Hyperautomation is one of the top business trends for 2021, according to Gartner. Many organizations are pursuing hyperautomation—possibly without knowing it. The confluence of tools, processes and advanced capabilities in the past three years has come together to make hyperautomation a reality for many organizations that couldn’t previously pursue it. But what is hyperautomation? By definition, hyperautomation is the automation of everything. It goes beyond the typical walls of IT and now extends into any area of the business. Those in the IT industry have been using automation to some degree for decades. In the manufacturing world, Toyota, long ago revolutionized manufacturing processes and many automation practices have been based on their work.
Why would anyone be interested in hyperautomation outside of the manufacturing world? To understand this, it’s important to know what the primary goals of automation are. Automation moves tasks that once were done by people to computers. These tasks are typically repetitive, must be performed in the same way each time, and are often very boring to people. Giving these tasks to computers to perform provides some interesting benefits. Since computers do exactly what they’re told, they perform these tasks the same way each time with no variance. They do not get bored, or hungry or become distracted. This means they perform the tasks with much higher accuracy and with the same level of quality each time. Another benefit of this arrangement is that computers are not creative, but the people in your organization are. If you can offload the tasks to computers to perform, your people can use their creativity to further build and grow your business.
So how could automation benefit someone in accounting or sales? One example might be the ingestion of invoices into your accounting software. As invoices are received, your automation can categorize and input the data into your accounting system without human interaction. The time saved on merging this information could be used to analyze all invoices and look for potential overspending in areas that may provide little or no business value. Adding in artificial intelligence or machine learning is another layer of advanced automation that can be applied to help find areas where spending is outside of normal parameters.
Another example is in the sales process. Today, your salespeople may work with a customer and determine they need a product you sell. The salesperson emails someone in sales support requesting a quote. The sales support person receives the details on what is being purchased via email or some other manual interaction with the salesperson. After getting all the relevant pricing and inventory information from various sources, the sales support person creates and sends an electronic quote to the salesperson, who then emails it to the customer. Implement a little bit of operational automation and the salesperson can get the order requirements directly from the customer. The data can be entered into a web portal which then alerts the salesperson of any missing requirements. A quote is generated automatically, and the customer, salesperson and sales support all receive a copy. The quote is accepted electronically, and sales support is notified to process the transaction.
Common Obstacles to Hyperautomation
With all that hyperautomation can do to improve and benefit business, it seems that this should be a critical part of every business’ strategy. For many organizations that is the case, but it might be limited to just IT. To achieve the greatest benefits, it should be applied across the entire organization. If implementing hyperautomation is critical, what obstacles or roadblocks would prevent the success of a hyperautomation program?
To implement successful hyperautomation, processes should be well defined. It is not reasonable to attempt to automate what cannot be described. If there are processes in the organization which are performed ad-hoc or haphazardly, using these to begin your automation journey could hold you back from getting successful wins under your belt. Look for processes that are well documented, transitions from one group to another that are well defined and that have been tested over time. Automating these processes first will ensure you can deliver quick value with minimal delays.
The tools in place for your organization may also prevent successful hyperautomation. Tools which are especially problematic are those with poor extensibility or API frameworks. This means they won’t play well with other tools. This might be okay for automation of a process in a single area. If there is need to piece together tools from multiple departments and some of those tools don’t work together, this could prevent successful automation of the process.
Another area which can become an obstacle is the skillset of the team. Understanding the underpinnings of automation, how to document processes, use of certain tools or even programming language knowledge might be required. It is important that you have people on your staff who have worked in this arena and can help to define, direct, and track a successful automation project. Training existing staff who know business processes will be beneficial in the long run, but experience can make all the difference in choosing which processes are worth automating and those that should be left for another day.
Building Solid IT Foundation Will Enable Hyperautomation
Hyperautomation will bring the biggest benefit to your organization when it has been built upon a solid IT foundation. Look for weakness in your infrastructure platforms, tools and or processes to improve before embarking upon hyperautomation across the organization. Focusing on foundational improvements will ensure you can more quickly realize the benefits. Using an incremental approach to your improvements will also reduce your time to realizing benefits. Agile processes can be extremely helpful for prioritizing actions that need to happen and allow for breaking down the work into manageable chunks of activity.
Using a process called value stream mapping is an important practice which can improve the documentation of your processes. At a high level, value stream mapping looks at every step in the process of delivering a product to a customer from idea to delivery. Going through this effort will allow you to visually see all the steps required to complete a process and to indicate where there may be areas of improvement. Timing the duration of each step and the time between one step and another will provide valuable information to refine processes.
Automating core functions in IT is also a foundational practice which frees up the time of IT to focus on broader organizational tasks such as helping with hyperautomation. Examples of core IT functions include the creation of user accounts, resetting passwords, building servers, granting access to services or remediating issues observed by monitoring systems. IT staff are commonly skilled at automation and freeing them up to assist in automation outside of IT can help to reduce or eliminate the skill obstacle described above.
Tooling will also play a critical part in your hyperautomation implementation journey. It is important that you review your existing tools, looking for products which do not have open API frameworks or the ability to integrate with other tools. As licensing and software maintenance renewals come up, this is a good time to look at replacing or moving to later versions of products which have been designed to support better automation integration.
Ensuring your IT foundation is solid and can support the efforts put into hyperautomation is critical. Automation can seem to take longer to accomplish, and many organizations will come to a point where they state that it is quicker to just do the task instead of spending the time and effort it takes to automate it. When you build upon a solid foundation, each new block of automation will improve the strength of your organization. Each new task that requires automation will become easier and easier to complete as the foundational pieces already exist. Then, and only then, can you start the effort of implementing hyperautomation across the enterprise.