Business owners have put an awesome level of commitment to serving their customers well. In that effort, they have increasingly looked to a wide range of automation technologies as levers to make information more available, support decision making, personalize service, and improve operations in their respective businesses. However, there is an inverse relationship between the number of digital transformation technologies a business implements and the ROI it realizes from those technologies if they aren’t integrated to an adequate degree.

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For business owners, this can translate into difficulty in scaling results from automation and even supporting existing investments. What’s more, investing in multiple technologies, each of which is designed to solve a specific problem, can add up in terms of cost and resources. As integration and configuration costs creep up over time, a “fit-for-purpose” approach can ultimately become a more expensive route.

However, business owners can head off such issues with a more considered approach to planning for digital transformation. This comes down to a three-step framework which we’ll step through in this article: evaluating the readiness of the business for automation; sizing up business problems and taking an integrated ‘platform approach’ to automation, and putting processes and a program in place to support the scale of benefits across the company.

Step 1: Understand where you are today 

Conduct a maturity model assessment by evaluating automation readiness from a technology and process perspective. Involve IT early in the discussion. They not only understand how automation technologies will fit within the broader IT framework, but they’re also responsible for managing the technology environment and keeping it secure.

Be sure to assess how well-documented current business processes are during this stage. Automation is most potent when deployed against processes that are already running correctly; it isn’t intended to alleviate or fix the pain points around the broken ones. Optimize first and then automate for the optimum results.

Step 2: Establish business cases for automation and adopt a ‘platform approach’ from day one

After conducting ‘process readiness’ assessments above, establish a business case for automation. Start by clearly making connections between automation and corporate strategic, workforce, operational, and financial objectives. Then, rank use case candidates based on their potential to yield the greatest return. This allows you to determine which technologies are required to develop an automation platform that solves the unique business problems you’ve identified.

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Such problems include improving the way information is captured and extracted or taking action on that information in downstream systems/applications. The technologies that solve these problems drive significant value for a company when bundled and integrated into a platform.

Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is a trending topic these days, and understandably, a point of interest for many digital transformation initiatives. The battle over which vendor’s RPA tool maximum number of widgets and gadgets has become somewhat of a proverbial “street fight.”

But, those focused at this tactical level should not lose sight of the bigger picture – and the ultimate cost. Rather than explore stand-alone technologies for use within pockets of the business, organizations are now trying to digitize entire processes. Thus, to truly get ahead with digital transformation initiatives and solve a more comprehensive set of business problems, companies need a platform automation capability that allows them to optimize operations end-to-end.

“RPA provides a terrific band-aid to fix current solutions; it helps to extend the life of legacy. But doesn’t provide long-term answers,” said analyst firm HFS. “Integrated Automation is how you transform your business and achieve an end-to-end Digital OneOffice.”

The integrated approach saves your employees from the need to learn multiple solutions and your finance team from managing a myriad of vendors. Thus, by adopting an integrated platform from day one, business owners increase their ability to reduce costs, time to value and complexity, while at the same time maximizing customer and employee satisfaction.

Step 3: Create a Center of Excellence 

It’s essential to create an operational model around automation that fits your business, otherwise known as a Center of Excellence for Intelligent Automation. This team guides all things related to automation – including maintaining and overseeing standards across the industry, training, vendor management, establishing best practices, and so much more. Business owners also have flexibility in how they structure their programs.

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There’s no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ answer. Businesses should start with the model that makes the most sense given where they are today, and adjust down the road as needed.

With an integrated platform approach, business owners will realize automation gains such as improved productivity, personalized service to customers, faster decision-making, and a more empowered workforce. Look ahead, plan for the future and work like tomorrow, today.