When we held a webinar recently, the most frequently-asked question by the attendees is best summed up as, “Great – intelligent automation sounds awesome! But where do I start?”
We get asked this question a lot, so here are our views on the subject, and some key recommendations based on our experience in numerous projects and multiple industries.
Let’s start with a definition: intelligent automation automates complex tasks and sophisticated workflows, bridging the gap between the mundane repetitive tasks that Robotic Process Automation can handle and the cognitively complex and value-laden activities that only humans can do. The benefits of intelligent automation are well recognised in both the public and private sectors: by launching solutions in weeks rather than months, outcomes are proven and delivered more quickly, economically, and with lower risk. By wrapping core, siloed systems with applications built using low-code platforms such as Appian, legacy systems, so often the source of frustration at their lack of flexibility, receive a new lease of life. As Deloitte put it, “an array of leading-edge technologies—including low-code/no-code, more intelligent business rule discovery, and core mapping—offer new ways to revitalize valuable core assets.”
So how to dip a toe in the intelligent automation water?
The market shows that organisations are increasingly turning to intelligent automation, with “CIOs … now prioritizing IT projects where the time to value is lowest,” according to Gartner. The trick is to find and prioritise the ‘low-hanging fruit’ that can deliver the best value – and more importantly, establish credibility and demonstrate the efficacy of intelligent automation for future projects. We recommend looking across the value chain and creating a heat map of issues. Prioritise these by breaking them into improvements that can deliver high, medium, and low returns. Returns can be assessed via whichever criteria are strategically important to the organisation – customer experience, cost reduction, innovation, etc. But ideally, they should be quantifiable, especially for these early solutions.
This enables you to build the business case. Remember, these projects are fast. At Procensol we conduct pilots with a “5×5” approach, whereby we invest five days of our effort with our clients investing five hours of input. This is enough time to demonstrate the platform's capabilities so that the business can make an informed choice. The point is, if you are building a business case for a short, sharp project, then the business case should be short and sharp too. “It doesn’t have to be War and Peace,” as a colleague pointed out recently.
Pick a suitable use case, know what the organisation wants to achieve – hard and soft goals that can be assessed at the end of the short project to determine success or failure – and try to keep to about four pages for the business case.
Another question that came up in our recent webinar was funding. The good news is that because intelligent automation projects are short, budgets are much smaller than say a major upgrade or big-bang legacy software replacement. This means that funds are typically easier to find and can be sourced from operational expenditure, or different parts of the organisation (many organisations have innovation budgets for example). To further encourage financial leaders, the pricing models for low-code platforms cater to small investments, with no lock-in contracts.
Finally, we were asked on the webinar about whom to involve in initial projects to prove the business case and effectiveness of intelligent automation for the organisation. Our panel unanimously expressed the view that enthusiasm trumps experience. They agreed that forming a team comprised of people who are passionate about the project and its outcomes is more important than those people knowing the ins and outs of a particular technology. Of course, this does not negate the need for core business and technical skills, but specific technology can be learnt, especially by IT staff.
As with many things, getting started can be the most difficult part, but we urge you to take the plunge. Once the first project has been proven, we have so often seen the ball really get moving – and we are here to help! Momentum quickly builds once the organisation sees success delivered – another benefit of the short-sharp project. Remember, if you start small and deliver on a promised ROI, you will be much more likely to be believed with your next business case, and credibility is earned through practical delivery, as we like to say.
 Deloitte, ‘Tech Trends 2021’
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