Point of View

Make automation about technology at your peril

August 24, 2021

At all levels, enterprise leaders grapple with automation’s opportunities for their processes, customers, and employees. But make this about technology at your peril: Technology is not the problem—it’s about navigating people and process change if an organization has any hope of making automation native and seeing real business outcomes (see Exhibit 1). This is not a new perspective; HFS has been banging the people and process drum for years. But are we making progress?  This report suggests a cautionary yes as more enterprise examples emerge and new context is given to what digital transformation and native automation really mean.

HFS caught up with automation services specialist Roboyo and two of its customers to see how automation adoption is progressing and what we’re learning about how success happens in real life. It became clear that whether the approach is top-down, bottom-up, middle-out, COE-led, or CEO-led, successful approaches are about business outcomes based on business-IT-bot collaboration. Roboyo emphasizes this message with its “Human+” approach: The automation journeys of Bayer and Deutsche Post in this report add fresh weight for automation never being a case of deciding between people or technology.

Exhibit 1: Change management poses the greatest challenge to creating the digital workforce

Sample: 400 executives across the Global 2000 enterprises
Source: HFS Research in partnership with Blue Prism, 2020

We spoke with Radovan Simic, Digital Lead and IT Business Partner for EMEA Supply Chain Management at Bayer, the global pharma and life sciences giant, and Timo Neff, Team Lead for Automation Designers & Architects at Deutsche Post DHL, the German multinational package delivery and supply chain management company. They told us about their Roboyo-supported automation journeys across consulting, implementation, and change management and the all-around center of excellence (COE) journey to making automation native by augmenting a workforce under a business-outcomes focus.

Both enterprises have moved toward a specialist “pure-play” robotic process automation (RPA) firm structure—as so many leaders describe to us at HFS—to leverage their expertise throughout the automation lifecycle in a genuine partnership rather than a distant cost-focused contract with a larger provider. With a contextual note that Roboyo recently became the largest intelligent automation pure-play service provider (see our separate take on Roboyo’s acquisition), the following Bayer and Deutsche Post journeys outline the merits of specialist firms and the people plus technology approach to automation.

Change management works when management and employees align around goals and outcomes

Four years ago, Bayer’s mindset was that artificial intelligence (AI) and automation were not the right moves for notoriously complex pharmaceutical supply chains. Automation, driven by curious employees, then started showcasing value over a two-year period (more on Roboyo’s involvement to come throughout this piece). The first trickles of value showed up in automating simple processes like copying and pasting entries into ERP systems; value realization increased as employees worked in tandem with process discovery tools to identify opportunities for automation and where they could simplify processes and harmonize them with a mindset for business process excellence. Bayer’s supply chain RPA use cases include goods received, order management, and sales and operations planning. Its RPA implementation began with 10,000 hours per year of automation to gain sufficient engagement and momentum with Bayer’s business users in the supply chain division. Today, RPA is corporate-wide across three divisions, returning 50,000-60,000 hours of automation.

“None of the RPA journey happened with a view for reducing headcount or assessing value by an assumption of ‘value add’ when employee time is saved. The aim was to improve our processes, engage with our customers, and fix problems that might have been overlooked for years.”
—Radovan Simic, Digital Lead and IT Business Partner, EMEA Supply Chain Management, Bayer

A cultural change mindset was key to making technology more tangible for Bayer’s business users; Bayer wanted RPA to be accessible, and it has incorporated some citizen development to aid in their journey. Understanding the business opportunities was the route to making the necessary culture change—“Turning the affected into the involved,” as Simic put it. Simic explained how value could become real if businesspeople think about process excellence, outputs, and the most effective and efficient ways of leveraging RPA, “You need to revisit and revise processes with a mindset of transformation and change. It’s Human+, not either-or—it’s together.”

Hesitancy accompanies most change, but it’s crucial that you bring the most important people—your employees—along on the journey. They know your business processes by heart and why, for example, there are process variations. Management buy-in needs to be visible, as does wider employee engagement. For Bayer, it became a pull, not a push, for automation adoption; the automation COE was critical in engaging with peers across the organization.

Bayer’s outcomes ranged from reducing cycle times, such as in order management, to increased customer satisfaction and better work-life balance for employees. Simic suggested, “Automating mundane tasks doesn’t have to just be about the top and bottom line—give back time to your employees—and get a better quality of work.”

Process automation is not about technology—it’s about collaboration and outcomes

Bayer’s journey with Roboyo started in 2018 after a direct recommendation from UiPath for a partner in setting up an automation COE. Bayer wanted to maintain some level of citizen development to continue promoting automation and its benefits internally, provide training, and start collaborations within the organization.

