with a single, unifying platform.

How to tackle task automation

There are several ways leadership teams can tackle the automation and ‘digitalization’ of their enterprise.

One option is to start from the ground-roots, looking at the task-related problems of work activities and lever in new tech-tools like Robotic Process Automation (RPA) to make improvements one task at a time. The challenges this ground-up approach fosters include a lack of control afforded to IT and compliance teams over data, the increased risk of silos of data and activities being created, and the probability that any step-change in workflow design (or new tools and mechanisms) could obviate the need for these low-level tasks completely! There is a big risk that internal (and external) sponsors of technology tools will FIND more and more task automation opportunities to justify the time and spend on solutions, distorting how resources are being used to achieve departmental ends not enterprise level outcomes.

How to tackle task automation

There are several ways leadership teams can tackle the task automation and ‘digitalization’ of their enterprise.

The Bottom Up Approach

 One option is to start from the ground-roots, looking at the task-related problems of work activities and lever in new tech-tools like Robotic Process Automation (RPA) to make improvements one task at a time.

The challenges this ground-up task automation approach fosters include a lack of control afforded to IT and compliance teams over data, the increased risk of silos of data and activities being created, and the probability that any step-change in workflow design (or new tools and mechanisms) could obviate the need for these low-level tasks completely!

There is a big risk that internal (and external) sponsors of technology tools will FIND more and more task automation opportunities to justify the time and spend on solutions, distorting how resources are being used to achieve departmental ends not enterprise level outcomes.

Digital transformation drives data re-use

Another task automation option is to explore your current use of hard-copy documents and any document workflows.

With document and business process management solutions, enterprises are able to turn their traditional paper-based workflows into a digital (superior) alternative, sometimes installing machine-to-machine processing and eradicating the need for humans to take on the role of ‘sub-processors’ or ‘glue-ware.’  

Getting task automation right 

How is your enterprise moving ahead with its digital transformation? And is it starting at the right level?

Unless organizations have established a digital transformation governance team, the probability is that task automation falls to departmental managers and portfolio holders that are rewarded on the performance of their silo.  Inevitably, when in search of quick-wins, the likely consequence of this lack of top-down control is that middle-managers will focus on plugging gaps and short-terms economies rather than step back and revisit the big picture.

Equipping teams and individuals with the SaaS apps they need (or like to use) might well be creating far too many rabbit holes for leadership teams to get lost in.  Re-visiting business model designs and then considering a digital orchestration using a unifying applications design and deployment platform may sound like a longer-term agenda but the alternatives may just turn task automation into a task itself.

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About Ian Tomlin

Ian Tomlin is a management consultant and strategist specializing in helping organizational leadership teams to grow by telling their story, designing and orchestrating their business models, and making conversation with customers and communities. He serves on the management team of Encanvas and works as a virtual CMO and board adviser for tech companies in Europe, America and Canada. He can be contacted via his LinkedIn profile or follow him on Twitter.

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