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Digitization And Robotics Is Key For Successful Automation Adoption
By LOUISE SMITH, HEAD OF INTELLIGENT AUTOMATION, RBS
Robotics is littered everywhere these days whether it is the increasing array of LinkedIn job titles or the promise of fixing every process problem that has existed in mature financial service organisations for decades. There are countless (and growing) number of tools, software, and methods you can buy and access; the webinars, seminars, and events you can attend. Before we get to the increasing promise of humanoid robots capable of creating reality and solving any problems, do not forget about answering your straight through, nimbleness, and (lack of) adaptability problems.
On top of that, the fear anyone working in operations or process roles face as the robots are definitely coming if they are not already there.
So, can they be forces for good and create new roles? Or is robotics just a way to automate, remove ‘bad’ cost and reduce the workforce rather than fundamentally change the way we do things for customers? And anyone asked to take on the challenge to deliver at scale where do you start, what skills do you need, and how do you know it’s working?
It is no secret that many mature (or old) organisations have digitised the front-end of customer touch points and processes to compete with the growing challengers. With the growing customer expectation for agility and transparency, the middle-and back-ends of these organisations cannot sustain growth, demand, and adapt quickly enough to come anywhere close to the speed of the new entrants. That is before we get to the cost, inefficiency, and risks involved.
What has struck me as I came closer and closer to automation solutions, programmes, and transformations? Is actually the very few people who have successfully done it at scale, with a bucket load of learning of where it went wrong. Faced with the challenge to mobilise, move, prove, and deliver results at speed by thousands of so called experts, these are just my thoughts on what is needed to scale and to bring people with you:
If we truly believe that automation capabilities can improve our daily lives, then we need to think about how we talk about them, how customers use them, and what fears they have that need to be addressed
1. Creating a movement: So, you have some funding and you realise it is time to start or maybe you’ve already started. You also need to prove that it works and everyone will have a view on the tool and whether you’re being strategic enough—should you stop wasting your time with robotics and ‘do machine learning’, surely we need APIs . So what is the message? For the workforce to pivot with you, they need to believe you. Transparent messaging need to be consistently communicated. Be honest—not all the answers are there yet, the case studies at scale are still rare. For the holders of the investments, they will be required to make quick decisions. You are not going to automate everything but you are going to look at what to remove out of old processes for the customer, what to stop. How quickly will those ‘simplified’ decisions be made and what are the conditions to make them?
2. Freeing up the real experts: The internal experts are critical to success. If they do not understand their role, what is needed, and potentially the outcome, they are not going to be engaged when you start. You cannot buy in how your organisation works, it takes time for someone to unlearn and learn new things. Capacity of the operations experts can easily become a blocker and freeing them up to drive the work is key, they know how the organization works for customers and what is needed to radically change it. This should not be a long tail ‘programme’ revealed in 12 months, it should be about momentum and constant movement. Thoughtful incremental changes of stop, simplified, and automated decisions.
3. Targeted plan to develop skills and talent: Reskilling into future roles, attracting and retaining new skills, and building strong bridges with geographies in a connected way is crucial. Having the right people at the right place to empower the digital workforce is critical for success of any automation.
4. Pathological collaboration and structural boundaries challenged: A single team of operational and technical experts must be fully integrated driven by an exceptional operations leader, not necessarily a technical one is vital. The appetite to bring these together to run the digital workforce, adapt to change and challenge, and constantly evolve means a fully integrated single team and governance structure. Robotics is only the first phase; you need to have the conditions in place from the outset to evolve to the next phase of running multiple automation treatments. A bad outcome is littering the organisation with robots convincing you as a better replacement to humans, they are not.
5. And last but by no means least: Just because you and the technology can do it does not mean that you should. Try to understand what customer problems are you solving. Moreover, it is about making tough decisions rather than automating bad processes that are no longer fit for the purpose.
Achieving scale at the core of the business—there is no silver bullet, it takes resilience and strong sponsorship to transform your operations. Clear prioritisation, committed funding and fast decision-making is key for success. Its hard yards with incremental results until you reach a tipping point. A strong team is ‘EVERYTHING’ you need to push through the blockers of legacy decisions and outdated operating rhythms. It takes time and all the discipline of keeping momentum, and leveraging learning.
For customers, if we truly believe that automation capabilities can improve our daily lives, then we need to think about how we talk about them, how customers use them, and what fears they have that need to be addressed. Whether if that is the perceived or real gender of robotic capabilities and security of data, and is your smart speaker really listening. These all need to be addressed.
Limitless possibilities awaits us, but only if we bring people with us clearly and openly.