The original citizen developers were working off the back of a few days of training with UiPath’s online academy. Bayer was already working with external partners but not pure-play firms, and the move to Roboyo was centered around a desire for a partner that could work across strategy to delivery, facilitate change management, and figure out what comes after the COE goes live. Simic explained how Roboyo identified opportunities for changing and improving processes, strategy, and governance, and developed bots faster and better, versus the existing internal standard Bayer had established at the time, “It’s an open, fair, and well-rounded relationship. We collaborate well. They [Roboyo] are responsive and challenge us; they want to connect with other vendors we’re speaking to and working with to expand collaborations.”

The Bayer mindset is less about which RPA vendor provides the technology and more about a mindset of making technology as available and easy to use as possible to business users across the organization. Simic outlined the COE doesn’t plan on reskilling or shoehorning all users into developers. It wants to ensure Bayer understands how to adopt technology and its outcomes and has the right mindset, keys for peer-to-peer adoption and enthusiasm.

“Business users need to understand how to talk to the developers to make RPA successful.”
—Radovan Simic, Digital Lead and IT Business Partner, EMEA Supply Chain Management, Bayer

COEs must be the enablers of native automation, but goals and outcomes need to cut across organizational silos

The Deutsche Post automation journey centers on making automation a sustainable and native part of the organization, not a superficial strategy. And, surprise, surprise, it’s about change management again. IT departments are typically used to change management, but not at the speed of modern automation and digital projects. Timo Neff, Team Lead, Automation Designers & Architects at Deutsche Post DHL, explained how COEs must professionalize automation throughout an organization without falling into arrogance because they can work faster than the IT department. This “professionalization” involves aligning the outcomes and goals for automation throughout the organization and with the business user mindset to make this successful.

“We needed visionary people that wanted to make change happen to look for opportunities, with the capabilities to think big and to innovate to achieve business outcomes. All this made automation attractive to internal and external customers and was an ignition phase for us, where the business realized the opportunity.”
—Timo Neff, Team Lead, Automation Designers & Architects, Deutsche Post DHL

By 2017, this pro-automation mindset had proliferated to most of the Deutsche Post organization. The early innovators were forming their own teams (resembling COEs), and although this was chaotic at times with these groups building similar platforms and process automations in parallel, it quickly attracted a top management mandate for more formal internal competition to further accelerate the innovation process.

The automation experts, who had kickstarted the company’s automation program to improve processes and generally find better ways of doing things, were empowered to innovate. Managers then had opportunities to decide on options from these different teams; they could consider which options were scalable for the organization. Managers selected Neff’s team to scale from 20 to 60 people in a year to form the core Deutsche Post automation COE.

Next came overcoming the challenges of a centralized COE to embed its services and automation “natively” within the organization. Today, there’s a central coordinating COE team, and Deutsche Post operates “satellite COEs” that communicate back to the governing COE.

Roboyo recently joined the Deutsche Post automation team. Neff expressed that Roboyo will be fundamental in leading the organization through the next phase of its automation journey by combining scale with the need to professionalize and restructure work; for example, previously, where one employee would serve 10 customers, now four employees are serving 400. Operating models need to radically change. Teams need to consume and develop internal technology-as-a-service from the COE and its satellites, working together with different internal and external partners. Roboyo will help build the “what comes next” roadmap and governance processes in combination with COE procedures and training Deutsche Post staff.

The Bottom Line: Whether your automation approach is top-down, bottom-up, middle-out, COE-led, or CEO-led… it is outcomes based on human-bot harmony that allow automation to proliferate through an organization and become native.

“Deutsche Post was not approaching automation as a top-down initiative to begin with. It was not via the CEO; it came from individual departments and mid-management, who then convinced departmental heads. It’s all about outcomes.”
—Timo Neff, Team Lead, Automation Designers & Architects, Deutsche Post DHL

There’s so much talk about transformation having to be “top-down and bottom-up.” But, even with all these approaches, it’s not a guarantee of success for embedding automation natively within an organization. The whole organization, including departments and functions, needs to align behind the goals and outcomes of automation; otherwise, you’ll forever be trapped with a COE externally shouting at the business to change—without motive or incentive.

HFS has been outlining the core messages of this piece for years. Bayer’s and Deutsche Post’s journeys add context to the real-life outcomes that stem from making automation native and add color to realities of breaking down silos, aligning outcomes and goals, and finding a successful change management recipe where people, process, and technology finally start working together. Roboyo’s Human+ approach is a step toward taking the best practice on show here to the wider market, aiming to once and for all save us all from a future of pitting people against automation and find real business outcomes through combination.

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