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Adopting a people-centric approach to process automation

By Chris Ellis | |6 minute read

Over the last few months, business leaders have become acutely aware of the need for operational efficiency, reducing operating costs and driving revenue growth. The tone of business conversations has changed, but, at the same time, seismic technology shifts like the meteoric rise of conversational artificial intelligence (AI) platforms such as ChatGPT are forcing even the most digitally mature companies to re-evaluate their digital efforts.

Organisations are now actively running gap analyses over their operations as they review their digital estate in this new light. The drive to do more with less means companies are also revisiting some aspects of business transformation, especially process automation, given it has already shown considerable promise. The CSIRO recently found that large Australian companies have already generated an average of $361,315 of incremental revenue by each AI-related initiative implemented, regardless of which part of the business these efforts originally targeted.

Business leaders understand that the game has changed. Even process automation is more nuanced than it once was. It means a more people-centric approach, led by the business rather than technology, is the preferred approach, and it’s smoothing the path to adoption. Now there are stronger ideas – and support metrics – to demonstrate what transformation success really looks like.


The people plus factor

For leaders looking to maximise the benefits of automation, there are three key emerging trends that should be heeded and utilised in their renewal programs. These will help overcome the corporate inertia and shock of the new, which sometimes plagued earlier bids to automate processes.

Firstly, organisations should work to show what automation can actually do. Highlighting examples of successful automation, either internally or in adjacent industries, can inspire and spark ideas. Innovation is a key driver of business growth. A study by McKinsey found that companies in the top quartile for innovation grew revenue 3.4 times faster than those in the bottom quartile.

Innovative companies are more likely to survive. A study by Harvard Business Review found that innovative companies were six times more likely to survive than those that were not innovative. Where have others seen their success? If you aren’t across what others are doing, it makes it far more difficult to build use cases from scratch. Awareness of what’s possible means you can better apply it to your own pain points and challenges.

Secondly, successful automation programs clearly articulate the benefits to staff in a format of “what’s in it for me?” A lot of individuals, teams and organisations perform their roles in the way that they’ve always been done; something that can sometimes be mistaken for corporate culture. Leaders must help their teams understand the opportunity cost of maintaining the status quo – if the proposed automation was better understood, it might change people’s attitudes towards it.

For example, a person who spends six hours a month transferring data between systems could be investing that time in another part of their work. Proactively answering this question before it gets asked can substantially change internal attitudes towards automation. If you articulate the cost, time and experience benefits upfront, it’s a game changer for the teams involved.

The third and related point is that successful automation programs are increasingly based on empathy and inclusivity. Many corporate teams have felt in “constant-upheaval” mode since the pandemic, exhausting the very people that will make or break a transformation program.

Empathetic leaders understand that acceptance of automation varies widely among different worker segments and will act accordingly. A leader with empathy knows that not everyone’s going to do this at exactly the same time – people have different challenges and priorities.

This is where soft skills, like adaptability, empathy and 360-degree thinking, are increasingly useful in preparing a workforce for automation and are particularly important as renewed effort, focus, and investment are put into the space.

The human element to measuring success

Programs will succeed when they are measurable and the feedback powers continuous iteration and improvement. Efficiency metrics, which are well understood, can include a reduction in time to perform a process or complete a transaction, lower costs, or an improvement in employee or customer sentiment from surveys.

Organisations should be prepared to innovate with what they learn from these measurements and analytics. However, it is crucial to listen to the internal experts: the people who live and breathe those processes every day.

If continuous improvement efforts are based only on analytics, this human element of process interaction is lost along with the expertise it would deliver. On the flip side, when only human input is prioritised, you end up with a situation where it becomes one person’s idea against another’s, and innovation suffers. With a blended approach, encompassing human input and analytics, organisations can drive efficiency and innovation while maintaining a people-first approach.

By Chris Ellis, director pre-Sales, Nintex