Top 8 questions when evaluating automation solutions
ARTICLE | March 06, 2023
Authored by RSM US LLP
When looking for automation solutions, it’s easy to get caught up in the allure of the technology, believing software alone will solve the problem. Too often, however, this thinking leads to only treating the symptom without fixing the root cause, resulting in frustrated users, concerned stakeholders and a less than satisfactory ROI.
Before deciding on any automation solution, take a step back and analyze the end-to-end process to determine where the problem really lies. Confirm that the process is optimized and applies leading practices prior to applying any technology. Then you can move forward and choose the solution(s) that will give you a big payback across your full business process.
With the right tools in place, business automation software can help significantly reduce the time, cost and risk of your business processes, deliver a better customer and employee experience, and poise your organization for growth and scale.
The answers to the following eight common questions will help you better evaluate whether a business automation solution is right for your middle market business.
1) Does this solution address our real problem?
The first thing to consider is whether your problem is really where you think it is. Let’s look at a hypothetical example. Someone in your finance department says to you, “Every month I go out and I pull this information from one system, this information from a second system and this information from yet another system. I put it in this spreadsheet, I analyze it and then I create a report. Can you automate the piece of pulling the information from each of those three sources and putting it on this spreadsheet so I can just do the analysis?”
There’s an automation solution that’ll do that for you.
By conducting an assessment, you may discover that the right answer is to somehow house that data in one place or reconfigure your systems so that it’s all in one system and not in three. A completely different front-end solution that isn’t related to automation at all might be the better answer than automating the broken process that’s only a symptom of the real problem.
2) How should we think about all the automation solutions available to make sense of it all?
The easiest way to think about automation solutions is to categorize them in three different domains.
- Fit-for-purpose: off-the-shelf, packaged software that focuses on solving or automating a specific function, process or type of activity
- Platforms: software offering a set of capabilities that can be configured to meet different use cases and requirements
- Integration technologies: solutions that provide inter-system connectivity for data exchange
Before you begin evaluating solutions, you’ll want to determine the goal you hope to achieve and then identify the automation solutions that match that goal.
3) How can automation help with talent challenges?
When looking at the bigger picture, sometimes the root causes of inefficiencies lie outside of an organization. For instance, perhaps you work with a supplier or customer and must interact with their technology environment. Automation can help overcome the challenges caused by not having the right people and skills to do the work, whether that’s due to talent shortages, skills gaps, retirements, tight budgets caused by inflationary and/or recessionary pressures or changing worker expectations.
In today’s extremely competitive labor market, employees or job candidates are seeking roles that focus on high-value activities rather than on repetitive, manual tasks that can be accomplished through automation. To address this, it’s critical to have strong automation capabilities to help attract and retain top talent.
Something to consider: Do you already have the right tools?
With a thorough assessment, you may discover that technology solutions you’re already using have capabilities you haven’t tapped. In today’s SaaS environment, technology vendors are releasing functionality with regular frequency—and your subscription pays for it! It’s not uncommon to find you already own a solution within your organization that can be further leveraged or optimized.
4) How can automation improve the customer and employee experience?
Middle market businesses understand that delivering an excellent customer experience (CX) is crucial to winning new customers and increasing customer loyalty—and, ultimately, driving revenue. Delivering that extraordinary experience typically requires having the right people, processes and technology in the right place at the right time. Implementing an incomplete or wrong automation solution can potentially create a worse customer experience than having no automation solution at all. For example, a chatbot that can’t answer customer inquiries and doesn’t offer an option to speak with a human can drive customers away from your business rather than engage them.
Conversely, an AI-powered chatbot that can continually add to its knowledge base may be the preferred communications channel if it can answer customers’ questions at 3 a.m. Solutions like these also free staff to provide more personalized service in more complex situations, increasing the value of their work and their employee experience (EX)—and helping you attract and retain top talent.
5) How do we maximize the value of our automation solution investment?
All too often, companies implement a single-point automation solution only to find that it hasn’t added value. If these solutions are treated simply as tools, it’s difficult to realize the value you’re expecting.
From this tactical perspective, the business may view a solution as a “cool tool” that goes out and does these tasks in this tiny pocket of the business. Treated this way, the ROI won’t align with expectations and will remain limited.
A better way to approach automation is to embrace it as a strategic capability that will enable a digital-first mindset for your organization. Elevating automation to this level provides a new “lever” for the organization to use when implementing new services beyond the traditional approach of adding more people.
Something to consider: Automation as a springboard
When a service provider relies on a client’s data to serve that client, automated data management processes can provide value for both parties. For example, a tax compliance provider that automates data ingestion can spare both its client and its employees the time-consuming, low-value tasks of data gathering and cleaning. This can also improve transparency and reduce the risk of human error in moving data. And when data analytics systems complement the automation solutions, the efficiencies gained can translate to timely insights
6) Can this solution integrate with our existing systems?
Solutions that promise streamlined workflows will not be able to deliver without a big investment in time and resources if they don’t integrate easily with the other tools and systems you already have in place.
This is an example of why it’s so important to look at your entire organization, assess your current systems and workflows and then choose solutions that work with what you already have. Before you dive into a solution, make sure you won’t have to do extensive customization or switch to entirely new systems in other areas to make your new automation solution do what it’s supposed to do: Make your life easier.
You also want to assess how easily the automation solution can be applied to other use cases in your business.
7) How can we help ensure the adoption of the solution?
Inherent in any operating model change is culture change. When you automate business processes, it will change the work your employees do as well as the way they do it. Even when it’s a positive change, though, it can be hard to get people to buy in and transform the way they approach their work. Simply put: Change is hard. To help ensure your automation transformation is successful, you’ll need champions to drive the adoption process from start to finish and continue enforcing “the why” behind the use of the solution.
8) How can an outside perspective help?
Getting an outside-in perspective adds tremendous value. The right advisor can help you through any and all stages of assessment and discovery through implementation and ongoing support.
Even if you have resources with acumen and bandwidth to drive execution, consider the creation of a blueprint and long-term road map up front by outside advisers to be well-worth the investment. In addition, working with an outside advisor through at least the first few phases establishes a foundation for continued success: They’ll provide a framework of automation, the governance of it, the data behind it, upskilled resources, the intake process, the evaluation and prioritization of new use cases and more. Transforming your organization to embrace automation is a journey, and expertise and fresh perspective will start your journey on a good pace with an eye to where you’re heading.
This article was written by RSM US LLP and originally appeared on 2023-03-06.
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