Post-COVID lessons: Business looks to scale automation

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Sumeet Pathak, digital workforce evangelist - IMEA at Automation Anywhere.
Sumeet Pathak, digital workforce evangelist - IMEA at Automation Anywhere.

Businesses around the world and in SA are showing keen interest in scaling their automation programmes to build more resilience into their organisations.

This is according to experts who were participating in a webinar presented today by Automation Anywhere, in partnership with Amani Business and ITWeb, to help South African enterprises scale up their automation journey and adapt to a fast-changing environment.

While webinar attendees said in a poll that their top priorities for robotic process automation (RPA) were to increase productivity and improve quality and compliance, expert speakers said there was also growing interest from companies around the world in fast-tracking automation to boost business resilience and continuity.

Sumeet Pathak, digital workforce evangelist - IMEA at Automation Anywhere, said in India, organisations were indicating that they hoped to avoid a repeat of the disruptions they had experienced due to lockdowns.

In South Africa, Thabo Ndlela, CEO of Amani Business, said: “We are seeing heightened attention to automation, driven by the need for business continuity. Companies want to automate additional processes because of the impacts of the pandemic. However, most have not budgeted for it this year, so many of the discussions we are having are in preparation for next year.”

Stephan Gous, senior manager -strategic partners at Automation Anywhere, said: “Businesses might have been caught off guard by COVID-19, but what’s prompting conversations now is how they build robustness into the business to be better geared to face future disruptions, and automation is a good way to achieve this.”

Pathak noted that scaling was not just about increasing the number of bots in use, however: “As organisations mature, scaling is also about the business value this scaling of automation can deliver.”

People often want to automate a complex process first, but this can slow down their ability to scale.

Thabo Ndlela, Amani Business

He said early in the automation journey, organisations should look to automate very manual, high volume processes first. “When you start an automation journey, it will be all about processes, but as you go deeper into the journey there is a shift in terms of culture and governance. There has to be an industrialised approach to identifying business cases and process selection, establishing the right operating frameworks, business/IT alignment and roles, and ultimately achieving an automation-first mindset.”

Thabo Ndlela, CEO of Amani Business.
Thabo Ndlela, CEO of Amani Business.

In a mature organisation, bot building can be democratised, with business users empowered to download or build the bots they need, to enable scaling throughout the organisation. Automation Anywhere has enabled this through its automation platform for citizen developers, specialist developers and RPA managers, providing the ability for end users to drag and drop actions to create bots for themselves. “In this way, you are handing over the power to the end user, which will get you more acceptance and increase the adoption groundswell,” said Pathak.

Ndlela said important factors for success when scaling automation included product selection, having in place a business sponsor and business case, process selection and delivery method. “It is important to select a simple, repetitive process with large number of transactions, as this will demonstrate a business case easily. People often want to automate a complex process first, but this can slow down their ability to scale. How an RPA project is delivered is also important – unlike traditional long IT projects, it should be agile and able to deliver quite quickly.”

Importantly, he said, the automation solution should be capable of delivering across robotics, cognitive abilities and analytics. “Most cater for only one component. You tend to need all three, and the product you select will determine whether you can scale or not,” he said.

Ndlela said Amani used Automation Anywhere solutions in its own solutions for customers due to its broad feature set and ability to scale. “It is technology for business users: it’s drag and drop, Web based, user friendly, and no detailed coding is required. Cognitive capabilities like natural language processing and optical character recognition, as well as the Automation Anywhere marketplace with 500+ prepacked bots, give us and our customers a holistic platform made to scale,” he said.

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